Fascinating story about Appaloosa history from Judith Tarr:
The 2015 documentary, True Appaloosa: Quest for the Secret Horse is the story of Scott Engstrom, a breeder of Foundation Appaloosas who has always maintained that there is no way the Nez Perce could have had thousands of horses in the time of Lewis and Clark if all of their stock was descended from escaped Spanish imports. Horses just don’t breed fast enough. She believes that there were already spotted horses in the Pacific Northwest at the time of the European invasions, and that they had come, somehow, not from Europe but from Asia.
Wow, talk about striking boldly off on your own! I have NEVER heard anyone propose such a thing. And yet, it is true that if the Nez Perce had literally thousands of horses in the early 1800s, it seems implausible that they could have gotten them by acquiring a paltry handful of Spanish horses and breeding them. The horse gestation period, if you don’t know off the top of your head, is 11 months. If horses arrived on the North American mainland in the 1500s, then figure how long it would have taken any significant number to filter into Nez Perce territory.
Luckily we can examine these ideas with modern technology:
In true dramatic style, she happened to be watching television one night on her ranch in New Zealand, and happened to see an episode of Conor Woods’ Around the World in 80 Trades, in which he was trading horses in Kyrgyzstan—and one of those horses looked like a quite boldly patterned blanket Appaloosa. Scott got in touch with Conor and persuaded him to take her to Kyrgyzstan and try to find this horse, and once she found him, to analyze his DNA and find out if he was related to her Appaloosas….
She doesn’t find that particular horse. But she does find a “secret herd” of Appaloosa-patterned horses, and lo:
Engstrom … managed to collect DNA from the herd and have it tested at Texas A&M in the US. The geneticist who ran the tests determined that the horses were indeed related to Engstrom’s animals, enough that they seem to support her theory of Asian rather than Spanish origin. Which, if it is indeed true, not only rewrites the history of the Appaloosa breed but also that of the horse in the Americas.
How about that?!
New theories abound regarding this new detail of Appaloosa genetics.
Me, I like the idea that horses re-colonized the Americas across the landbridge. I know there are problems with that idea, but it’s neat and I’m going with it.