Breed evolution: If you presume that a Walkaloosa is the cross between an Appaloosa and a Tennessee Walking Horse as the name implies, you're partially correct. The Walkaloosa is any gaited horse with Appaloosa coloration.
A Walkaloosa can be the colorful result of crossing an Appaloosa with, for instance, a Peruvian Horse, a Paso Fino, or a Missouri Fox Trotter. Or, it can be a foundation Appaloosa Horse - a purebred Appaloosa - that exhibits a gait long known as the Indian Shuffle.
The foundation Appaloosa Horse traces back to the Paso Fino horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. Some of these horses carried the spotted coloration that is the hallmark of Appaloosas today. In addition, they also had the paso fino, literally, the fine gait.
These horses eventually found their way into the wild herds of the Southwest, then spread northward. The Nez Perce, who inhabited areas of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, were introduced to these horses around 1700. The Nez Perce became accomplished horsemen and selectively bred widely admired horses.
The most highly prized of the Nez Perce horses were distinguished by a gait inherited from their Paso Fino ancestors, later dubbed the Indian Shuffle. The shuffle is a four-beat, ground-covering, intermediate gait that's exceptionally smooth.
It's said that cowpokes who could buy a horse for $2 were eager to lay down $50 more for an Appaloosa that shuffled. The late Gene Autry owned El Morocco, a gaited Appaloosa.
The Walkaloosa is renowned for its colorful coat, bravery, endurance, and, of course, its smooth gait. In 1983, the Walkaloosa Horse Association was founded to help preserve the gaited Appaloosa. (The Appaloosa Horse Club doesn't register horses with Appaloosa coloring that have a gaited-breed parent.)
In 1999, the WHA was purchased by longtime horsewoman Pem Meyer; today, Cy Brashears helps her run the Carefree, Arizona-based organization.
To be accepted for WHA registration, a horse must meet one of three qualifications: be the progeny of a registered Walkaloosa; show Appaloosa coloring and demonstrate an intermediate gait other than a trot; or be the offspring of verifiable Appaloosa and gaited-horse blood.
Owners tell us: Floridian Stefanie O'Dell owns O'Ranch Apps. She initially raised both Walkaloosas that were foundation-bred Appaloosas and those with Tennessee Walking Horse blood. Today, she concentrates solely on the former.
"It was somewhat frustrating to cross the Walkers with Appaloosas, and get either the gait or the Appaloosa color, but not both," O'Dell explains. "So, I decided to concentrate on the old, foundation Appaloosa bloodlines, and voila - I got both gait and color!
"One benefit of using purebred, foundation Appaloosas for my program is that they can be double registered with both the ApHC and the Walkaloosa Registry," she adds. "It benefits both the horse and the owner; a little piece of paper is valuable."
The shuffle gait has "a lot of variables," says O'Dell. "Any soft gait is called the Indian shuffle. It's supremely smooth to ride."
On the trail: O'Dell grew up riding Walking Horses. "I love a smooth-gaited horse on the trail, and when you combine that gait with the gorgeous color of the Appaloosa, it's awesome," she says. "And the variety of color pattern is captivating. No two horses are ever exactly alike."
O'Dell's most magical trail experience happened one warm Florida evening under a full moon. "It was on 240 acres we owned in Oxford," she recalls. "It had been a hot, humid day, when the best time to ride was long after the sun had gone down. My Walkaloosa mare, Candy, was pure white with liver-colored spots. She gaited effortlessly, just beautifully. In the bright moonlight, her white body glowed. It was peaceful and sheer magic to ride her across the grassy meadows."