In the old times, he said, the great fur-trade companies bartered only poor ponies and old muzzle-loading guns to the Indians for their furs. Until the Cariboo gold rush in the 1860’s gave Twelve-foot Davis a little fortune to invest in trade goods to sell to the miners who were moving into the Omineca and down the Peace River, the Hudson’s Bay had no rivals. Free-trader Davis came into the area from the west. He had no objection to trading with Indians as well as miners. By pleasing the Indians he outwitted the Bay’s traders at their own game and became the transportation tycoon of the North.
Davis brought in packhorses for the miners who wanted to penetrate into the hinterland. When the Indians saw how inferior their own ponies were, they asked Davis to bring them good horses, too. Among those he imported for them were some Appaloosa stallions. Probably he had some in the packhorse string which he wintered on meadows near Hudson’s Hope, where the Indians saw and coveted them.
The conspicuous spotted coat of the Appaloosa is a dominant characteristic, although some Appaloosas have solid colour skins. However, if there is any Appaloosa blood in a horse, more or less of the spotting will show up in its descendants although it may not appear until the foal is several months old. The pinto, on the other hand, has its markings from birth.
The Indians had always admired pinto or “paint” horses, even to the extent of painting spots or patches on their mounts. Any of the four patterns of Appaloosa marking delighted them. They have never forgotten the man who brought them for their use.
It was natural for Davis to secure Appaloosas in the Cariboo because the breed was native only to the Palouse River area, in Washington. How it got there is not known. It may have accompanied the Indians who are supposed to have migrated down the Western American coast when other parts of the continent were under glacial ice. Very old Chinese paintings show horses with the characteristic spots and they are still found in Mongolia and Russia.
Only the Nez Perce tribe had them. As these Indians were excellent horse breeders, they had developed a selected strain that was outstanding in speed, fearlessness and endurance. It also had the much coveted, striking patterns of the coat. Four distinct patterns are recognized – blanket, leopard, snowflake, and “varnished roan” in which the spots look like wet patches of hair. The name Appaloosa was a corruption of the simple description, “a Palouse horse”.
The breed nearly died out for two reasons. The settlers had little use for light, fast horses, preferring heavy draft breeds. Indian ponies, although these were tall and fast, were a nuisance to be exterminated lest they breed with the eastern stock or even lure them away into the wild bands. The missionaries objected to the Indians’ horse racing. Between the two factions they drove the warlike Nez Perce onto a reservation and either killed the prized spotted horses outright or drove them away, so that the Indians could not fight. The horses almost died out.
In time the white settlers aspired to racing their own horses. The remaining Appaloosas were bred to Arabians, Quarter horses, and Thoroughbreds. Doubtless some of these found their way into adjoining British Columbia where Davis picked them up cheaply.
There are now very strict rules for registered Appaloosas. In addition to the proper coat markings, the horse must meet strict criteria of size, eye selera, hoof shape, lip and nose colours and main and tail characteristics. The spotted coat alone does not qualify an animal for registry. A few years ago Mr. Thibadeau found a stallion north of Fort St. John identical to Blue Jet. A Mr. Renie Dhenin, a rancher, had purchased him to breed some new blood into the herd of range horses he was raising for sale as packhorses, ranch mounts, etc. After much investigation they found that both were grandsons of the same sire, an indication that the stallion had good qualities that bred true. Recognition of the required marks of an animal by a local man, Frank Thibadeau led to the registration of his stallion and a profitable venture in horse-breeding in the B.C. Peace River.
The conspicuous horses are popular at fairs but, more important, they are useful at any number of jobs — cutting, roping, packing, and in English jumping classes, for which they command a good price.
Mr. Thibadeau’s story follows: The Appaloosa Horse in the Peace River Area
Our introduction to Appaloosa horses was brought about by the purchase of an aged Appaloosa Stallion from Ron Schuman of Doe River in 1957. At the time this horse was unregistered but in our estimation was worthy of Breed registration and he became BLUE JET #329 in the first Stud Book of the Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada. Today the Appaloosa Horse Club has 7,000 horses in its registry.
We began to look for good mares to start raising horses and found that the area had many showing good breeding. We crossed our stallion on these mares with good results in most instances. Next came the show ring activities to prove our product and then the sales. Horses of our breeding were spread from Toronto to the Lower Mainland and today the demand is greater than the supply.
Our children became the Exhibitors and subsequently the gentlers, breakers and trainers. When Denise, our second daughter, was 14 years old she decided to learn English riding. This led to jumping. She was successful in training her horse to jump and jumping classes began in the local show ring. They have progressed to the point of now being one of the best spectator events in the local show.
When our herd outgrew our facilities, Jack Hannam of Progress came in on the deal, and he kept stallion, mares, and colts for us. This led to his establishing a herd of Appaloosa horses.
When our family had grown and gone from home we turned our horses over to the Sam Irwin family of Sunset Prairie and in the past years they have produced some real good ones. The Irwin children — Glenda, Ray, and Patsy — find themselves busily engaged as breakers, trainers, and exhibitors and are now filling their trophy cabinet.
Besides showing locally we have travelled to the National Appaloosa Shows and to all-breed shows in Edmonton and Calgary.
When Denise was 16 and had a brand new Drivers license she would drive the car pulling the camping trailer, so we could stay on the grounds and Bob and I would transport 5 horses in the truck.
All of our children have appreciated the years they spent with the horses and Terry and Denise in particular have expressed their appreciation since they have become adults, for the hours that they had in horse activities that kept them fully occupied.
For more than 10 years I was an Inspector for the Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada and we met many nice people in the course of this activity.
A few years ago one of our Appaloosa geldings was sold through Patterson’s Auction Mart to a rancher. I was very pleased when this horse brought the highest price of the sale but more pleased when the new owner was so happy with him that a few weeks later he said he would not take four times the price he paid for the horse. This year he wanted a horse for his wife and we sold him a mare with a colt at her side. We gave him the privilege of buying the colt or bringing the colt back — recently he said he was afraid he had to exercise his option and buy the colt.
We have shown in practically every event in a show ring but now racing seems to be the coming thing and Sam Irwin has racing in his blood. So outside of a few races for experience our race career began August 4th in Dawson Creek. Will we see spots ahead in this event? We hope so!