Native American Breeds: Nez Percé Horse

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When Meriwether Lewis, the famed second half of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the American West, crossed the Bitterroot Mountains into eastern Idaho in 1805, he noted in his journal that the Nez Percé tribe had very grand horses: “Their horses appear to be of an excellent race. They are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable. In short, many of them look like fine English horses and would make a figure in any country.”

These are the horses the Nez Percé tribe is currently attempting to resurrect by crossing the Akhal-Teke with the Appaloosa. “The tribe didn’t feel the modern stock-type Appaloosa was a true representation of the breed they had in the 1800s, which was longer and leaner,” says Kim Cannon, director of the land services department for the Nez Percé tribe in Lapwai, Idaho. “They felt the Akhal-Teke had those qualities.”

The breeding program began in 1994 with four donated Akhal-Teke stallions and Appaloosa mares the tribe already possessed. The tribe now has 70 horses. They sell some to keep numbers manageable, but the rest are used in the tribe’s Young Horsemen Project.

The Nez Percé Horse is more slender than the modern Appaloosa and has a longer neck. It also has thinner withers. It is very strong and sure-footed and is a quality endurance horse. Both solid and Appaloosa coloring are found, along with the burnished coat, a characteristic of the Akhal-Teke. Heights range from 14.2 to 15 hands.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe!

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