Christy Rocks the Heritage Class for Appaloosas

By Patty Wilber

My friend Christy just wowed the Mountains and Plains Appaloosa show with her innovative and amazing Heritage Class entry.

Christy and Deets! The balance on this image is not so great but I loved the arena lights in the background. Wish I would have snapped to that when taking pictures. I would have taken many more photos there. I had to cut off Deets’ tail to cut out the white barn that messed up the arena lights effect. Luckily both horse and rider have nice expressions in this one!

To understand the Heritage Class, it is useful to know a little bit of history about the Appaloosa horse according to the U.S. Appaloosa Horse Club handbook.

In the early 1700s, the Appaloosa was discovered by the Nez Perce and quickly earned their fancy. Impressed by their intelligence, stamina and variety of coat patterns, the Nez Perce engaged in the selective breeding of Appaloosas, gelding, or trading those they believed inferior in color, structure, or capability. They exercised care to develop traits that would enable the Appaloosa to withstand the challenges their environment presented. Raised in the mountains and canyons of eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the Appaloosa became adapted to the rigors of mountain travel. Their bravery, speed and endurance proved them to be excellent partners in the heat of battle as well as specialized accessories amid the chase of the hunt. Intimate contact with the people of the tribe demanded a quiet, sensible disposition. The Appaloosa was entrusted
to carry infants swaddled into cradleboards and to tiptoe around Nez Perce children playing in the heart of camp. In 1877, life as the Nez Perce knew it would come to an end. Led by Chief Joseph and an assemblage of other Nez Perce chiefs, the tribe attempted a daring 1,350-mile retreat to Canada in order to avoid capture and placement on reservation lands. The Appaloosa dutifully accompanied warriors, women, children, and elderly over some of the most rugged terrain in the West, eluding five regiments of the US Cavalry. Less than forty miles south of the Canadian border, in the shadows of the Bear Paw mountains, Chief Joseph surrendered. The Nez Perce were sent to Oklahoma. Their horses were confiscated and either destroyed or sold. Those that survived were assimilated into other breeds and the Appaloosa was nearly lost forever.

Fortunately, a small group of passionate individuals intervened, determined to preserve the famed Nez Perce war and hunting horses and to prevent their permanent disappearance. The Appaloosa Horse Club, official breed registry for the Appaloosa horse, was formed in 1938.

Thus, the Nez Perce were very important to the Appaloosa breed, and because of this, in large part, the Heritage Class was developed.  The class has primarily showcased Native American regalia, examples of which you can see here in a 2015 article in the Equine Chronicle. Historical ranching wear has also been shown, but those have really been the two big categories appearing in the class.

I had thought that the outfits had to be authentic and old (and many have been!), but as we can see from the rules below, that is not the case.  The outfits are to be judged on appropriateness.

I also had never thought about what kind of heritage could be depicted, other than cowboys and Indians, but the rule book has suggestions (none of which are what Christy came up with!). I have included a subset of the relevant rules below. The material included is verbatim from the Appaloosa handbook.


To be judged on appropriateness of trappings and equipment, attire of exhibitor,
markings and colorful qualities of the horse—the overall picture including the exhibitor’s verbal description is to be considered and is limited to no more than 90 seconds. The trappings, equipment and attire of exhibitor should be appropriate to the time era of their description.”

“Show management may, in an effort to showcase the class to the audience, allow exhibitors to turn in a written description, limited to 200 words, describing
the outfit, era and attire displayed. Use of the word or phrasing “authentic” is
discouraged as this cannot be verified due to the limited time frame of the class.
The description is to be of the trappings, equipment, attire, and markings – not
a story.”

“Costumes other than Native American costumes may be used. The costumes may
depict the various stages of Appaloosa history such as Chinese emperors, kings,
nobles, Spanish conquistadores, fur trappers, buffalo hunters, missionaries or other
depictions of Appaloosa history.”

What Christy thought of was the Spotted Circus Horse!  Here is her write-up.

“The Spotted Circus Horse

The modern circus is often credited to Englishman Philip Astley, who opened his circus in London in 1768. Horses were an integral part of these early circuses, with riders showcasing their skills by performing tricks and stunts. In the United States, after the Nez Perce Wars ended in October 1877, some of the spotted horses of the Nez Perce were captured by settlers who used them and their offspring as ranch horses. American circus performers and showmen recognized the visual appeal and talents of these horses and began acquiring them to showcase in circus acts. The use of Appaloosas in the circus continues today, in both traditional circuses and horse-centered performances such as Cavalia, Cavalluna, Arabian Nights, and Equitana.

20th-century American Circuses often opened with a spectacle procession featuring as many performers and animals as the director could costume. This entry represents a rider in a late-20th-century American circus spectacle. The rider’s costume consists of a sequined blouse and ruffled tulle pants (both designed and hand-sewn by the entrant), a corset, silver boots, and a top hat. The horse wears a hand-painted vintage Passier dressage saddle, a white breast collar adorned with crystals, and a white double bridle topped with a plume.”

It is a beautiful and spectacular outfit, that seems quite appropriate, but it is very different than the traditional entry.  She has entered the Heritage Class at the National Appaloosa Horse Show this summer and I am happy that I will be able to be there and can lend a hand preparing!

Deets LOVES the double bridle. Or maybe not so much.

She won her class and the audience loved it, as well!

Happy Friday!

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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5 Responses to Christy Rocks the Heritage Class for Appaloosas

  1. Ellen says:

    Thanks so much for the Appaloosa history!

  2. BlogPatty says:

    I am glad you liked it!

  3. Kathy Davies says:

    Wow! Gorgeous! the costume is incredible and I loved reading the history and how her vision fit into the story. Thanks for sharing!

  4. dorannadurgin says:

    That’s a fantastic costume! Totally clever!

  5. Patty says:

    I thought it was amazing!

Comments are closed.