The entire range of Appaloosa patterning is called the "Lp" ("Leopard") complex of genes.

 Lp genetics are complicated and not yet fully understood. More than one gene may be at work in creating the wide range of appaloosa patterns. The American Appaloosa, a breed originating with the Nez Perce Indians, is the most well known Lp-colored type of horse in the US, and Mustangs who exhibit Lp color patterns are generally referred to as Appaloosas, but genetically, they are Lp's. In addition to Appaloosas, some Asian horses carry this pattern, as do the Knabstrupper and POA (Pony of the Americas) breeds.
Appaloosa Mustang from Twin Peaks HMA

The Leopard Complex includes a number of patterns, including leopard, blanket, few spot, frosted, snowflake, snow cap,& varnish.

All horses within the Lp Complex of Appaloosa-type coloring have mottled skin that is visible around their eyes, muzzle, and genitals. They have visible eye sclera, giving their eyes a "human" look (some other horses, especially pintos, also have prominent sclera)

Genetics of Appaloosa/Leopard:

Current research indicates that Appaloosa patterns are not caused by a single gene. We refer to the "Leopard complex", or Lp, as the group of genes that must be responsible for appaloosa patterns, but we don't know what all the genes are or how they work. We know that the leopard appaloosa pattern appears to be dominantly inherited, but we know nothing about the other patterns.

Walleye from Twin Peaks HMA, Snowflake Appaloosa Mustang adopted by Sue Watkins.

Sheila Archer of The Appaloosa Project writes: 

"In June (2003) Dr. Rebecca Terry (originally of the University of Kentucky, now at the University of Tampa) and I discovered the location of the LP gene, the main gene which must be inherited in order for Appaloosa "characteristics", their unique form of roaning, and all other coat patterns to be visible.  This master gene is located on equine chromosome 1, and we are now in the process of narrowing down the region so that we can develop an actual test for LP.

We have also gathered significant phenotype evidence pointing to the existence of several important white pattern modifier genes, and are working on a study to isolate the most significant of these.

You will find an overview of our research project at this website: Also, if you would like to ask questions of myself and Dr. Terry, we have been running a moderated internet discussion group since September of last year for breeders and enthusiasts.  Our site includes a large photo album section with images illustrating everything we've been able to ascertain to this point.  In addition, we have a files section where you can find recent articles by our research team members and other contributors.  I welcome you to join us, even if you only wish to read through the archived messages and search for information for your own interest. "
Sheila Archer
Appaloosa Project Coordinator


Unlike other "White Patterns" like the various Pinto patterns and Roan, the "LP" Appaloosa coloring often changes color patterning considerably through the horse's lifetime. 

"Danny" adopted by Julie Yocom, illustrates coat changes
The change from blanket to varnish is typical. The change from black points to white indicates another gene - the grey gene - also at work

Day after adoption, June 2001

August 2001

September 2002

A horse born with a spotted blanket over its rump may fade to Varnish Roan or develop into a Leopard Spot Appaloosa. Here's Another Example (click)


The Warm Springs HMA in Oregon, Granite Range in Nevada, and Sisters (USFS) & Twin Peaks in California, are the main producers of Appaloosa-patterned mustangs. Very occasionally one turns up in other HMA's as well.

These pictures were taken by Andi Harmon at the Burns BLM Corrals, or newly captured Appaloosas from the Warn Springs HMA in Oregon:

Photo by Andi Harmon

Photo by Andi Harmon


Photos by Andi Harmon

Another Herd Area with lots of Appaloosas is the Sisters herd near McDoel, California:

Two Appaloosa Mustangs from the Sisters herd are (USFS) outside Mc Doel, CA
Tenaya and Dakota- BLM mustangs from Twin Peaks HMA, California, adopted by Dave & Ginny Freeman of CA
Walleye, Twin Peaks HMA Mustang, exhibiting the Snowflake pattern


Appaloosa Traits:

  • Spotted Skin (This trait is necessary, and common to all appaloosas, regardless of hair color)


  • Striped Hooves (except occasionally in horses with white socks)

  • Sclera (white of the eye) showing

  • Eyes may be any color, from light blue through hazel through dark brown

Varnish Roan

(Since both Appaloosa and the various Pinto genes are Dominants, they will all express themselves if they occur together in an individual

Appaloosa "Roaning" or "Varnish Roan"

Varnish Roans start out as normally colored horses, often with appaloosa spotting. This form of roaning usually shows up as an Appaloosa horse ages, often blurring the Appaloosa markings, just like a paint brush can rub out and blend color spots on a wet canvas.

Similar to, but not the same as, greying, It does not start as early as greying does, and sometimes seems to "spread" from the location of the white in the original Appaloosa markings. Varnish Roan is not caused by the Roan gene, but is part of the Appaloosa complex.

How an Appaloosa Becomes a Varnish Roan
I have lost the name of the kind person who sent this chronicle of a single appaloosa horse's color changes. IF it's you, or if you know who it is, please email me!



Later on as a an older yearling

four years old

Warm Springs HMA appaloosa mustangs at Burns, Oregon BLM facility
photo: Liz Cohen

Marble & Frosted are other appaloosa patterns, that look a lot like roan.
See Equusite Color Pages for pictures.

Ajax - owned by Edona Miller

PMU mare and foal in Canada

Here are some good Appaloosa websites:

PMU mare & foal

Registered Appaloosa PMU foal whose spots are just barely starting to show

Andi Harmon on Ty, a varnish/gray appaloosa

Another pic of Ty


Sir Prize, a mustang on the Navajo Reservation

Nez Perce man on Appaloosa horse

Appaloosa mustang at Litchfield BLM Corrals





Horse Colors Main Page l Base Colors l l

The Overo Group:

 Frame Overo l Sabino l Splashed White l Tovero l How To Tell the Pintos Apart

Overo Lethal White Syndrome

Other Spotting Patterns:

Appaloosa l Tobiano l Pintaloosa


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