Appaloosas, whether miniature or full size, come in several different patterns. To help you identify them, I have created the following images and descriptions, based on my years of study and research into equine color genetics. I hope it is helpful in clearing up some of the confusion.
Not all appaloosas are colored at birth. Some don’t develop their color patterns until they are a few years old, and many appaloosas continue to change color and even pattern throughout their lives.
There are several traits that most appaloosas have in common: vertically striped hooves, mottled pink-and-black skin (usually around the eyes, nose, mouth and genitals), and visible sclera in the eyes. Some also have "lightning marks" on their legs. These jagged white marks appear on colored legs. See the far right picture under "snowflakes" for an example.
Below is a picture of mottling and white sclera, as well as one representing the appaloosa striped hoof. Note that, in Miniature Horses at least, many horses carrying the silver dapple gene have striped hooves. These, however, are normally amber and black or dark gray, while appaloosa striped hooves are frequently closer to black and white.
The following drawings represent some of the possible appaloosa color patterns, but by no means are intended to represent all of them. Keep in mind that these drawings are in black and white, while appaloosas can and do occur in any and all color combinations.
The spotted blanket pattern
As the name implies, these horses have "blankets" of white over their hips, loins, and/or backs, and they have spots in those blankets. The spots can be self colored (sorrel on a sorrel horse) or black.
The non-spotted blanket patterns
These are horses with a white blanket but no spots. If the horse has both appaloosa parents, it might be a "snowcap," which has been proven to be homozygous for the appaloosa gene. Snowcaps will always throw appaloosa foals, even when bred to non-appaloosa mates. Some of these may appear solid at birth but will color out later. If a horse does not have two appaloosa parents, it cannot be a snowcap, and is merely called a "non-spotted blanket."
The leopard appaloosa
The leopard is a white horse with spots. The spots can be black or sorrel or any other color, including the dilutes such as palomino. Some horses that appear to be leopards but were born with spotted blankets that got larger with age are called "near leopards."
The varnish roan patterns
Varnish roan is a rather odd color pattern, usually distinguished by darker "varnish" area over the bridge of the nose, cheekbones, knees and hocks, stifles, and the points of their hips. These horses are usually heavily roaned, with a lot of white hairs mixed in with their base color. Some have blankets and/or spots, and some do not. Many varnish roans are born solid or displaying one of the other patterns, then gradually lighten with age.
The snowflake patterns
Snowflakes are colored horses (blacks or sorrels or palominos, etc) with white spots. Some have just a few, some are so heavily white spotted as to be mostly white. The latter can sometimes be difficult to tell from horses with spotted blankets. When a snowflake has tiny spots clustered over its hips, it is often called a "frost."
The few spot leopard
Contrary to popular opinion, the "few spot" isn’t just any appaloosa with a few spots. I’ve seen sorrel appaloosas with one or two white snowflakes listed as "few spots." This is incorrect. The true few spot is a white horse, often with nothing more to show his appaloosa heritage than mottling around eyes, mouth, and genitals. They usually have white schlera and striped hooves. Some few spots actually do have spots, but never very many. As with snowcaps, if a horse marked like this has both appaloosa parents, he will probably be homozygous, producing all appaloosa offspring.
Contributed By: Pat Elder