(Also known as the INDIAN SHUFFLE)
Some folks think the "Indian shuffle" is as much a birthright of the Appaloosa as its spots and striped hooves. Others have never heard of it. Is this Indian shuffle a skeleton in the Appaloosa closet or a valuable asset to the breed?
The Indian shuffle, like the pace, is a lateral gait: the legs on the same side of the horse move together. In the shuffle, the pace is broken as each hoof hits the ground a fraction ahead of the other which results in four beats as in the walk. The shuffle is sometimes called the "running walk," but the true walk, like the trot, is a diagonal gait.
The shuffle, as its name implies, does not have much elevation. The horse moves with a rolling motion of the shoulders and hips, the motion of the horse is absorbed in its back and loins giving the rider a smooth, gliding ride. Also, because the pace is broken, it lacks the side-to-side motion of the true pace.
The Spanish were the first to bring horses to the Americas. Among their horses were many the Spanish called "paso fino," which simply means smooth-gaited. These horses were not a breed but were prized for their natural broken pace that forced any other horse to trot or lope to keep up.
These horses are still prized by the Spanish descendents in South America where selective breeding for the gait has been maintained for hundreds of years. You may recognize the names: The Paso Fino, the Peruvian Paso, the Columbian Paso. All are now true breeds, descendents of the easy-gaited horse brought to the Americas by the Spanish.
What happened to the Spaniards paso fino in North America? The Spanish established settlements in New Mexico, taking local Pueblo Indians to work as serfs, farming and taking care of the large numbers of horses the Spanish kept to herd their cattle.
From the Spanish the Indians learned how to care for horses, and though it was forbidden, they also learned to ride. Occasionally a stable boy would run away with one of his charges, or some of the plains Indians would capture the runaway serfs and bargain with the Spanish for horses. But the Indians acquired many of their horses in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Under the leadership of Pope, a deposed medicine man, Indians all over New Mexico arose on the same day, killing some 400 Spanish. The rest of the Spanish fled leaving behind their settlements and their herds of horses. The Pueblo Indians, being a sheep-herding people, traded most of the horses to the buffalo hunters of the plains.
Slowly the horses moved northwards and were eventually claimed by the Nez Perce and other tribes.
The Nez Perce learned to recognize good horseflesh and, almost from the start, practiced selective breeding. Many of their horses were spotted and many had the enduring, smooth pace so prized by the Spanish. It is not known whether the Nez Perce bred specifically for the gait. It is known that they valued horses that could move out well, and rode with a quirt to urge their horses to take the shuffle gait. It has also been said they were pleased with the shuffle because they could move their households quickly without shaking things up.
The Nez Perce horse eventually became the horse of the rancher who noticed its unique gait and dubbed it the Indian shuffle. It is said cowboys would pay up to 50 dollars more for a horse that had the gait: it saved a lot of wear and tear on the cowboy, just as it had on the Indian and Spaniard before him.
Robert L Peckinpah, in the "Appaloosa Heritage," had this to say: "Rough country cowmen are unanimous, today, in praising the remarkable lack of leg trouble in the colorful, ground-covering horse. They are quick to point out that his natural traveling gait, the Indian shuffle, a seemingly tireless running walk, is a characteristic of this cleanlegged horse in all but a few animals."
When the breed registry was formed by Claude Thompson and Dr. Francis Haines in 1938, many of the foundation horses came by this gait naturally, as their ancestors had before them. It has been said that Gene Autry used to show off the gait of his Appaloosa El Morroco F-18 by putting a roping saddle on him, placing a glass of water on the horn and riding off at full speed without spilling a drop.
The closer a breeder stays to foundation stock, the greater the likelihood that a percentage of his herd will have the shuffle. The greatest instance would occur from strict Appaloosa to Appaloosa crosses.
The paso horses claim nearly 100 percent heritability. Appaloosas with the gait come nowhere near that figure, though it appears to be a dominant trait in Appaloosa to Appaloosa crosses where one parent has it. Crosses to other breeds tend to erase the gait quickly. In Fact, as years go by, it is increasingly difficult to find the Indian shuffle, and many breeders have never even heard of it. Will the shuffle eventually be lost to the Appaloosa? Perhaps not. many breeders find the ride so comfortable that they encourage it in their stock. One Ohio man, Don Ulrich, is actually breeding for it. He has chosen the difficult task of gathering Appaloosas with the shuffle from across the United States for this breeding program. Ulrich plans to breed a horse with the shuffle for endurance and long distance riding and has had very interesting reactions to his search. One breeder suggested sending such horses to slaughter, while others were very enthusiastic about the idea, including those who have ridden the horses he has purchased.
In the show ring the shuffle is not an asset. A horse that deviates from the walk, trot and canter is disqualified. Although a horse with the shuffle can trot, the horse will often insist on shuffling under saddle. Breeders with their eyes on the "blues" would not keep a shuffler for long.
Where does the shuffle belong? At this moment, not in the show ring. Perhaps one day it might be allowed in costume classes where one strives to be authentic to the Nez Perce tradition. Today it appears that this gait was made for the endurance enthusiast and pleasure rider. The shuffle requires a minimum effort on the part of the horse, and those who ride it say it is the perfect sure-footed gait for hilly country.
Liability or asset? It's up to you to decide. Everyone interested in the Appaloosa should be familiar with the Indian shuffle. As part of our American history, the shuffle could provide extra enjoyment for many Appaloosa enthusiasts today.