A new breed of horse roams the Nez Perce reservation.
They are tall, muscular, black, golden, metallic and palomino stallions
and mares "fit to carry the Nez Perce name," said Rudy
Shebala, director of the Tribe’s Horse Registry and Young
Horsemen breeding program.
A cross-gene of an appaloosa mare and a rare central Asian breed
called the akhal-teke, the Nez Perce horses resemble the powerful
steeds ridden by Nez Perce warriors of the past.
Shebala said the goal of the breeding program is to resurrect Nez
Perce horse culture and help cut unemployment rate by teaching tribe
members how to care, raise, breed and sell the Nez Perce horse.
In 1805, when Lewis and Clark made their way through the Bitterroot
Mountains into eastern Idaho and Nez Perce territory, the adventurers
made note of the Nez Perce riding "magnificent horses with
great strength," Shebala said.
One journal written by Meriwether Lewis said the following about
the Nez Perce horse: "Their horses appear to be an excellent
race; they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; in short
many of them look like fine English coursers and would make a figure
in any country."
Shebala said that breed of horse was called the Cordoba, a steed
imported from Spain. The breed slowly became extinct after the battle
of 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains between the U.S. Army and Nez
Perce warriors, who were led to war by freedom fighter Chief Joseph.
Following the war, the Cordoba – or "war horse"
– breed was lost over generations. Shebala said the white
man bred the Cordoba with plow and carriage horses and as a result,
Cordoba hoof prints eventually disappeared.
"Chief Joseph fought while riding a Cordoba," Shebala
said. "Truly they were exceptional war horses. They were known
as man’s fifth arm."
In 1938, Shebala said the Nez Perce started to breed the Appaloosa,
a mix between a quarter horse, thoroughbred and Arabian.
filly is shown by a
Nez Perce Horse Registry
Nez Perce became famous for breeding the Appaloosa," Shebala
stallion from the Nez Perce
Horse Registry Program
photo: courtesy of the horse program
In 1994, Shebala spearheaded the Horse Registry program to raise a
new breed of horse called the "Nez Perce."
"We (the Nez Perce Tribe) wanted a horse similar to the type
of horse that was lost a hundred years ago," Shebala said.
Shebala, a Navajo who married a Nez Perce 18 years ago, said the Tribe
chose to breed the Appaloosa with the akhal-teke because "it
has a much thinner and taller frame compared to the appaloosa."
Akhal-teke horses come from the dry, sun-drenched desert of the former
Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan. They have thinner skin due to consistent
heat and were raised to run at top speed non-stop for long periods
at a time.
"The Akhal-teke are more greyhound-like," Shebala said.
"They are known to run 120 miles a day up to 10 days in a row."
Shebala said introducing the breed has already sparked the Tribe’s
interest to learn the art of horsemanship.
"For quite a few years horsemanship was suppressed," Shebala
said. "It’s back."
Late last year Shebala sold a Nez Perce mare for $14,500.
"And currently I am negotiating another sale of a mare for $6,500,"
he said, adding that all proceeds from horse sales go back into the
Shebala said the only drawback to the program is selling the best
horses to improve the reputation of the Horse Registry.
"But we’ll continue to breed and sell the best horses to
prove to our Tribal Council and tribal members that the program is
a success," he added.
Shebala envisions that 10 years from now, the Nez Perce horse "will
be at top competitions and the Nez Perce Tribe, once again, will be
famous for historically developing a superior horse."