China’s T’Ang Dynasty (618-970)

A superior equine breeding program was started in the early part of the T’Ang Dynasty using improved lines developed during the Han Dynasty some 220 years earlier. Back then, Emperor Han apparently sent a trusted emissary on a torturous journey across a formidable dessert, with instructions to bring back as many “Heavenly Horses” as he could find. So named because they grazed and reproduced at the foot of the Heavenly Mountains, a verdantly fertile valley where horses thrived. People far and wide told of the magnificent horses and word finally reached the Emperor that a superior “blood sweating” war horse would fight on, long after riders had been knocked from its back. Desperate to improve his military strength with a mount to match those of the Mongolian war mongers, the Emissary was told not to return until he had secured as many Heavenly Horses as possible. It took 12 years to make the round trip, loosing men and horses along the way and eventually returning with only twelve Heavenly horses. 2,000 others were also obtained from tribes in the Ferghana valley. Regardless of their differences, breeding to China’s inadequate pot-bellied horses eventually resulted in hybrid vigor, a much larger improved offspring.

It was said that seen from afar during skirmishes, Heavenly horses glistened in the sun, their red spots wet with the sweat of battle, they were mistaken for spots of blood. Certainly they would have been gaited just like horses of Mongolia are to this day. Finally, China’s armies were mounted on superior horses, an advantage they enjoyed for the next 220 years.

220 years later, and during the wealthy and peaceful T’Ang Dynasty, cross-breeding for an even larger horse got underway. Who first thought that adding Draft Horses into the mix would be a good idea, we will never know. Perhaps like so many of China’s national treasurers which local farmers have unearthed while digging in their fields, one needing more horses decided to breed whatever was available and by sheer chance, the SOULON was born. It wouldn’t have taken the authorities long to realize “here is a most magnificent and superior animal” and to continue the momentum for the Royal house.

If it weren’t for this photo of a modern day Soulon reaching for some tasty willow tree shoots, we might think the artist of these ceramics went a little overboard! There is nothing like history, repeating itself.

The SOULON Tiger Horse (pronounced Sue Laahn) has an ancient history. Some say they were used to hunt the Siberian tiger. Paintings and sculptures do show substantially built horses hunting tigers, and sometimes themselves under a Big cat attack.

(below) a rider mounted on a spotted horse, his bow drawn at a fleeing tiger, a rider fleeing on a horse while a Big cat crouches at the ready, and finally a substantial horse under a Big cat attack. Certainly these beautiful horses were fodder for both tiger, and man, (horses are farmed for table food to this day in Mongolia and surrounds), but over time, the Siberian tigers have been hunted to almost extinction and the original SOULON horse have totally disappeared.

We don’t yet know the specific genetic make-up of the Lp gene (leopard pattern). Apparently it is quite complicated or somebody would already have mapped it. We do know it has been around for millennia


How is it possible for Breeders in the 21st century to be producing SOULON horses, when the SOULONS went extinct a few thousand years ago, and none ever made their way to these shores? The reason is actually quite simple. 300 years ago when native Americans were forced to turn their beloved horses loose to fend for themselves, Draft and Thoroughbred horses that the military had discarded, were turned loose as well. Naturally they teamed up to breed at will. Some results were very good, some quite bad. Natures mix is a window into the ancient Chinese experiments using similar combinations. They too would have experienced a mixture of good and bad. Unlike nature though, China’s breeding program would become a thoughtful one producing the celebrated SOULONS which Chinese artists celebrate to this very day, even though their SOULONS are long since extinct.

Remember China had obtained 2,000 Thoroughbred types from the Ferghana valley and 12 gaited, Heavenly Horses, presumably with spots and bred them to their small inadequate horses producing a pretty decent military mount but it was not until centuries later and during the T’Ang Dynasty, that China infused Draft Horses to increase size and voila! their SOULON was born. Here in “wild America” nearly 2,000 years later, the almost identical breeding mix was lying in wait for us to discover. Thoroughbreds, Spanish remnants, Indian horses, and Drafts. As if by decree, came together to create the genetics necessary to bring back the SOULONS, and bring them back we did!

For those who would like to travel the historical road, read on: About 300 years ago, large shipments of horses left Spain for the USA and landed at breeding stations in South American countries. At the time, every available horse was needed to help the Americans settle the new world. Spain was famous for breeding the finest horses in all of Europe and was a major source for discerning horse buyers. Obviously Spain was the first port of call for superior horses and Spanish horse traders convinced the King of Spain to take advantage of a budding lucrative market. It was not until it was too late that the King realized he had been robbed. All of his superior breeding stock had also been spirited away. To this day Spain has never recovered from the loss.

Included in the shipments were a mix of exotically spotted horses like this one in the painting. Some were gaited and could travel smoothly without any bounce for a rider. They were the result of Spains decision to cross spotted horses on the pony sized gaited Asturions from the mysterious Basque region to the north. The gaited ones were celebrated and used by ladies and gentlemen of the Royal Court for gentle riding. The non-gaited ones went to the Spanish Riding School and were taught to perform at the highest levels of dressage by riders known as Genets. This style of riding was known as “a la Genetta.” Anglos then corrupted the term and referred to any spotted horse from Spain as a Spanish Jennet, which suggests that a breed of that name existed, when in fact no such breed ever existed in Spain. Fortunately the US army did not think them suitable and discarded them for Indian tribes to scoop up. In particular the Nez Perce is credited with breeding them to number in the hundreds. Lewis and Clark report the horses more magnificent than any they had ever seen and that the Nez Perce were well experienced in the art of castration. They also had a strict breeding program. Chestnut horses on the left banks of the Paloose River, blue roans and spotted horses on the right side. Anglos then referred to the spotted horses as “Paloose” horses. It is not hard to see how the name eventually evolved to “a Paloosa” and finally “Appaloosa,” a name that has stuck to the present day and belongs to horses evolved from those encampments and now registered with the Appaloosa Horse Club where experimental breeding and improvement is ongoing.

(right) Tiger and Soulon horse Founder Victoria Varley at one of the Appaloosa Horse Club’s annual week long “Chief Josesph” rides. Seen here with Ted, the Nez Perce Tribe’s assistant horse breed Registrar, Ted told Victoria that the Nez Perce never owned large quantities of spotted or gaited horses. He said they preferred the roans, some of which were “shufflers” (an energy saving lazy way of gaiting) and added that gaited horses were more the property of the Cayuse tribe. It is a known fact that Chief Joseph’s favorite horse was a large brown roan. Ted added “a few spotted horses would have been kept for secret ceremonial gatherings, but seldom seen publicly.” Eventually the horses bred by the Nez Perce horses were those turned loose to fend for themselves, together with anything the armed forces discarded, among which were Thoroughbreds, Draft horses and others and by the time the founding fathers of ApHc decided to rescue what was left of leopard spotted gaited horses they had seen Indian children galloping around on, they could not find any that were gaited.

The ApHc was then formed to rescue what they could, horses that had bred as Ferals, the mix was vast and infusions of Arabians initially, were arranged to refine some of the unwanted characteristics. Arabians are not gaited and since none of the Appaloosas were easily identified as being gaited, show rules were written for non-gaited horses, further eliminating any chance for a gaited Appaloosas comeback. Occasionally one wouldl surface and instead of being embraced and being respected for their true antiquity, instead it was disqualified from the show ring. Literally given the gate.

Over the years the club has sought to improve the “breed” and have allowed further infusions of Arabians, and now include Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.

Add in the original Appaloosa horses and you get four phenotypes struggling for recognition as a single breed. It’s not going to happen soon. Naturally dispute has raged within the members circle, resulting in break away groups intent on saving original characteristics, mainly lots of spotted coats which because of so many non-spotted infusions are bound to disappear. On top of which many early Breeders did not recognize that white Appaloosas were hidden treasures and culled them from the breed. “White” Appaloosas have inherited two copies of the spotted coat pattern gene and always give one to their foals. The things that slip by right under our noses when we rush to judgement.

“Nothing changes the direction of a breed faster than the decisions of a Judge!”
TIGRE has been able to reverse direction for the better.
ENTER Tigre and THE SOULON TIGER HORSE, a 21st century miracle.
Yes we love the wild array of spotted coat patterns that many Tiger Horses display, but we are more about quality than color.
and we choose our Judges carefully!

A leopard Ghost Horse stallion.

(This type never gaits but is likely to give you leopard foals)

A Varnish Roan mare and her blue roan colt

(This type follows the gender related gait inheritence rule)
See COAT PATTERNS for more details

A spotted Roan or Varnish roan mare.

(This type is born solid colored but then changes.)

“Fortunately,” as somebody once said; “it takes millions of years for genes to disappear, or even change.” This has made it possible for us to turn back the clock and in 1992 the Founders of Tigre did so by selectively breeding certain types of Appaloosa horses with similar types of gaited breeds. “We are actively reversing history and the noble Tiger Horse is once again among us. Better yet it is evolving into a SOULON look-alike made possible because of feral breeding over 200 years ago when Draft horses were turned loose with every other horse America had to offer.” It took only a few years to recognize the similarities in nature’s breeding program and that of the ancient SOULON Breeders in China and to know why it was happening, but it took nearly 20 years to consistently reproduce our SOULONS. One person focused and dedicated, has single-handedly produced a modern day copy cat of the ancient SOULONS of China. Some of it was good luck, some of it the results of good decisions, but most of it because genetics instilled into horses gone feral were almost identical to the ones used purposely by the T’Ang Dynasty Chinese. Yes they are related, but in a very distant way. They share ancestors with spotted coat patterns but the rest is all very new.

It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? but consider that we wanted good horses, spots, middle gaits, a riding size, controlled spirit and athletic ability, perfect conformation, people loving dispositions, and a really tall order, consistent SOULON type! We demanded good lift of limb, and a straight way of going. It is a small miracle that all of this was possible in only 20 years. Now that the SOULON profile has emerged from within the Tiger Horse group, it is the one we are promoting and rewarding. You may own a SOULON type horse that we would welcome into the breed. Contact us. We would love to hear from you.


Rule #1: Choose horses from the breeds you use, that differ from their breed’s standards, especially if they have Iberian profiles.
Rule #2: Extract the various coat patterns of the leopard complex gene from desirable Appaloosa horses only. There are two homozygous types.
Rule #3: Single out the best only, gaited offspring to keep. Sell or give away the rest.
Rule #4: Keep the top quality non gaited, non spotted offspring for further infusions. Solid colored horses are highly desirable in the mix.
Rule #5: DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH EVERY HORSE IN YOUR BARN. Take off your blinkers and use only those with the highest quality.
Rule #6: Recognize that a new breed of horse is going to have it’s own mind.
Rule #7: Pick your battles and rejoice in the surprise when SOULON characteristics arrive, apparently from “nowhere,” (Draft horse in their ancestry).
Rule #8: Breed at least one Soulon type with every cover. Better still, breed Soulon types to Soulon types, and this way cement in the genetics.
Rule #9: Think QUALITY not QUANTITY. Spend wisely. Pay more for one good horse rather than less for 3 mediocre horses.
Rule #10: Use three top quality mares and start with stud services from good stallions that are offered by others. You’ll produce your own soon enough..
Rule #11: Price sales stock according to quality and your need to sell. If you want to sell, put a sellers price in place and stick to your guns!
Rule #12: Never reduce the price of your stock once you’ve gone public. It sends really bad signals to your viewers and devalues what you hope to achieve.

Some horses can change from solid in color at birth to a “flea-bit” roan coat displaying evenly distributed tiny white spots throughout.
More important than any coat pattern is the horse’s ability to perform one of the three middle gaits, to have a great people loving disposition and be sensible and willing to work along the trail. No longer just a gentleman’s pleasure, these are marvellous family suitable mounts

A little history about the Founders

In 1992, South African born Victoria Varley, and her New Zealand born husband Mark, began experimental horse breeding on their Arkansas farm. The initial attempt was made to bring back “el Caballo Tigre” ie, (The Tiger Horse) which had its start in Spain but then disappeared into the Americas. Thousands of early imports from Spain to the USA via the Americas in the 1800’s were reported to have been gaited and spotted. There are no originals alive today as many have been bred by a variety of people to represent what they want in their spotted horse. This has resulted in rescuing the leopard coat patterns which is a good thing, but the bad thing is lots of unwanted genetics have also been rescued.

Fortunately history has a habit of repeating itself and the Varleys embarked on a weeding out program to extract as many of the original qualities of spotted gaited horses from Spain, and discarded many of the unwanted genes. Not all of them, but certainly the most obnoxious. Their successful breeding program produced over 110 spotted gaited horses, most of which differed vastly from the horses or breeds that were used to produce them.

Originally an Arabian horse breeder, Victoria competed internationally as an open rider in 1986 with the USA team at the first world championships 100 miles in 1 day horse race, near Rome, Italy. The following year Victoria and the same Arabian, Miss Lexa, were once again nominated to represent the USA internationally. This time she was a team member and brought home a gold medal from The European National Championships 100 miles in 1 day horse race in Germany. Eventually tiring of having to rise and fall in the saddle on a trotting horse, her thoughts turned to gaited horses. Her first mare was a palomino Missouri Foxtrotter, not that different from her Arabians, spirited but in a controlled way and as smooth to ride as floating on a cloud. She was hooked. The new Tiger Horse breed in her future would be smooth to ride, gaited of course but based on the wonderful athletics of the Arabian horses she had owned and loved for so many years. Now her breed would take on a completely different profile. Concave faces would be replaced with convex ones. Fractious dispositions would be replaced with calmer sensible dispositions but their ability to go the distance compared favorable with that of the Arabians.

Extracting spots from modern day “Few Spot” Appaloosas to breed to talented long distance gaited stock was the easy part. Finding antique pheno-types in either group, quite another story. During her research she wondered where Spain had acquired their spotted horses, and discovered that large groups once grazed the Siberian plains at the foot of the Heavenly Mountains district on the China/Siberia border. Some were said to have been used to hunt the Siberian Tiger, and were known by many names including; “Heavenly Horses,” “Horses of the air,” “Blood Sweating Horses,” “EL Caballo Tigre,” “Magical Horses,” and on and on but the large herds that once grazed in “paradise,” were now extinct including other breeds that had been developed on their backs. Because of their exotic beauty, their genes have traveled to several continents and countries. One group to Spain and then on to the USA via South American breeding stations, and these are the horses that made it possible for The Tiger Horse breed of the 21st century to develop.

China had obtained only a few Heavenly Horses during the Han Dynasty but 220 years later began breeding the offspring of those few, to Draft horses and produced a magnificent horse named SOULON. The Soulon was a much celebrated animal. Used for parades and such, its memory lives on in art even though it went extinct some 2,000 years ago.

From the start of the Varley’s Tiger Horse breed, a few individuals were born that closely resembled the ancient Soulon of China but how could this be? There was no connection other than a very distant one and mostly for the spotted coat gene. It didn’t take long to trace the roots of today’s Appaloosa horses and realize that when the Indian tribes who owned them were forced to give up their nomadic ways and revert to farming, they could no longer afford to keep horses that needed to move with the seasons, so turned them loose to fend for themselves. The Military did the same thing. Thoroughbreds (similar to the Han Dynasty development) and Draft Horses (similar to those used during the T’Ang Dynasty), and there was the answer. It took thousands of years for China’s Soulon to come into being but only 300 for The Soulon Tiger Horse of the USA. Same combination. One by man, the other by nature.

Clearly all Victoria needed to do was stay with the program and the momentum could continue. Today 19 of Tigre’s registered Tiger Horses qualify for Soulon recognition. The Tiger Horse Breed Registry protects and promotes the new breed but emphasizes a preference for Soulon type. Soon all Tiger Horses will be recognized as Soulon Tiger Horses especially if breeding continues to favor using individuals that bear the many aristocratic markers of the T’Ang Dynasty Soulon.

The Varleys have reached retirement age but continue to breed for Soulon perfection. As of August 2012 they own 6 Soulon Approved individuals one of which is not gaited but she will be bred to a gaited stallion and if she has a daughter, it will inherit most of her magnificence and all of her sire’s gait. That’s how gait is inherited, fathers to daughters and mothers to sons. You heard it here first.

The ancient SOULON’S pheno-type is consistently represented as a stately animal with a substantial neck and sturdy hind quarters. The head is elegantly aristocratic by design and many paintings show the T’Ang horses in full or lateral gait. The same is true for our modern day SOULONS which look like one another but are very different from any other modern day breed. Gaited or not. Many of our Tiger Horses closely resemble the great SOULONS of China’s. Long Live The Soulons!

Not all Tigre registered horses qualify for The SOULON SEAL OF APPROVAL, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable for producing Soulons. Many of them are perfect for the job. If your horse is listed here and you have not received your medallion for application to your registration papers, please apply with self-addressed stamped envelope to:

Attn: Registrar
PO Box 638
Grants, NM 87020-0638

We would be delighted to include your horse in our Soulon Registered Horses file.

We would also like to invite people with non-registered Tiger Horses to apply for breeding status acceptance. If you have a horse that could produce a Tiger or Soulon Tiger Horse when bred to the right partner, we would welcome you into our organization.

What we need: $55.00 Soulon approved breeding partner fee.
A video showing your horses way of going. Gaited or not gaited may apply
Photographs showing all 4 sides of the horse. No people or other pets included please, and a clear view of their hooves.

What this gets you:
“Soulon approved breeding stock” certificate You do not have to be a member of Tigre to use your horse for Tiger Horse foals. If you do produce eligible stock and decide to register your foals with Tigre, you do need to be a member of Tigre for which their is a fee plus a registration fee for your horse. For Tigre registrations, please check the “Fees” page for all other information.