The fact of the matter is, by selective breeding for dominant traits, we can introduce colorful patterns to virtually any “type” of horse we like… creating tobiano-patterned Saddlebags, or leopard-spotted warm bloods, if that's what suits our fancy. If you breed Paints, Pintos, Appaloosas and Ponies of the Americas, an attractive pattern can make a significant difference in the economic value of your foal crop.
The background color on every horse, with or without white markings or a white pattern, is one of the basic colors: bay, black, chestnut/sorrel, brown, dun, buckskin, palomino, cream, roan and gray. Like a horse's background color, his genes control his distribution of white hair.
A number of different genes determine white markings on the face and legs. The horse's base color apparently influences these genes, since white markings on chestnuts tend to be more extensive than those on bays and white markings on bays are more extensive than those on blacks.
Complex relationships between the different genes determine the presence, absence and extent of the white leg and facial markings. Because of this, it is difficult or impossible to predict the white markings to be expected on a foal from any given mating.
Since fewer genes are involved, we can more easily predict the inheritance of white areas on the bodies of horses. Just as with solid colors, a pair of genes, one from the sire and one from the dam, determines any spotting pattern.
Every horse of every breed, no matter what his color, has a pair of genes for every possible spotting pattern. In this article, dominant genes are designated by capital letters (e.g., T = Tobago, O = over, L = leopard/appaloosa complex).
The white areas may be difficult to see on a cream, pale palomino, dun or buckskin, or light gray or roan, but if the horse has a dominant gene for a pattern, it is there. For certain patterns (e.g., Tobago), genetic tests are available to determine whether a horse is homozygous or heterozygous.
Undoubtedly, as knowledge of the equine genome increases, tests for genes determining other patterns will be developed. In addition, all four lower legs are white and the head (although possibly having a star, stripe or blaze on the face) is indistinguishable from that of a solid-colored horse.
In addition, at least one lower leg is colored, and the horse has generally extensive white markings on the head. The over often has a so-called “bald” face and white markings that often extend onto the lower jaw.
The terms piebald and skewbald as regards over and Tobago horses sometimes cause confusion. A skewbald horse has any color besides black in association with his white pattern.
Overs have four distinct patterns: frame, calico, Sabine and splashed white. Others have nearly all-white heads and extensively white bodies, although the midline of the back and the lower legs and feet are colored.
There can be extensive, irregular white markings on the head, but the hair around the eyes is usually colored. A over may, for example, display all the features of a frame over, but have white areas crossing his back.
Two common patterns in covers are designated medicine hatband war bonnet. The medicine Hanover is almost all white, with colored hairs limited to his ears, poll and sometimes part of his neck and flanks.
The existence of covers explains the occasional lethal white foal resulting from the mating of an apparent Tobago with an over. Dr. D. Phillip Spangenberg of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, an expert on color genetics of horses, distinguishes the following leopard/appaloosa patterns: blanket, snow cap blanket, leopard, few spot leopards, snowflake, speckled, frost, mottled and varnish roan.
Most leopard/appaloosa complex horses have what breed enthusiasts call “mottled” or “varicolored” skin, small dots or freckles around the muzzle, eyes, ears and external genitalia. Leopard/appaloosa complex horses also frequently have striped hooves, even on solid-colored legs, and white showing around the sclera, the outer rim of the eye.
Some minimally marked leopard/appaloosa complex horses can be identified only by their mottled skin, white-rimmed eyes, and striped hooves. The various appaloosa complex patterns were once believed to be controlled by different genes.
Recent evidence strongly suggests, however, that a single dominant gene controls them. In general, homo zygotes are lighter than heterozygotes, but intermediate shades are difficult to classify.
The vast majority (often 100%) of horses in most breeds are homozygous recessive for white (WW). As homozygous white is lethal, WW foals perish as embryos (unlike the lethal white over, which is born at full term and dies shortly after birth).
Grays, creams, leopards with few spots, and war bonnets are sometimes mistaken for whites. Crop-outs From what we've said about dominants and recessives, we know that although two spotted parents frequently produce solid-colored foals, the reverse is not supposed to happen.
A mating between two solid parents is not supposed to result in an over foal, but occasionally this happens. A crop-out occurs when a dominant gene that is hidden in a parent appears (“crops out”) in an offspring.
There are three possible explanations for the over crop-out: 1) One of the parents really is an over, but the only clue, which was misinterpreted or missed entirely, is an excessively high white stocking, a very wide blaze, or a tiny white spot on the body. The results of genetic testing (now available at the UniversityofCaliforniaatDavis) prove that a dominant over gene generally can be found in one parent of a crop-out.
But progeny testing provides irrefutable evidence that over spotting is caused by a dominant gene. The over pattern in horses can cause lethal white syndrome, a fatal condition that kills a foal shortly after birth.
However, researchers have developed a test so that you can check to see if your stallion or mare carries the lethal factor. A horse with lethal white syndrome carries the homozygous over gene (OO).
In addition, nearly all loud calicoes (which are probably calico-frame blends) carry the lethal white factor. ·Palominos, buckskins and crème-colored horses are the result of a dilution gene that expresses “incomplete” dominance.
·Purebred Thoroughbreds and Percheron's do not carry any dominant dun genes, only recessives, as part of their genetic code. ·In the Tobago pattern, the white color crosses the center of the horse's back between the neck and the croup.
A Tobago generally has four white legs, and his face markings are similar to a solid-colored horse. An over has as least one colored lower leg and often has extensive white markings on the head.
·A single horse can inherit any number of dominant genes that all express themselves, creating highly unusual color and pattern combinations such as “pantaloons” (Tobago + appaloosa complex), and over dun roans (dun + roan + Tobago + over), etc. They are majestic, heart-warming, and, just like shoes, horses come in many colors.
The mane and tail are black, and they have no white areas on the coat. The coat color is like a cream and the mane and tail are white.
Buckskin is another flashy color with a golden coat and black points. Although not as common, the dun horse color is just as beautiful but unique.
Gray horses are born another base color and lose their pigment over time. They have a base color and white hairs scattered throughout the coat.
A pinto coat color does not mean that a horse is a Paint. All horse colors are beautiful, unique, and come in so many variations and patterns.
The girls have an unmatched personality and bond with Dani. She has been around horses her entire life and rodeoed throughout high school and beyond.
And although the debate over certain colors will likely continue to rage, the information we've gathered will help you identify some sixty common--and not-so-common--hues in horsed om. We've also simplified basic genetic speak to give you an idea of what pairings can produce these colors-and provided resources that'll help you dig deeper into the world of color breeding.
Just to get things started... did you know that gray isn't considered a color, but rather a pattern of white hairs? We've distilled the standard color classifications into two categories for ease of visual identification: horses with black points (mane, tail, ear rims and lower legs--such as you see on a bay); and those with non-black points (think chestnut).
Simply put, black and red are the two basic equine color pigments. Your horse's ability to reproduce these pigments is an inherited trait, with red being recessive (see “Glossary,” below) to black.
(In fact, you'll see that dilution can be powerful enough to water down the black on a genetically black-point horse, shifting him into the non-black-point category.) Black-point colors are bay, black, brown, grille, buckskin and zebra dun.
Non-black-point colors are champagne, chestnut/sorrel, cello, red dun, palomino and silver dapple. As with the human hair labels of blond, brunette and redhead, variations within these primary categories would take many more than twelve fingers to count.
Toss in the white-pattern colors of gray, paint/pinto, roan and Appaloosa, and identification can render you colorblind! We've also given you a broad example of sire and dam color, in the form of a “sample genetic recipe,” that could produce such offspring.
Bay: Body color ranges from reddish-brown to washed-out yellow, with or without a mix of darker or lighter hairs; dark eyes. Standard bay: reddish-brown medium shade without a mix of darker or lighter hairs.
Note: Brown is not considered a separate color in some registries, but rather a shade of bay. Sample variations on color: Seal brown: a black horse whose hair has a mealy look.
Buckskin: This dilute (see “Glossary”) version of bay can range from cream to a yellowish or orange shade; dark eyes. Although buckskins are often confused with duns, today “buckskin” is a term generally reserved for tan or yellowish-colored horses that have black points but lack a dun's hallmark primitive markings (see “Glossary”).
The term “zebra dun” is generally used to describe buckskin-colored horses with primitive markings. Grille: This is a dun dilution of black or seal-brown hair that results in a slate-gray or mouse color.
Zebra dun: Horses are similar in body color to buckskin, but with primitive markings. They tend to be more of a tan shade than the lighter, clearer yellows of most buckskin horses.
(To help you visualize this effect, picture a chocolate Labrador Retriever versus a black Lab.) As a point of identification, keep in mind that the champagne gene always results in lightened skin that lacks black, and in amber-colored eyes (which can darken almost to brown with age).
Gold champagne (genetically chestnut): golden-yellow body and legs; red/gold or white mane and tail. Particularly light-colored horses in this shade can resemble cellos, but the amber eyes tell the true story.
Amber champagne (genetically bay): gold body; chocolate mane, tail and legs. Champagne (genetically black): khaki-colored body that can have almost greenish highlights; mane, tail and legs are chocolate.
A strain in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed is famous for this color. Chestnut/sorrel (see “Sorrel Versus Chestnut,” below): Reddish or copper-reddish body and legs are representative of the red factor.
In North America, chestnuts/sorrels are generally named by body shade only, ignoring mane and tail color. Cream or cello: This double dilution of chestnut/sorrel results in a color so light as to be almost white.
In many cases the coat is described as ivory; mane and tail are white or nearly so; skin is pale pink; eyes are always blue. Per lino: same as cello, except that small amounts of color (cream or coffee-colored) are retained in the mane, tail and lower leg.
Red dun: A dominant dilution gene results in tan too reddish-brown to yellow-colored horses that could be confused with chestnuts except for the presence of primitive markings (most commonly a dorsal stripe, or “line back,” hence the general term “line back duns”) and dark points. Mane, tail and legs can be darker than the body color; dark eyes.
Clay bank dun: a pale shade ranging from pale straw to yellow clay, characterized by a yellow cast to the hair; mane and tail are mostly cream or white. Palomino: This color is actually the result of chestnut with a cream dilution factor.
Look for a rich gold to clear-yellow body; manes and tails are generally white or pale; dark eyes. Golden palomino: a body the color of a newly minted gold coin, with a white mane and tail.
Isabel: the palest palomino shade or dark cream with amber eyes. Sooty (or smutty) palomino: black shading mixed with yellow body hairs; can be quite dark and difficult to distinguish from a chestnut.
Silver dapple: A dominant gene acts on black pigments (such as points) by lightening them. Now known simply as the “silver gene,” as only a minority of horses actually show dapples.
Silver-dapple bay: body red; mane and tail flaxen or mixed; legs light; eyes dark. Silver-dapple black: body chocolate-silver dapple; mane and tail flaxen or white; legs chocolate brown; eyes dark.
Even though you may think of gray as a horse color, it's actually considered to be a pattern of white hairs. Also, characteristic of this factor are white sclera visible around the eyes, mottled skin pigment on the face and/or genitals and striped hooves.
Snowflake: white patches up to nearly 3 inches across, scattered over a darker base color. Bony areas (such as the face, withers, hip and stifle) are darker than the rest of the body; the exact opposite of the “frosty roan”.
Such horses are normally born colored, then progressively acquire white hairs as they age; the body, mane, tail and legs are gray; eyes are dark. Flea-bitten gray: small flecks of color (generally red or black) remain in the coat.
Not a permanent color, but rather a descriptive term for a stage of gray through which a bay- or chestnut-hued young horse may go through as he gets progressively grayer. Any number of background colors can exist; mane, tail and legs vary depending on genetic coat pattern (see below); eyes can be dark or blue.
White spots generally occur on the body's and neck's middle or sides and only rarely cross the towline between withers and tail. Sabine: an over pattern that usually involves extensive white on the legs and face.
Body spots are generally on the belly and appear as roan, speckled or (rarely) white patches with clean edges. Mane and tail are colored or mixed white; eyes are dark or blue.
Spots tend to be regular and distinct as ovals or round patterns that extend down the neck and chest and usually cross the back. Note: Homozygous (see “Glossary”) Tobias generally throw 100 percent patterned coat.
Roan: A dominant genetic effect results in the intermingling of white hairs with the base-coat color throughout a horse's body, but not on the points. Frosty roan: a distinctive and unusual roaming pattern characterized by an uneven mixture of white hairs (like a frost) mostly over the bony parts, such as the hips, down the spine and over the shoulders; dark eyes.
For assistance with this article, the editors thank D. Phillip Spangenberg, DVD, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Genetics at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; and Ann T. Bowling, PhD, of the University of California Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Davis, California. Blood marks: Large, distinct patches of color--usually red, hence the name--that can develop on gray horses as they age.
For instance, a black affected by dilution becomes grille; bay becomes buckskin; chestnut becomes palomino. Heterozygous: A pair of alleles that aren't alike on a single chromosome, hence not always breeding true to type for the color involved.
Homozygous: A pair of alleles that are identical on a single chromosome, hence breeding true to type for the color involved. Such foals are born healthy and vigorous, with solid white bodies and blue eyes.
Not immediately apparent is the fact that they lack crucial nerves in the intestinal tract, resulting in a constriction through which material can't pass. Mealy: A genetic modification that causes pale red or yellowish areas on the lower belly, flanks, behind the elbows, inside the legs, on the muzzle and over the eyes.
This effect can also apply to chestnuts in the form of multiple shades of red on the body. Most common in dun-colored horses, but can occur on darker colors, such as bay and chestnut.
Fabiano: Coloration similar to roan, except that white hairs are concentrated in the flanks; can be speckled in appearance. Skewbald: An older English term used to describe white spotting on any color other than black (see “Piebald,” above).
For instance, draft-horse breeders often reserve the term “sorrel” for chestnut horses with the mealy effect (see “Glossary”) superimposed. Other breeds, notably the American Quarter Horse, apply the term based on body shade alone: To them, “sorrel” refers to red or lighter chestnut shades, with or without the mealy effect.
A third approach, though rare, is to use the term “sorrel” to describe a light chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. Unless you're into Quarter Horses or draft breeds, “chestnut” may be the term of choice, at least in a generic sense.
The terms “paint” and “pinto” generally mean the presence of asymmetric white spotting patterns on the horse's coat. Confusion over proper usage has lingered because in years past the term “paint” was used to describe a piebald horse (see “Glossary”).
The trend has been to drop those dated English color descriptions in favor of genetically distinctive coat patterns, such as over and Tobago. However, confusion still arises when “paint” and “pinto” are used to designate breed names.
Here's a simple rule of thumb: When the word “paint” or “pinto” is being used in a generic, descriptive sense, it doesn't need capitalizing.