COLORS AND MARKINGS OF HORSES Agriscience 334 Equine Science #8892-B TEKS: 199.66 (c)(2)(B)
Introduction People use colors and markings to identify individual horses. Some breed associations prefer or require horses to be certain colors for registration into the association and discriminate against other colors.
Body Colors Horses come in several basic body colors and there are several variations of each basic color. The five basic body colors include black, bay, brown, chestnut, and white.
Black A black horse is solid black all over its body, including the mane, tail, and points, and its skin is black.
Bay A bay horse always has a black mane and tail and usually has black points. The body color can vary from a light, yellowish tan to a dark, rich reddish brown color (called a “blood bay”).
Brown Brown coat color varies from medium to dark brown. Some brown horses are so dark they appear black.
To distinguish a black horse from a dark brown horse, look at the hairs on the horse’s muzzle or flanks; a black horse will have black hairs, while a brown horse will have tan or brown hairs.
Chestnut A chestnut horse is basically red. The body color can vary from a light yellow to a dark liver color, called “liver chestnut.” Between these extremes, one can find brilliant red gold and copper shades.
In some areas of the country, people call a bright copper-colored chestnut horse “sorrel.”
The mane and tail of a chestnut horse are either the same color as the body or lighter; but, the chestnut horse’s mane and tail are never black.
White A true white horse is born white and stays white throughout its life. A white horse has white hair, pink skin, and brown or blue eyes.
People sometimes mistakenly describe gray horses as white. An example of this mistake is how people classify the color of the Lipizzan breed. They often refer to the Lipizzan stallions as “the white stallions of Lipizza,” but these horses are born dark gray and lighten with age; they are not truly white.
In addition to the five basic coat colors, six major variations to these coat colors exist. These variations are dun (buckskin), gray, palomino, paint (pinto), roan, and Appaloosa.
Dun (Buckskin) Dun and buckskin colors are modifications of the bay color pattern. Dun and buckskin colors are both characterized by black mane, tail, and points.
A dun or buckskin horse may show a dark stripe down its back and across its shoulders. Dark stripes may also extend across the forearms of dun and buckskin horses.
The body color of dun and buckskin horses range from a pale yellow to a dirty canvas color. The body color of a dun is darker than for a buckskin.
A grulla or grullo dun horse has a smooth blue-gray or a gray-brown mouse color with dark points.
Gray A gray horse has a mixture of black and white hairs. Gray horses have dark skins, compared to the pink skins of white horses. Gray horses are born dark and lighten with age.
A flea-bitten gray is basically white with small patches of dark hairs all over the body.
A dapple-gray has dark hairs arranged in circular patterns on the white base.
Palomino A palomino horse is a golden color, with a light colored mane and tail. The mane and tail can be white, silver, or ivory.
The desired body color of a palomino is “the color of a newly minted gold coin.”
Paint (Pinto) The paint or pinto horse is characterized by irregular colored and white areas. Paint and pinto horses have four color patterns: piebald, skewbald, tobiano, and overos;
A black and white spotted horse is a piebald. A skewbald horse has spots of white and any color other than black.
In the tobiano pattern, the white color extends downward over the horse’s back. In the overo pattern, the white extends up from the belly and legs towards the back.
There can be piebald overos, piebald tobianos, skewbald overos, and skewbald tobianos.
Roan A roan horse has a mixture of white and colored hairs. A roan horse is born roan and stays the same color throughout its life.
A blue roan is a mixture of black and white hairs. It may be difficult to tell the difference between a blue roan and a gray horse, but remember that a blue roan does not lighten with age.
White hairs intermingled with a bay base coat is a “red roan.” Strawberry roans are chestnut horses with white hairs mixed in with the colored hairs.
Appaloosa Appaloosa horses have a variety of spotting patterns.
A blanket pattern is a solid or spotted white area over the hips with a contrasting base color. Photo by Bill Tarpenning courtesy of USDA Photography Center.
The leopard color pattern is a white coat with colored spots scattered over the body. Photo by Bill Tarpenning courtesy of USDA Photography Center.
Head Markings In addition to body colors, head markings are used to identify horses. Head markings of a horse usually consist of white hairs in specific areas on the face and head.
Star A star is any white marking on the forehead above a line running from eye to eye.
Snip A snip is any white marking, usually vertical, between the two nostrils or on the lips.
Stripe A stripe is a narrow vertical white marking extending from near the line of the eyes toward the nostrils.
Star and Stripe A white marking on the forehead with a stripe to just above the nostrils is a star and stripe. The stripe does not have to be an extension of the star.
Star, Stripe, and Snip A star, stripe, and snip is a white marking on the forehead with a stripe to the nostrils and a snip between the nostrils.
Blaze A blaze is a white marking similar to a stripe. A blaze covers the entire forehead, but not the eyes and nostrils.
Bald Face A bald face is a very broad blaze. It can extend out and around the eyes; it can also extend down to the upper lip and around the nostrils.
Star – Snip Star-Blaze-Snip-Upper Lip
Leg Markings Leg markings are another means that people use to describe an individual horse. Body color, head markings, and leg markings together provide a good description of a specific horse.
Coronet A coronet is any narrow white marking around the coronet above the hoof.
Half Pastern A white marking which includes only half the pastern area above the coronet is a half pastern.
Pastern A pastern is a white marking which includes the entire pastern area.
Ankle An ankle is a white marking that extends from the coronet to and including the fetlock.
Half Stocking or Sock A half stocking or sock extends around the leg from the coronet halfway up the cannon bone.
On a front leg, a sock extends halfway to the knee, while on the back leg, a sock extends halfway to the hock.