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Horse Colours

Base Colours - There are 4.


Black - horses appear completely black all over, although some may show a slightly rusty tinge if the coat has faded. Black foals usually have grey legs in their birth coat.


Brown - horses look very nearly black. Browns may have a tan muzzle, tan around the eyes, in front of the stifles and behind the elbows. A mix of red and yellow hairs.


Bay - a brown coloured horse with black points. Bays have a mixture of red/yellow hairs and black on the points (legs, mane, tail, ears) The more yellow hairs the lighter it is. The more red hairs the darker it is. The body, neck and head may vary from a light sandy colour (Light Bay or Golden Bay) through a dark mahogany to a near brown or Black colour (Black Bay, Seal Bay, Mahogany Bay or Dark Bay) or even a Reddish coat colouring (Red Bay,  Cherry Bay or Copper Bay) Some bays show little black on their legs and have pale hair in the mane and tail so could be confused with dark chestnuts, but a bay horse always has black ear rims.


Chestnut - can be dark (liver chestnut) or light. They have red hairs with the mane and tail being the same shade or lighter than the body. Shades vary from a pale sandy orange colour through red to dark liver. The mane and tail may be considerably lighter than the body or much darker than the body.


Then there are a number of dilutions and patterns that can be applied to these (read on for more information)


Dilutions - There are 4.

Dilutions include the crème dilution, and the dun dilution, the taffy dilution and the rare Champagne dillution.


Crème Dilutions responsible for palomino, buckskin, Cremello, perlino.

The effect of Crème is limited on black pigment and its effect varies. The single dilutes can never become a colour breed as their genes cannot reach purity. This family includes the palominos and buckskins. For example mating two palominos together can never guarantee a palomino foal. There are never an Albino horses, double Dilutes are close.


Smokey Black - This is a single crème dilution on a Black horse, this can look very similar to a dark liver chestnut. This colour changes the black or chocolate-brown colour of a horse into smokey black. A double crème dilute will produce a lighter smokey black colour which may be hard to distinguish.


Buckskin - This is the single crème dilute of a bay horse. The buckskin has the bay pattern and NO dorsel stripe. The body colour is diluted to a very pale sandy cream or a darker cream. The points may be black or dark brown. A newborn buckskin foal has pale legs. Note that this horse is basically a bay, but the areas of red pigment have been diluted to yellow.


Palomino - This is the single crème dilute on chestnut horses. The body may vary from a very pale cream, to dark gold, but the perfect palomino should be no more than 5 shades paler or darker than a new gold coin with pure white/ivory mane and tail. Palomino dilutes usually go paler in colour in their winter coats.


Perlino - this is the double crème dilute of a Bay horse, Perlino is a creamy to white colouring with a creamy or darker coloured mane and tail. Very similar to a cremello but a little darker, and with a crème or yellow mane not white. Usually with blue or amber coloured eyes. These horses may be mistaken for Albino's, but there are no Albino horses.


Cremello - This is the double crème dilute on chestnut horses. A very pale cream with white mane and tail, pink skin and blue eyes. These horses may be mistaken for Albino's, but there are no Albino horses.


Blue eyed creams - Another name for Cremellos and perlinos. They can carry other patterns such as dun or roan.


Dun dilution Characterised by a darker dorsal stripe, sometimes also having zebra striping on the legs and occasionally elsewhere on the body including the wither, also  shoulder shadows and a face mask (darker face) are possible, collectively known as primitive markings. Typically, the mane has paler hair on either side. The dun gene usually dilutes the body colour to a paler shade than it would have been if it had not been dun. Dun is a dominant gene so every dun must have a dun parent. The dorsal stripe is usually visible in the newborn foal, but, particularly in the paler duns, the stripe may become less obvious as the foal coat thickens. Duns do not produce blue-eyed cream unless both parents also carry the palomino or crème gene. A dun's dominant hair is some shade of yellow. Sometimes called wild colour, as it was probably part of the original horse colour thousands of years ago.


Grullo/Grulla - (also called Blue Dun or Black Dun or Mouse Dun)

This is the Dun dilution on a Black horse. The body varies from a pale silver colour to very dark nearly black with the dorsal stripe and points being black. The face is usually black can be grayish-blue with black points


Yellow Dun - (also called Bay dun or Golden dun)

This is the Dun dilution on a Bay horse. It is often mistaken for buckskin however duns are characterised by having a face mask, primitive markings and bold dorsal stripe running from mane to tail.. The yellow dun body may be diluted to anything from a dark gold to a pale cream colour. The points remain black or very dark brown and the face is usually a shade of bay. The ear rims remain black.


Red Dun - (also called Clay Bank, Chestnut dun, Palomino dun (Dunalino), Cream dun, Peach dun or Apricot dun)

This is the Dun dilution on a Chestnut horse. This comes in many different shades. The dorsal stripe is usually red but may be dark liver. Chestnut duns often lack the other primitive markings. The palest chestnut duns are very pale gold in the body and are sometimes called cream dun, Palomino duns can be refered to as Dunalino.


Taffy dilution this causes dappling of the coat and lightening of the mane and tail. It is said to only affects only black pigmentation, so it is almost invisible on chestnut horses. It has limited effect on red pigment, but changes black pigment to chocolate. The most spectacular of these 'silver' horses also have prolific dapples all over the body, giving rise to the name of silver dapple. One of the parents need to be silver dapple for the foal to become silver dapple. There is though one fact that makes this a bit complicated, the fact that the silver dapple gene lightens a black mane and tail. Horses that don't have a black mane and tail to begin with can thus carry the silver dapple gene without you seeing it. If a palomino, yellow dun, grey or chestnut horse is carrying the silver dapple gene you can't see it, and if a silver dapple parent has a foal in these colors, you can't see whether the foal carries the gene or not. It is thus advisable, if you want to breed a silver dapple horse, to get a foal in this color, to breed the horse to a horse that has a black mane and tail, to increase the likelyhood of getting a silver dapple foal. For example, if you have a silver dapple mare, breed her to a black stallion, not a chestnut or palomino stallion

Foal Colour:- If the inner edge of the eyelids on the newborn foal is pink it is a chestnut or other red based color (the foal is not silver dapple). If the inner edge of the eyelids on the newborn foal is black (that is, the foal looks to be wearing make up) it is a black base coat, so the foal is a silver dapple! Silver dapple foals also have striped hooves but that is not a sign to guarantee on since other markings can interfere.

- associated with an eye disorder called A.S.D. very rarely they may be blind


Silver Dapple - a Taffy dilution of a Black Horse. A black horse with the silver gene may show only a slight silvering on the legs with a few silver hairs in the mane and tail at one extreme, or it may be diluted to a pale grey or fawn colour with near white mane and tail. Foals will be light grey beige with same or lighter mane/tail and appear to have make up on (Dark inner eyelids)


Silver dapple bays - Also known as Red Taffy or Red Silvers, this is the taffy dilution on a Bay horse. Bay horses will normally retain the bay body with a varying degree of silvering to the points. Foals will be reddish color with lighter mane/tail, darker tips of ears, greyish legs and appear to have make up on (Dark inner eyelids)


chocolate silvers - The taffy dilution of a brown horse. They are generally chocolate coloured horses with light manes and tails.


Other Silvers - The silver colour in the mane can be seen in all horses that have black hairs in the mane and tail. The silver colour can thus appear in all colours except chestnut, yellow dun, and palomino. Examples are: silver bay dun, Silver buckskin, Silver buckskin pinto/skewbald.


Champagne - The very rare colour mimics palomino and buckskin but has a wheaten skin. This is the only colour where pink skin does not produce white hair. This is said to dilute Black to brown and red to yellow when breeding. The coat is of a creamy colouring and has a high sheen to it. The skin is usually dark pink, orange-pink, light brown, or mottled. The eyes usually start off blue and become amber. In the horse breeds that officially have this color, the horse has to have been born with blue eyes, that later turn brown. The horse also has to have pink, mottled skin. The champagne is a diluting gene that dilutes many colors. The shade causes the a mane that would in normal cases be black to become much lighter. To know this apart from the silver gene, you can look at the color of the mane, a yellowish mane might be golden, a whitish mane might be silver.


Colour Patterns - There are 2.


Grey and Roan are the 2 colour patterns, that affect the amount of white hairs a horses coat receives. These are dominant patterns in which white hairs grow from dark skin to mask the base colour. With grey it can be almost impossible to tell what colour a horse was born once it's coat has changed to grey. In roan the head will remain dark and the coat will not go completely white, whereas grey horses often do.


Grey - they are born a base colour then grey out with age. Grey is the gradual withdrawal of pigment from the coat, a  process that may take many years to complete or a horse may become nearly white by the age of 18 months. The skin is partially or fully black, with the mouth, nostrils and eyes being dark, apart from any pink skin where a blaze or socks or pied colour are present. They can go through many stages of grey - iron or steel grey; rose grey; dapple grey, flea-bitten grey, to name a few. Grey usually shows in a foal as the gradual appearance of a few white hairs around the eyes and in the body coat. Grey foals are usually born with dark coloured legs. This includes fleabitten and blood markings. Many grey horses acquire melanomas, a variety of tumor that may prove fatal. also pinky skin syndrome is common.


Roan - having white hairs intermingled with one or more base colors. Roan horses can change colour from winter to summer, but the head, legs mane and tail remain the same colour. In some breeds they are known as colour changers.


True Roan - Roan coloring over the body, with non-roaned head and lower legs.

Frosty Roan - roaning in the mane tail, over bony areas and often over the topline

It is not usually present at birth but shows as an increasing amount of white hairs through the coat soon after. The adult coat has white hair throughout the body and neck, with silver hair through the mane and tail. In the spring, as the winter coat molts, a roan becomes a pale silver colour apart from the lower legs, points and face which usually more or less retain the base colour. At this time, there is a striking contrast between the upper and lower leg with the classic inverted 'V' of dark colour at the knee. As the winter coat starts to grow in, the body takes on a colour closer to the basic colour of the horse. Born a base colour mixed with white hairs. They do not grey out with age. The amount of grey may vary from summer to winter.


Black roan - is sometimes called blue roan. This is a basically Black horse, with a varying amount of white hairs through the coat. Minimal white hairs can appear with a minimal affect to a maximum affect of many white hairs causing a grey colour.


Bay roan - is sometimes called red roan. This is a basically Bay horse, with a varying amount of white hairs through the coat. Minimal white hairs can appear with a minimal affect to a maximum affect of many white hairs causing a rose grey colour.


Brown roan - is sometimes called blue roan. This is a basically Brown horse, with a varying amount of white hairs through the coat. Minimal white hairs can appear with a minimal affect to a maximum affect of many white hairs causing a tan grey colour.


Chestnut roan - is sometimes called strawberry roan. This is a basically Bay horse, with a varying amount of white hairs through the coat. Minimal white hairs can appear with a minimal affect to a maximum affect of many white hairs causing a strawberry grey colour. Some people confuse bay roan with strawberry roan. But a strawberry roan will not have any black or dark brown points.


Ticking Roan - Rabicano (White Ticking) A roaning pattern often known as "roan in the flanks". Amount of roaning may vary, and typically roan patches will also be found behind the ears, in the armpits, under the dock, and at the tail head. similar to roan but the white hairs are not as heavily distributed and are seen mostly in the flank and bony area’s of the horse.


Broken Colours

include Paints, pintos, piebald, skewbald, tobiano, overo, sabino, splashed white.


Overo and splashed white are lethal if homozygous, and all overo and splashed white horses will produce 25% lethal foals if bred to another overo or splashed white. The extent of the markings are not an indicator of how "strong" the colour is, and minimally marked horses have the same chance of producing lethal white as those with "loud" markings.


All these patterns may exist side by side in one animal as composites producing anything from the extensively white 'medicine hat' or minimally marked horses.


Traditionally, in Europe, a black and white horse is called a piebald, while a horse of any other colour (brown, bay, chestnut) plus white is called skewbald.


Broken Coloured Horses always retain their skin markings so even if they go grey, the original markings can still be detected by careful scrutiny of the skin. Rarely a horse can grey out leaving one patch of colour. They may be of any of the basic colours, with or without any of the patterns or dilutions, plus white body markings.


The breeding of Overo to Overo may produce lethal white foals, some die at birth or shortly afterwards due to a malformation of the digestive system.


Tobiano - (pronounced: tow be yah' no) The most common kind of marking,

Head - will usually be solid or "normal" face markings.

Body - white crossing over the top of the horse.

Legs - All four legs may be white, at least below the hocks and knees

Tail - often two colors.

Other - Body markings will usually be regular and distinct, often being rounded patterns, with a dark colour in one or both flanks.


Overos - (pronounced: oh vair' oh)

The Head usually has a blaze or bald face. On the Body the white markings will generally not cross the back. The Legs are usually mainly dark. The Tail will normally be one colour. The white markings will appear to be framed by the contrasting coat. Blue eyes are common.


Tobero - (pronounced: tow bair' oh) A combination of the Tobiano and Overo traits.

(This colour pattern is known as 'Tovero' by the American Paint Horse Association)


Sabino -  (pronounced: sa bee no)

The Head can be a blaze, bald or apron face, quite irregular and can appear to have slipped sideways. white usually on the bottom lip and sometimes extend up the jaw. The Body has markings appearing from under the horses belly progressing upwards, At least one Legs will have white markings that come to an upward shaped point, quite often high leg markings as far as the elbow or stifle. May have white flecking through its coat and the edges of its white markings may be speckled or broken.


Sabino/Overo - This is a very common marking of the modern day Pinto Horse.

The horse will show both the Overo and Sabino coat patterns. The Head will usually have quite a lot of white on it. The Body has white starting on it extending up the neck and back towards the rump. At least one Leg will be white (most of the time) going up to a point. The body markings will appear quite irregular and splashy.


Splashed White - Deafness is common to this rare pattern in Australia.

The Head will be a bald face and/or white head, usually two pale blue eyes. The Body has white progressing up from the belly, shoulders, hindquarters and lower neck. All four legs are generally white, The Tail is all white or partially white, Topline of the horse is usually a solid colour. Looks like the horse walked through white paint.


Examples of Broken colouring showing maximum through to minimum expression.



Spotted Patterns


Blanket - A solid white or roan area normally over, but not limited to, the hip area.

Roan Blanket - The roan pattern consisting of a mixture of light and dark hairs, over a portion of the body. The blanket normally occurs over, but not limited to, the hip area.

Snow cap (White Blanket) - white patch over the rump,

Varnish - ‘silvering’ of white hairs, dark hairs remaining around bones, with dark spots it may give the ‘false leopard’ Varnish roan or marble is a light roan colour except in areas of bones where the colour is much darker.


Blanket with spots - A white blanket which has dark spots within the white.

Roan Blanket with Spots - Roan blanket which has spots within the roan area.


Spots - White or dark spots over all or a portion of it's body.

Leopard Complex - Includes the entire leopard complex of spotting; body spots, white over the hips, white body with dark spots and various combinations thereof. They have ‘characteristics’ of mottling, white scelera, and striped hooves.

True leopard - The leopard spotting is over the entire body.

Near leopard - The leopard spotting is on blanket.

False leopard - Varnish with dark spots.

Few spots - limited spots appear on the horse, associated with night blindness.

Snowflake - pattern is variable but has white specks over a dark background.

Dark Spots - A few or many spots of any colour cover the white background.  

White Spots - Blanket spotted is a large area of white over the rump, can be as far forward as the withers. The blanket can have coloured spots within the white.


Examples of Applossa Markings (can be on any colour)


There are 4 main breeds that show spotted charastics, these are;-


Appaloosa - They have 4 identifiable characteristics, Coat Pattern, Mottled skin, White sclera and Stripped Hooves.  For more details and picture/ diagrams on spotted horses go to the Appaloosa Website at,


Knabstrupper/ Knapstrub - A Knabstrupper is not always spotted, but on the other hand neither is every spotted horse a Knabstrupper. Imagine that a white blanket was used to cover a horse of any colour. In this blanket there are holes, so you can see the underlying color as spots. If the colour-code is weak, the blanket is small and only covers part of the body (half spotted). If the colour-code is strong, the blanket will cover the whole of the horse (full spotted). Particularly strong colour-codes will make the holes of the blanket shrink and the ensuing result is a white-born horse. A white-born is neither a roan nor an albino, but simply a spotted horse without or with few spots. In the case of a particularly weak colour-code, fragments of the white blanket can be seen on the body as white spots (snowflake-spotted), or the horse does not inherit the blanket at all.

For more info on the Knabstrupper/ Knapstrub try this Danish stud that breeds them.


Pingauzer - Pingauzer Noriker is another breed of spotted horse (uncommon)


Palouse Pony - The name Palouse was chosen as an original name which could not be confused with the Appaloosa Horse which is over 14 hands high, While the Palouse is under 14 hands high. For more information go to


Other Colours rare colours and those not fitting into an above section.


White - Occasionally an all white foal is born. The skin is pink and the eyes usually dark brown but, rarely can be blue. White foals are usually extremes of a broken colour pattern, some are viable but some die at birth or shortly afterwards due to a malformation of the digestive system, known as “lethal white syndrome”. White usually occurs in breeds that have broken colouring but has surprised breeders by appearing rarely in Solid breeds.



Colour Modifiers


Pangarè -  the muzzle is of a pale tan or golden colour to near white colour, contrasting with the rest of the head. Similar coloured pale rings may be present around the eyes. The belly is usually a pale flaxen colour that extends to the insides of the upper legs. most notable on the face and muzzle, girth, flank, dock and underside areas. Pangaré is sometimes confused with dun, but although it may be present in duns, it does not signify a dun. The mealy or pangare gene causes pale red or yellowish areas on the lower belly, flanks, behind the elbows, inside legs, on the muzzle, over the eyes. It affects any body color.


Sooty or Smutty  - a horse with the Sooty factor has black tips to its body hairs, and as one goes higher on the body, the black area takes up more and more of the hair. On such a horse, the back is very dark and the belly light, adding to the camouflage effect of the coat. It also often makes the coat a darker overall coloration: Bay becomes Mahogany Bay, Dun becomes Dark Dun. Dappling will be more pronounced on sooty colors. Smutty is very similar but it causes the face of the horse to look a bit "dirty", like someone had smudged it with coals.


Flaxen - Light cream or flaxen colored mane and/or tail on horses that are chestnut.


Sorrel - Sorrels are a type of chestnut, but they have a flaxen mane and tail.


Shade - The "shade" results in different hue or shade within the basic colors, it is mostly affecting the red pigment in chestnut and bay horses, making them vary in color shade from very light sandy colours to almost black.


Identifiable Markings


White Markings



- common white markings found on horses head and faces.

Bonnet is when the whole face is white except for the ears.

Bald face is most of the face is covered by white.

Blaze is a thick white marking down the front of the face.

Stripe is a thin white marking down the front of the face.

Strip is a thin white marking not going from eyes to nostrils.

Star is a white marking on the horses forehead.

Snip is a white marking around the horses nostrils.

Lip mark is a white(pink skin) mark on either lip.



- common white markings found on horses legs (extending from the hoof up)

Commonly just referred to as a Sock or Stocking, these are the more correct terms.

Heel - A white marking found across the entire heel or simply on one side.

Coronet - A white marking that extends the first inch above the hoof, extending all the way around the foot to be inclusive of the heel.

Pastern - A white marking that extends to the bottom of the fetlock joint.

Half Stocking - A white marking that extends to midway of the cannon bone.

Stocking - Any white marking extending to or above the knee, or hock.


Tan Markings occasionally a horse can have tan markings instead of white, this is rare.

See this link for more information and pictures


Other Markings


*****   Eyes  *****


White Sclera (wall eye) - The horse has a white or blue ring around the iris. When a horse has blue eyes, it usually also has a broad blaze or a big white pinto spot on it's face. It happens though that a horse without white markings has some white in an eye.


Half Sclera (glass eye) - The horse has a white or blue ring area in the shape of a new moon. It does not circle around the iris. Can appear without the horse having any other white markings.


Blue Eyes - Blue eyes, can have sclera or not, can be light or dark blue, can be fully blue or only partially blue.


Amber Eyes - Amber or light tan coloured eyes, can have sclera or not, can be light or dark amber, can be fully amber or only partially amber.


Brown eyes - can be light fawn to dark brown, fully or only partially brown.


*****  Body  *****


Dapples or Dappling - A pattern of light spots surrounded by darker hair. Can be seen on all colors, but are not very obvious. Can often be best seen in sunshine, on horses in good nutritional condition. Are not seen on horses that are changing coats or horses that don't have a shiny coat. Are very obvious on many silver dapple horses.


Reverse Dappling - Reverse dappling is rarer than dappling; this is when dark circles are surrounded by lighter hair.

see this link for more information and pictures.


Leg-stripes - The horse has black stripes on the upper part of the forelegs, or all legs. Such stripes can be on bay dun and blue dun horses, sometimes there are red such stripes on yellow duns.


Whorls are areas in the horses coat where the hair goes in different directions.

Crested or Tufted whorls are where the hair joins from different directions.

Feathered whorls are where the hairs begins to grow in different directions.

Whorls are most common on the chest, forehead, throat, or back of the legs.


Brindle a rare striping pattern seen in horses, donkeys, and mules which resembles the pattern seen in dogs and cattle that is also referred to as "brindle". It is a stripped pattern looking like a darker shade of paint has being run over the horse's body. See the following links for more information and pictures.


Lacing a rare marking similar to a giraffe pattern, and can be called giraffe markings. where there is a pattern of lighter colored hair in lines, making patch shapes. Usually along the topline, and usually found in miniature horses.

see this link for more information and pictures


Coat Textures there are a specific breed of horse called curleys, they have a curley coat, and are non allergic, meaning if you are alergic to horses you can still have one of these!


If you can think of any colours or patterns i have missed please email me with details.