Horse Colors & Markings

As with other animals, no two horses look exactly the same. Although they might be classified under identical colors and markings, there are distinct differences that are like fingerprints in humans – no two are exactly alike. There is also some confusions among horse breeders and trainers as to what specific colors are called. A western rider would call a “red” horse sorrel, while an english rider would probably refer to it as chestnut. These differences are subject to personal preferences, and are not important when classifying an animal.

If you own horses, or if you are thinking about buying one, it is extremely important that you understand colors and markings. If your horse is registered with a particular association (such as the American Quarter Horse association, or AQHA), the animal will be identified according to both of these physical qualities. Also, in order to trailer your horse anywhere – to a show or another farm – you must have obtained a clean coggins test from your veterinarian. Coggins tests are administered to every horse to make sure that the animal does not have Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), which is a very contagious disease for which there is no cure. Once the test comes back negative, your veterinarian will issue you a coggins report, which identifies your horse according to color and markings, and gives you permission to haul your horse to other places.

That said, you should be familiar with all of the colors and markings, their names, and where specific markings will be located on your horse.

STANDARD COLORS

Black – There are very few true black horses in the world. A true black animal will not bleach to red or brown in the summer, and will maintain a fully tar-black coat throughout the year. This does not mean that the horse cannot have white or gray markings, but that the majority of the coat is black.

Chestnut/Sorrel – Chestnuts or Sorrels are characterized by a light tan coat with a reddish tint. Sometimes, the lighter red coats are called chestnuts, while dark red ones are called sorrels, but the names are interchangeable. Veterinarians will typically mark chestnut on a coggins test regardless, as sorrel is not an option.

Bay – A bay horse is one with a brown coat, and black points. Points are considered the mane, the tail, the tips of the ears, the legs below the knee, and the muzzle. A bay horse will not have a brown mane and tail, but a black one, though the rest of the points can be either color.

Grey – There are five different kinds of gray horses. The first is a light grey, which is nearly white. Their skin is black, which is why they are not considered “white,” and they have dark grey or black areas between the hind legs, around the muzzle, and inside the ears. The second is a dapple grey, which means that they are a dark grey with “dapples” all over the coat. Dapples are like small splotches of white hair. The third is a fleabitten grey, which happens when a white coat is flecked with tiny dark grey or black marks, or “fleabites.” The fourth is a steel grey, which is a dark grey, nearly black coat with small flecks of white hairs intermingled. The white hairs are not highly visible, but enough to give the coat a sheen. And the last type of grey, which is the least common, is the rose grey. These horses have a light grey coat with a red tint, and usually have black points.

Dun – Duns can be any color, but are characterized by a back dorsal stripe that runs from the withers (the bump at the base of the neck) to the dock of the tail. Duns are often mistaken for buckskins (described below), but buckskins do not have the dorsal stripe. Duns are usually a tan color with darker points, though they can be basically any color. You will not usually find duns in grey or black.

Buckskin – A buckskin horse is a light yellow-to-tan color, with darker legs, mane, and tail. They have no dorsal stripe, and though buckskins can appear in quarter horses and other breeds, the Buckskin has been named a breed of its own. Buckskins also often have dapples if they are a light enough color.

Palomino – Often mistaken as a breed, the Palomino is a horse with a golden coat and creme-colored mane and tail. They can range from a very pale yellow to a deep gold, and are very striking animals.

Roan – The roan gene is recessive, and is found in horses with solid color coats with a high percentage of white hairs interspersed. The white hairs are not found in groups, creating spots, but are rather mixed in singly with the darker hairs. The most popular roans are red roans (chestnuts with white hairs) and blue roans (black horses with white hairs). There is also a seperate strawberry roan, which is simply and darker red roan, and is not considered a standard color.

PAINT & PINTO COLORS

Contrary to popular opinion, Paints and pintos are not interchangeable. A Paint horse is a specific breed, designed to inherit the same stocky, short characteristics of the American Quarter Horse. A pinto, on the other hand, is any breed of horse that exhibits the paint markings. In other words, a Thoroughbred with Paint parkings is called a pinto.

Tobiano – A Tobiano Paint or pinto is a predominantly white horse with dark (black, brown or red) spashes of color that cover the belly, the legs, and the chest. The back of the horse, from withers to tail, will be mostly (if not entirely) white, and the face will be a solid color except for normal markings, if any.

Overo – Overos are easy to remember because it looks as though dark paint is splashed “over” their backs. The horse is predominantly dark colored with splashes of white along the belly, chest, and legs; there is usually no white along the back.

MARKINGS

Facial
Star – a white spot on the forehead, usually between and just above the eyes.
Stripe – a thin stripe of white that runs from just above the center of the forehead to the top of the muzzle
Snip – a small spot of white between the nostrils
Blaze – a thick strip of white that is as long as a stripe, but wider. It does not cover the eyes.
Bald-Faced – a predominently white face, with only the jaw and ears dark-colored
Lip – a small section of the upper or lower lip is white
Muzzle – the entirety of the muzzle is white, while the rest of the face is dark-colored.

Legs
Coronet – a thin circle of white hairs around the coronet band, which is just above the line of the hoof.
Pastern – white hairs that extend up from the coronet band and over the pastern, which is the angular bone above the coronet.
Sock – white hairs that rise mid-way up the cannon bone, which is the long bone below the knee.
Stocking – white hairs that extend up above the hock or knee.

Sometimes markings can be diluted or muddled, and are not considered actual markings. For example, a horse might have a black dot of dark color in the middle of a Pastern marking, or a strangely shaped stripe. This, as with most other equine-related trivia, is not an exact science.

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