Published: 2017-06-05 15:54:20 Categories: Guides
Everybody, who begins their journey with horse riding, wants to know as much about horses as possible, before exploring the ride itself. One of the first topics you will touch upon is equine coat colours. When you know at least the basic ones, you will proudly educate your friends that a horse is "sable," not "black," and the one they call "brown" is in fact "dun."
However, things get messy when it turns out that there are many more coat colours than just the basic ones...
Wild horses were probably of homogenous coats, which matched the place they lived in and the season. Such abundance of coat colours is a result of mutations perpetuated by domestication of horses, changing their environmental circumstances and artificial selection in breeding.
It turns out that the coat and tail colour are genetically predisposed. Coats such as: dun, sable, grey, spotted, palomino or bay are conditioned by the combination of five genes. Other combinations decide whether the horse will be of piebald or white coat.
The coat colour depends on how much pigment a horse has in his skin. White coat is an effect of lack of pigment. In fact, the "grey" coat is not really a type of coat colour, but a fault in colouration. The conditioning Grey gene causes gradual loss of the ability to produce pigment, which results in greying, which peaks when the horse is ca.10 years old. Foals are born having a coat colour (chestnut, black, bay), and they become lighter each year along with the annual change of coat. What is important, this phenomena does not occur at horses of different coat colours.
When speaking about light coats - on legs (the so-called socks, heels etc.) or head - they remain the say throughout their whole lives. Dark coats are fairly rare, virtually only in dun horses.
You can observe a dark line along the spine (e.g. Konik), it is a remain of the primal coat colour, characteristic for the wild ancestors of horses.
According to experts, the coats can be divided into:
Chestnut: brown-yellow or reddish colour, mane and tail in the same shade or lighter (never black!), limbs without black-and-tan.
chestnut coat, source: breyerhorses.com
light chestnut, source: gypsymvp.com
liver chestnut, source: colorgenetics.info
sorrel chestnut, source: venomxbaby.deviantart.com
Bay coat: brown coat of various shades - from light to brown and almost black, mane, tail and lower legs - black.
dark bay, source: venomxbaby.deviantart.com
Black coat: completely black body, tail and mane;
black coat, source: wallpapercave.com
formed by the Cream gene
Palomino coat: chestnut coat highlighted with Cream gene, coat is light yellow, sometimes appearing orange, tail and mane are lighter, even white, hooves are usually light, skin and eyes are highlighted, such horses sometimes have the so-called fish eyes
palomino coat, source: breyerhorses.com
Cremello: chestnut doubly brightened with the Cream gene, almost complete lack of pigment in the skin (pink skin), eyes with blue iris, yellow hooves and cream, almost white coat and mane.
cremello coat, source: jpainthorses.com
Buckskin: bay brightened with the Cream gene, coat on the head and body is light brown, mane and tail are black or dark brown, coats vary from very light, almost cream to dark brown, eyes and skin are brightened. This coat is easy to mistake with dun, however Smokey Cream horses usually do not have streaks.
buckskin, source: deviantart.com
Perlino: bay coat doubly brightened, cream coat, mane, tail and markings slightly darker, pink skin, blue eyes.
perlino coat, source: duncentralstation.com
Smoky black: black coat brightened with the Cream gene, it is difficult to differentiate from the black, but is characterised with chocolate shade of the coar and reddish mane, with brightened skin and eyes.
Smoky cream: black coat doubly brightened, coat is grey-cream, pink skin, blue eyes.
smoky cream, source: pinterest.com/pin/297026537897755641/
formed with the Dun gene;
Dun – it is based on the bay coat, dun horses have yellow and flaxen or bright brown coat, their manes and tails are black, the heads are usually darker than the rest of their bodies, limbs are darkened - with the majority of black hairs, they usually have a line on the spine (like the primitive horses had) in dark brown colour and horizontal streaks on the forearms and gaskins, their manes and tails are usually two-coloured;
dun coat, source: animalgenetics.us
Red dun: is forms on the basis of chestnut coat, the hair is like in the dun coat, but without the black pigment, mixed hair, usually bright with beige-red neck, head and legs are red, just as the streaks which is currently visible;
Mouse-grey: it is formed on the basis of black coat, neck is grey-ashen, head and legs are darker, these horses have a dark line along the spine and usually horizontal streaks on the limbs, they have two-coloured tail and mane with the majority of black hairs;
mouse-grey coat, source: theequinest.com
Rare coat, formed with the Silver gene, they are usually observed at Shetland ponies. The coat may have various shades depending on what was the basic colour.
Silver dapple: coat brightened to chocolate, mane and tail white or white-brown, these horses usually have dapples that disappear with age
silver dapple, source: freewebs.com
Silver dapple bay: brown coat remains the same, marking on the legs are brightened to chocolate, tail and mane are white or white-brown;
silver dapple bay, source: whitehorseproductions.com
Just as rare as silver coats. Horses brightened with the Champagne gene have grey-pink skin with dark spots, their eyes change with time - foals have blue eyes, then they turn green to become brown (amber) when they are adult.
Gold champagne: golden coat, mane and tail lighter or in the same colour
gold champagne, source: ichregistry.com
Classic champagne: coat of light brown-grey shade, tail and mane are slightly more reddish;
classic champagne, source: polyvore.com
Amber champagne: golden-brown coar, mane, tail and limbs are darker;
They belong to a different type of coat, because they can appear on the basis on any of the above mentioned coat colours.
Roan coat – there are more or less regularly placed white hairs on the basic coat, however the head, neck, lower legs, mane and tail have the majority of the basic coat hairs. Foals are born with dark coat colours, they turn roan while they change their coat for the first time (moult) and stay roan for the rest of their lives.
Grey coat – foals are born with dark coloured coats, then they start greying from the head to the croup, but dark hairs remain in their croups, manes, tails and lower legs. You can observe the following variation of grey coat colours:
light grey – white with darker croup and legs;
light grey, source: deviantart.com
dark grey – dun shade of coat - dark grey;
dapple grey – with round dark spots on the body, especially on the croup, in the size of small apples;
dapple grey, source: venomxbaby.deviantart.com
flea-bitten grey, source: karenchaton.com
honey grey – greying from chestnut, reddish-white coat;
rose grey – greying from bay, dark brown-white coat;
spotted – white coat covered with small reddish or black spots;
Pinto coats – the horse can have big non-regular spots on the whole body, the spots can be white on pink skin alternatively with spots of different colours on dark skin - depending on the coat colour we differentiate coats based on bay, chestnut etc. Tails and mains are white or two-coloured.
A different way of inheriting this coat type causes the appearance of certain kinds of pinto coats:
Tobiano coat has in fact two patterns – tobiano and calico tobiano:
tobiano coat, source: venomxbaby.deviantart.com
calico tobiano pattern: it occurs at horses singly brightened with the Cream gene, apart from the white spots there are also spots "not included" by brightening, namely e.g. bay ones.
calico tobiano, source: pinterest.com
frame overo, source: nelsonperformancehorses.com
sabino pattern: spots are on the legs, head and belly, their edges are jagged, usually their white hairs are mixed with coloured ones, which resembles roan coat.
sabino coat, source: newhorse.com
splash white pattern: horses of this coat look like they have walked into white paint - their patches stretch from legs, through belly to the head, sometimes they can appear on almost whole body of the horse, however unlike the sabino horses, they have smooth edges. These horses usually have blue eyes.
splash white, source: quora.com
White coat – as we already mentioned, white horses have no pigmnet in their skin, hooves and coat. Their eyes are usually brown, sometimes blue. White coat is usually mistaken with grey one.
white coat, source: pet.co.ke
Spotted coat – the most diverse pattern of all the white coats
leopard, source: breyerhorses.com
fewspot: they have only few spots, and characteristic for them are triangle-shaped spots right above hooves;
fewspot coat, source: jennystaaf.com
speckled pattern: similar to leopard - basic coat colour spots on white coat, but they are smaller;
snowflake pattern: horse of basic coat is covered with small white spots of 1-3 cm diameters (the opposite of speckled pattern);
varnish pattern: it looks a bit like leopard, but it has not spotted spots, it applies to the same body areas as leopard, but these areas are of basic coat colour or mixed, the so-called varnish dark spots can appear;
frosted pattern: mixture of coloured and white hair, especially on the croup and loins, as the name suggests it resembles a frosting on a horse;
rug pattern - white patch covering mostly the croup and point of hips, but it can reach as far as to the withers;
rug coat, source: jennystaaf.com
Horses are characterised by wide range of coat colour, which in most cases are not a race feature. However, there are certain exceptions where the race is tightly interrelated with a particular coat colour, e.g. haflinger (chestnut coat with pale male and tail), appaloosa (spotted coat), Konik (mouse-grey coat), palomino, Fjord horse (dun coat), Friesian horse (black and chestnut coat [however they are not allowed in breeding], the only possible variety is a small star on a gelding's head), albino (white coat). Most noble races of warm-blooded horses (e.g. Holsteiner, Arab, folblut, trakehner) occur only in basic coats - bay, black, chestnut and grey.
Correct identification of coat more often than not is very problematic. In such situation it is worth to take a look at the ancestors' or offspring's coats. Both the horse's coat and its varieties remain a crucial element of horses' characteristics - it is mentioned in all the horse's documents (e.g. passport), because it helps in identifying them.
On the basis of:
Martin Haller, Rasy koni, Józef Kulisiewicz, Jacek Łojek (tłum.), Multico Oficyna Wydawnicza, Warszawa 2002
Wacław Próchniewicz, Akademia jeździecka cz. 1, Akademia Jeździecka s.c., Warszawa 2007