Most people unfamiliar with horses can still look at a herd and tell the difference between a buckskin and a cream and a palomino and a bay. After all, it’s not that difficult to identify the coat color of a horse. But after spending more time around horses, you’ll see that not all buckskins are the same, and it’s actually quite a rarity for two horses to look exactly alike.
Horse markings are what distinguish horses from one another, and there are many different kinds. They are easy-to-see areas of color, usually white, on the horse’s coats. Almost every horse has markings and these help people identify individual horses.
If a horse is born with markings, they won’t change as the animal grows older. As a horse develops and grows and when they are shedding their coat in the fall, a marking may seem to change in shape and/or size. However, this is just a result of the horse’s coat length changing; the underlying markings always stay the same.
There are several types of horse markings, including those found on the face (facial markings) and those found on the legs (leg markings), both of which are white. Horses can also have non-white markings. Here’s an overview of common horse markings to give you a better understanding of how to tell these animals apart.
The 5 Common Horse Face Markings
Facial markings are white areas on a horse’s face. A horse can have one facial marking or several. If a horse has several, the marking is named separately. Common facial markings include the following.
1. Star Marking
A star is a white marking located on the forehead between or above the eyes. These markings can be of various sizes and don’t always look exactly like stars. They can be irregularly shaped, round, or in the shape of a heart, a crescent, or a half-moon.
2. Snip Marking
A snip is a white marking that varies in size and shape. It’s located on the lower part of the nose.
3. Strip Marking
This marking is a strip of white running vertically down the center of a horse’s face. Strips are not always straight nor do they always run the entire length of a horse’s face. A “race” is a term used for a strip that is not straight.
4. Blaze Marking
A blaze is a wide, prominent vertical line that runs down a horse’s face. A blaze can stop partway down the forehead or go all the way to the muzzle.
5. Bald Marking
This horse marking is a white area that’s broader than a blaze and takes up the majority of the horse’s face. Most bald-faced horses have blue eyes. This marking is common among paint horses.
The 5 Common Leg Markings on Horses
Many horses have white areas on their legs that people use to identify individual animals. The most common leg markings include the following.
6. Stocking Marking
This white leg marking reaches from the edge of the hoof to the knee or hock and sometimes higher.
7. Half-Stocking Marking
This is a marking that reaches from the hoof’s edge halfway up the middle of the leg.
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8. Pastern Marking
This marking reaches from the hoof’s top to just below the animal’s ankle joint.
9. Coronet Marking
A leg marking is located at the hoof top around the coronary band. It’s typically no more than an inch above the hoof.
10. Sock Marking
This marking reaches from the edge of the hoof halfway up the pastern.
The 5 Common Non-white Markings on Horses
As the name suggests, non-white markings are areas on a horse that are not white. The most common types include the following.
11. Bend-Or Spots Marking
These markings are sometimes referred to as smuts or grease spots. Bend-or spots are dark spots found randomly on a horse’s coat. They were named after a thoroughbred stallion called Bend Or. These markings are typically found on palomino and chestnut horses.
12. Dorsal Stripe Marking
A dorsal stripe, or an eel stripe, is a horse marking located on the back of the animal. It’s a darker strip of hair that runs the length of the back, from the mane to the tail. These markings are common on mustangs.
13. Ermine Marks Marking
This type of marking is a black area on a white marking. It’s often located on leg markings just above the hoof. Some horses with ermine markings even have striped hooves.
14. Shield Marking
This marking on a pinto horse consists of a large dark patch covering the chest, surrounded by white. This marking is usually found on horses that are mostly white.
15. Medicine Hat Marking
This dark pinto marking covers the ears and the top of the head. Medicine hat pintos are steeped in Native American legend. These horses are rare and are believed to be able to protect the rider from injury or death in battle.
Other Horse Markings
Some horses have isolated spots on their bodies that are not large or prevalent enough to consider them unique breeds, like appaloosas, pintos, or paints. These isolated markings, or “body spots,” are caused by something called sabino genetics.
Horse Markings Are Genetic
A horse’s genes determine whether they will have markings. That said, it’s not fully understood what factors influence their exact shape and placement.
Horse Face Patterns Are Not Markings
Some horses have unique patterns on their bodies that are colored differently from their coats. These are not classified as horse markings. For example, a horse with a brindle pattern (faint vertical striping) that’s a slightly diluted shade from the animal’s base coat color is simply called a “brindle.”
While there are many different kinds of official markings, there is still disagreement among horse people about what certain horse markings should be called. This information can be considered reliable, but it’s advisable to consult with the registering organization for their definition of horse markings if you’re registering a horse.
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