Besides dogs, horses are considered to be another “man’s best friend.” They are gentle, loyal, and trustworthy, with many colors that make them elegant animals.
Like humans and other creatures, horse colors are dependent on genetics. Some are extremely attractive to look at, while some are so rare you could just consider them supernatural.
How Many Horse Colors Are There?
There are four primary colors in horse biology and genetics. These base colors are black, brown, chestnut, and bay. The rare colors are due to cross-breeding.
Some colors are more magnified, while others are dull and recessive.
The 29 Most Common Horse Colors
Horses’ coat colors are obtained from one of the two possible base pigments, black or red, which means that every horse carries a gene for either of these pigments. Some people also consider bay as a base color.
Here are the 12 most common horse colors that you are likely to come across.
The 12 Common Horse Colors
1. Black Horses
Black-colored horses are dominant, with ferine flair and an incredibly regal appearance. Some are pure black, while others are dotted or painted.
A horse is truly deemed black if it is ebony from head to toe, along with a black mane and tail. Furthermore, as the name suggests, black horses can’t have any brown hair, but white markings on the legs and face are allowed.
However, some blacks may fade as the horse grows and display a reddish tinge to the coat, mane, or tail. There is no actual reason why this fading happens, but the good thing is that a simple change in diet can sometimes transform this fading.
Black-Colored Horse Breeds
Although black horses are rare, the animals are nearly exclusively black in some breeds.
It is also common for Andalusians, Dales ponies, and Fell ponies to be black.
2. Bay Horses
The color of these horses ranges from reddish-brown to tan, along with a black mane, tail, and lower legs. Bay-colored horses also feature black ear tips, and these black spots on the horse are known as points. Their eyes are typically brown.
In terms of genetics, the bay horse color comes from a black base pigment and the agouti gene. The agouti is a modifier gene that controls the black color of a horse’s tail, mane, and lower legs.
Bay-coated horses are brown at birth with a black tail and mane, but their legs are greyish brown. However, the legs change color when a filly attains 4 to 6 months of age. By the time a bay is 4 years old, it will have developed its points.
Bay is the most common color in horses.
Horse Breeds with a Bay Coat
The most common bay-colored horse breed is Clydesdale.
3. Chestnut Horse
The look of chestnut-colored horses is a bit tricky to determine. The manes and tails are often chestnut-colored, though some feature a deep maroon color mistaken for blacks.
Typically, the chestnut horse color features brown hair with golden brown or reddish-brown points. They don’t have black or white markings, but they come in liver chestnut colors or darkened red if there are some.
However, they will never have black legs or a black mane or tail.
Horse Breeds with a Chestnut Coat
4. Brown Horses
Because of the chestnut and bay colors, some horse registries don’t regard brown as a base color. Nevertheless, most registries do. Brown-colored horses often feature a brown pigment or lighter black shades with caramel brown tails and manes.
The color of a brown horse may vary depending on the season, and in the winters, they may look darker. In addition, brown horses are the best mimickers of the horse kingdom.
They are pretty similar to some bays in their color, but you can easily distinguish them since the area around their eyes and flanks is mainly a lighter brown shade. A highly dark brown horse can sometimes be confused with a black horse with a pale muzzle.
Brown fillies are usually born with countershading, meaning they feature dorsal stripes or shoulder bars. Their pigments result from the black base color blended with a gene similar to the agouti gene.
Horse Breeds with a Brown Coat
Dun is typically a breeding color. A dun-colored horse features a sandy gold or yellow coat and a black or brown tail and mane. These horses are particularly distinct for their black or darker-colored legs that make them appear like they have socks and their dorsal stripe.
Horse Breeds with Dun Colors
Dun is a color and, at the same time, a breed. One of the most common breeds is Red Dun.
Buckskin-colored horses have white, gray, or gold coats with black tails and manes and black spots on the lower legs.
These horses are a breed of their own. They are bay crossbreeds and dun horses mixed with a cream-color gene.
Breeds of Buckskin-Colored Horses
Gray horses are not typically born gray. They often come in another standard color, usually black, chestnut or bay. However, as they grow older, genetic dilution makes them lose their color pigment at birth.
After that, they will either become gray or white.
Horse Breeds with a Gray Coat
These horses can easily be mistaken for paint horses since most horse registries regard them as the same. Pinto base colors include brown or chestnut with distinctive white markings all over the body.
The white patches vary across horse breeds.
Horse Breeds with Pinto Coloring
These horses usually have the pinto color, but others also feature this color, such as the Gypsy horse.
Grullo is a true winter beauty for horses. These horses feature a black skin base with a sooty gray-white flair and cinnamon-colored hairs all over the body.
They have black patches in the lower legs and hind area. In addition, they feature black tails and manes.
Horse Breeds with Grullo Coat
Although this is a standard color, roan-colored horses appear elegantly rare. Their base color is black mixed with white and cream genes producing red, blue, and bay roan variants.
To identify a roan horse, look at the color of their tiny hairs across the body.
Horse Breeds with Roan Coloring
These horses are usually mistaken for chestnut, but sorrel features a lighter brown color, nearly like caramel brown or softwood brown. The primary distinct identifier of a sorrel horse is its blonde tail and mane.
Horse Breeds with a Sorrel Coat
The palomino is a beautiful march of horse base colors. Its body features a red base mixed with cream, giving the horse a shiny, nearly golden-brown color. In addition, some palomino-colored horses feature flaxen or cream coats.
It has a white tail and mane. Palomino-colored horses are one of the most popular and expensive ride horses out there.
Palomino-Colored Horse Breeds
The 9 Rare and Unique Horse Colors
There are additional rare horse colors that make these horses a bit more expensive than others. Here are some of the unique-colored horses.
White is a very rare horse color, and as a matter of fact, most white horses tend to be grays with a white hair coat.
Although some can have blue eyes, a pure, white-coated horse features snow-white hair, pink skin, and brown eyes. These horses are born white and remain that way for the rest of their lives.
14. Chocolate Flaxen
Chocolate flaxen-colored horses feature a chestnut base. The base color combined with a patched flaxen color gives the horse a solid chocolate brown color and a fair brown-blonde tail and mane. Some chocolate flaxen-colored horse breeds include Swedish Warmblood, Finn Horse, and miniature horses such as the Welsh Pony and the Shetland Pony.
Horses with Chimera color typically appear like they are in layers of fire. Their coats are bi-colored, usually black or chestnut. They have white points in the face, and the lower legs and their tail and mane are black or chocolate brown.
This attractive color is a result of DNA error. The two colors were supposed to produce one set of fraternal twin horses, but the gene concentrated into only one due to failed mitosis.
Depending on the breed, a leopard-colored horse appears like a large zebra or Dalmatian with either black or white dapples. Some come with a gray mane due to the mixture of black and white hairs, while others have fine black or white tails and manes. Common leopard horse breeds include the Knabstrupper and the Friesian-Appaloosa hybrid.
Brindle is also known as tiger gray, commonly seen in cows and dogs. Brindle color is regarded as the rarest color for horses.
These horses feature a black base color covered in a glowing dimmer white coat and fine black hairs giving them a black-gray-white vertical marking. This gene is not commonly inherited, making the brindle a rare color for horses.
18. Gold Champagne
Gold champagne is an albino horse, which comes all-white like the perlino or the creamello. It is distinct for its glaring skin, brown eyes, and golden body hair. They acquire this horse color by inheriting the champagne gene.
19. Black and White Pinto
At first look, a black and white pinto can easily be confused with a cow. They feature a conventional American horse’s black base but with spotted markings mainly in the body or large patches in the legs or ears. An example of a classic black and white pinto horse breed is the American Paint Horse.
A perlino-colored horse is often mistaken for cremello since they have a similar creamy color, but perlino horses usually have a bay base color. They feature pink skin, pink eyes, and a cream-colored coat. Their tail and mane are also cream-colored but with a darker hue.
Both perlino and cremello horses have blue eyes, so it is sometimes pretty difficult to distinguish them.
Usually mistaken for the Perlino, a cremello-colored horse features a gold, cream, or white base and a lustrous, metallic-white shine. Their tail and mane are also white or gold. Often referred to as gold horses, cremellos are known to be the most beautiful horse. The most common breed is from Turkmenistan, named the Cream Akhal-Teke horse.
The 8 Most Common Horse Coat Patterns
Here are the eight most common patterns every horse enthusiast needs to know about.
The term Appaloosa was earlier used to define a spotted horse or pony. However, Appaloosa is neither a pattern nor a coat color. The term stands for a horse breed that features a spotted coat and is associated with foals.
Today, horses with a dotted pattern are referred to as spotted, and the term appaloosa represents a particular breed. The Appaloosa coat is a mixture of base color and an overlaying spotted pattern. Some of the most common base colors in Appaloosas include black, bay, palomino, among others.
It is difficult to predict an Appaloosa’s color at birth since they aren’t usually born with the usual leopard spots. In addition, patterns may change as the horse ages.
Two genes must be available to develop an appaloosa pattern. The Leopard Complex LP allele gene restricts the absence or existence of appaloosa characteristics, and the other gene is the color pattern modifier.
Horse Breeds with Appaloosa Coat Pattern
Tobiano is probably the most common dappled pattern seen in pinto horses and comes from their superior genes. If a horse contains the tobiano gene, it will likely have white-haired and pink-skinned markings on the base color coat. This color is present at birth and is not prone to changes as the horse ages unless the horse also contains the gray gene.
A tobiano features white markings descending vertically down the body, and they may have white up to their knees and hocks. They also have a dark color on both flanks and patches extending down over their chest area and neck.
Horse Breeds with Tobiano Coat Patterns
Overo may refer to several types of pinto patterns, and horse registries use the term to classify pinto patterns that are not Tobiano. Generally, overo is a white coat pattern mixed with any other color to produce a colored horse.
Horses with an overo pattern feature a white color that appears on the belly but rarely extends to the horse’s back. In addition, overos have one colored leg and a head that is either white or features a predominantly white color. The white color contains showy-type edges and is known as calico.
Horse Breeds with Overo Coat Patterns
The overo coat pattern is most common in American Paint Horse.
Dapples are irregular or random patches that appear on a horse’s coat. These patches are of a different color from the surrounding hair. Unlike the leopard complex markings, these patches may appear or fade as a horse gets older.
It is unclear why horses may have such patches, though they are more common in grays. That is because as the horse grays out, some of its coat hair may appear darker or lighter than others around. However, that doesn’t mean other horses don’t or can’t get them.
For example, horses that grow lighter during the summer are more likely to get spots during that time. In addition, dapples may sometimes appear due to diet, but you can fix it with nutrition.
It is also good to do regular worming to get rid of horse parasites. Parasites rob the host of nutrients, and this can make the horse not shed properly.
Horse Breeds with Dapple Gray Coat Patterns
The term flea-bitten is used to refer to a horse that changes its base coat completely. However, such a horse can sometimes appear or turn white. The expected flea-bitten or gray contains a white hair coat covered with freckles or tiny pigmented spots.
Most horses that show this pattern go through a short period where they turn pure white. But this pattern may vary. On close examination, some horses exhibit relatively little patches while others show a lot of speckles.
Flea-bitten horses are often black, bay, or chestnut-colored at birth. The filly grays out as it ages, and white hairs begin to appear to restore the base color. White hairs mostly appear on the eyes, flanks, and muzzle when the horse turns 1 year old.
Breeds with a Flea-Bitten Coat Pattern
Unlike other breeds known by genetic lineage, a pinto horse is classified as a color breed. In Spanish, the word ‘pinto’ means speckled or spotted, and this is why people become a bit confused between the leopard spotting patterns and pinto patterns. But pinto patterns are visually and genetically different from the leopard coat color.
Typically, a pinto’s coat contains a white pattern and one additional color, such as brown, sorrel, or buckskin. The horse markings may be of any size and shape, and they can appear on any horse’s body part. However, keep in mind that a pinto may have a dark-colored head without any spots and a bi-colored tail.
The most common patterns among pinto horses include tobiano, overo, and tovero.
Horse Breeds with Paint Coat Patterns
Piebald or pied is a horse’s color pattern distinguished by large black spots on a white coat. It can also have a black base color coat with white markings. The black and white combinations may be in distinct patterns.
Horse Breeds That Have a Piebald Coat Pattern
Skewbald horses feature a combination of white or any other color, typically brown, bay, or chestnut. In addition, they have white markings that are continuous over the color base.
Some horses also exhibit irises of eye color that matches the surrounding skin. The underlying genetic result is from a condition known as leucism.
Horse Breeds with a Skewbald Coat Pattern
Horse colors once again show why horse breeds are very crucial points of study. Although there are only four base horse colors across breeds (black, brown, bay, and chestnut), the power of genetics and crossbreeding allows horse enthusiasts to get a myriad of horse colors. That includes a color mixture you wouldn’t believe they could have.
However, it is essential to note that through intensive crossbreeding, some horses have become albinos. That, however, did not reduce their beauty because they have become phenomenal breeds without color.
With all things considered, it is true to say that there are still many things you probably don’t know about horses. So, you will always continue to be awed by them.
Featured Image Credit: Free-Photos, Pixabay