I’ve been seeing some confusion lately regarding equine coat colors. In this article, I shall attempt to clear up some of that confusion. Keep in mind that any of these colors can have white markings, and that pintos and appaloosa come in these colors, as well.
Black: This should be obvious, but often is not. A black horse should be black all over, excluding any areas of white markings. Some blacks are blue-black and some are "fading blacks" — these are true blacks that fade in the sun to a sort of very dark brownish black.
Brown: Brown horses are "almost black." They are usually black all over except for their muzzles, flanks, and sometimes behind their elbows, which are brown colored. "Browns" are very, very dark bays.
Bay: These are red or brown colored horses, varying in shade from very dark to sandy, but all have black "points" — black mane, tail, and lower legs. Sometimes, a bay and white pinto which has completely white legs can only be distinguished as "bay" by a small section of his mane or tail that is black instead of white (from his pinto markings.)
Sorrel or Chestnut: These terms are almost synonymous in meaning — in America, at least. They refer to a red colored horse, usually with red or sometimes flaxen mane and tail. The shade can vary from deep, rich chocolate to bright red to golden red, with many shades in between. They do not have black manes and tails or black lower legs, although sometimes the mane and tail are a darker red than the body.
Liver Chestnut: The true liver chestnut is like a chocolate Labrador Retriever. It is a very dark chocolate. Often, liver chestnuts look black from a distance. Look around their eyes — usually their true color is revealed there as the coat color is distinctly dark red. Mane and tail can be the same color or flaxen.
Silver Dapple: Miniature Horses and Shetland Ponies are nearly the only equines who come in this color. It is sometimes a dark, dappled gray color with a white mane and tail. It can be a grayish tan, with or without dapples, with a white mane and tail. It is not to be confused with gray — discussed below — because it does not lighten with age.
Gray: True gray (some Miniature Horse people call it "Arabian Gray," which is just silly because it exists in most equine breeds.) is very different from silver dapple. True grays are born another color (bay, black, sorrel, etc.) and only show themselves to be grays when they shed their baby coat. Grays lighten with age. By the time a gray is in it’s teens, and sometimes much earlier, it is white or "flea bitten," which is white with dark dots like flea specks. Usually, the way to tell a gray from a silver dapple is that a gray is lighter on the face than on the body, while silver dapples usually have darker faces.
Roan: A roan is a black or bay or chestnut (or any other color) horse with white hairs sprinkled through its coat. The true roan is lighter over its hips and back, darker the further forward and downward you look, with its head and legs the darkest yet. Blue roans are black or brown roans, red roans are bay or sorrel roans, etc. The "roaning gene" is different — it can cause a light sprinkling, more or less evenly, throughout the horse’s coat. Usually, "roaning" is hard to see unless you’re close to the animal — "roan" is easy to spot from a distance.
The Dilute Colors:
(Dilutes are bays and sorrels that carry either a palomino gene or a dun gene)
Palomino: Palomino is a diluted sorrel or chestnut. It is some shade of yellow or yellow gold, with a flaxen or white mane and tail.
Cremello: Cremello is a doubly diluted sorrel or chestnut. It appears pale cream to nearly white, with a white or cream mane and tail. Cremellos always have pinkish skin and blue eyes.
Buckskin: Buckskin is a diluted bay. They have golden or yellow bodies with black points.
Perlino: Perlino is a doubly diluted bay. They appear basically the same color as a cremello, except that their mane and tail (and sometimes lower legs) are slightly darker than their bodies. They have pinkish skin and blue eyes.
Dun: Duns are diluted by the dun gene. They come in a variety of shades, but all have legs, manes and tails that are darker (even if only slightly) than their body color. They should have a dorsal stripe, as well, running from withers to tail. Some even have "zebra stripes" on their forearms and gaskins.
Red Duns: A light reddish, "flesh" tone (remember your crayon colors?) horse with darker red legs, mane and tail and dorsal stripe.
Grulla: A black or brown diluted with the dun gene. They appear to be a silvery black or dark gray bay. Always have black legs, mane and tail, and dorsal stripe. Sometimes "zebra stripes" as well.
Silver Dapple dilutions:
hese horses carry the silver dapple gene and it alters their color in some way. All silver dapple dilutions have lighter manes and tails.
Silver (or Silver Dapple) Bay: Most of the flaxen maned "sorrel" Miniature Horses are silver bays. They have a red or sorrel body color, with white or flaxen or "silvery" manes and tails, usually with smoky or chocolate lower legs.
Silver Chestnut: These can look like palominos, but will usually give their "silver dapple" gene away by having darker lower legs.
Silver Palomino: I owned one of these. She looked like a cremello at first glance — pale cream with a nearly white mane and tail. But a silver palomino has dark or grayish skin, not pink like a cremello.
Silver Dun: A pale dun colored horse, with darker lower legs and white or flaxen or silver mane and tail.
Other Silver dilutions: These paler shades get hard to distinguish. But remember, if it looks like a dun but has a flaxen or white or silver mane and tail, then it carries a silver dapple gene.
I hope this has helped. If you own one of these colors and want to know something about the genetics involved (or have any other questions), please feel free to contact me at the address below. I’ll certainly try to help.
Contributed By: Pat Elder