Appaloosa Coat Patterns

appaloosa coat patterns

No two Appaloosas look exactly the same, as they come in a variety of base colors and spotting patterns. This week we’re looking at some of the different patterns you can see on these unique horses that embody the spirit of the Nez Perce tribe.

The spotting that defines the breed comes from a dominant gene called the leopard complex (LP). This gene, which is found on chromosome 1, causes horses to have a pattern of white or dark spots over a background color that can be any one of several recognized base coat colors: bay, black, chestnut, palomino, buckskin, cremello or perlino, grey or dun, and roan. These spotting patterns can then be overlaid with a variety of fanciful colours and markings.

This combination of spotting patterns over a base colour can result in the eight different appaloosa fanciful colours and markings:

Spotted blanket – this is usually a white area over, but not limited to, the hip area with contrasting base colours on head, face, and legs. Leopard – a white horse with dark spots over most of the body. Roan – this is an unusual and striking Appaloosa pattern, which is also known as marble or varnish roan. It consists of intermixed light and dark hair with darker areas at the face, stifle, hock, hip point, elbow, and above the eyes. These marks are called ‘varnish’ because they tend to fade and become less pronounced with age.

Frost – this is an attractive, subtle pattern that combines the best of both the spotted blanket and roan. These horses start life with a small amount of white roaning, which then gradually becomes darker and blends with the dark spotted blanket area.

Few spot leopard – this is a basic spotted leopard phenotype with few, if any, solid white spots over the body. Snowflake – dark base colour with varying amounts of white spots on the body and tail.

Pattern modifiers – these genes control how much of the LP gene is expressed and which spotting pattern it produces. There are currently two known pattern modifiers – PATN1 and PP1. PATN1 is associated with the full leopard spotted phenotype while PP seems to influence the expansion of a solid blanket or snowcap phenotype and the number of spots within that blanket.

The leopard spotted phenotype is the most common in appaloosas but they can be seen in all of the other patterned patterns as well. All of the patterns, along with mottled skin, striped hooves and a white sclera of the eye, are considered core characteristics of the Appaloosa. However, not all horses that carry a LP allele will display these patterns – they must also have the right mixture of other traits to do so.