Quarter horses are versatile, well-rounded equines that can be used in a variety of jobs. Their compact, muscular silhouette embodies the breed’s name and exudes the sure-footedness that makes them ideal for cattle work. The AQHA recognizes several different colors and markings, with the brownish-red sorrel being the most common in the breed. White markings, especially blazes, spots, stripes and whorls of hair (cowlicks), are also common in the quarter horse, giving it a distinct, distinguishable appearance. This article will explore the different colors and markings of the quarter horse, along with their meanings and origins.
A blaze refers to a circular white marking that covers most of the head, neck and forehead. It’s often larger in the front and may extend up onto the chin. A blaze is sometimes called a lower jaw mark, or an apron marking. It can vary in size, with smaller blazes appearing on the cheeks or ears.
Spots and streaks are common on the quarter horse’s body, but they can occur on any part of the horse’s coat. The pattern of these spots varies greatly and creates many different paint patterns. A spotting pattern can be created by one or more genes and can affect the color of the horse’s skin, eyes and points.
Generally, there are three genetically distinct paint patterns: frame overo, sabino and splash white. All of these patterns combine a solid color with patches of white hairs and underlying pink skin. White markings are usually named by their location on the body and by their shape. For example, a sabino might have a large blaze, tall stockings and spots on the flanks or barrel.
The AQHA’s color standards describe the ideal palomino as resembling “a newly minted gold coin.” This standard may differ from those of some color registries, which may call for a golden yellow (“palomino”) or liver chestnut with flaxen manes and tails (“palomino with silver dapple”).
Appaloosas are characterized by spotted areas on their bodies and can be any base color. They can also have varying levels of roaning or dappling, and any type of primitive markings.
The bay color is the result of the agouti gene acting on black hairs. The resulting light-colored hairs make the horse look like it is mostly black, but the point color—black mane and tail, legs, ears, muzzle and flanks—is always dark. Black is another basic color. Like bay, it may have any tan coloring on the points or white markings.