Color is the foundation of horse identity. There are various shades available.
Black horses typically feature dark brown bodies with black points on their mane, tail and legs. Brown horses feature lighter brown bodies with reddish-brown points; while buckskin horses boast a tan coat often sporting black mane and tail markings.
Bay is a reddish-brown coat color characterized by black points (mane, tail, ear edges and lower legs) as well as skin. This variation of black gene “E” is further modified by agouti gene.
Dark bay horses possess high amounts of black pigmentation and may appear nearly black at times. Sand or seal brown bay horses feature less black, with possible tan or brown highlights around their eyes, muzzle, behind their elbow, and in front of their stifle – these horses are known as mahogany bays.
Black horses are known for their solid color and dark eyes, making them extremely common across breeds.
Black horses may feature lighter areas around their muzzle, eyebrows, quarters, flank and girth that give a mealy appearance and some horse registries classify it as seal brown rather than black.
Gray is an indeterminate color that contains white patches mixed in with darker hairs, so it does not represent one specific equine coat color. Dappled and flaxen-colored grey are common variations.
Buckskin is a hue characterized by golden-tan hue with dark points such as on the mane, tail, and lower legs; its name derives from its similarity to tanned deerskin leathers.
Buckskin gene mutations produce this stunning coloration found most frequently among Welsh ponies, Cobs, and Connemaras – although other breeds may produce it too.
Silver buckskins are an elegant shade. While some may contain some gray hues in the coat, their appearance often borders on being whiter than they actually are. Sooty buckskin horses appear as though they have had soot poured all over them!
Roan horses can be identified by an even mix of white and color hairs in their bodies, with scattered or no white hairs present on their heads, “points,” mane or tails.
Horses with bay-colored bases are often mistakenly identified as “roans”, yet true roans only exist if both genes for “roanness” and the Agouti gene (which restricts black pigment to its points such as face, mane and tail) have been passed along from parentage. Bay roans can sometimes be mistaken for sabinos due to the similar patterning around their face and legs – this distinction should only apply when both these genetic variants exist together.
Black-based roans may be mistakenly labeled red or strawberry roans; however, these horses actually exhibit the rabicano pattern which may lead to further confusion.
Perlinos are horses with either one or two copies of the creme gene, a semi-dominant modifier which lightens their base color to a pale cream shade and dilutes red pigment to yellow while lightening black pigment such as that found on mane and tail to a lighter orange-red hue.
Perlinos are distinguished by a golden coat with rosy pink skin. Perlinos have blue eyes and can often be confused with palomino horses or buckskins due to having lighter cream coats but possessing two copies of the creme gene instead of just one copy, like palominos or buckskins do.
Cremello horses are popularly chosen for parades and rodeos due to their beautiful coat colors. Additionally, these gentle horses can also be used for trail riding and dressage and make great companions for beginners.
Horses carrying two cream genes are known by several names: Cremellos and perlinos are not albinos as they don’t possess the malfunctioning tyrosinase gene that causes true albinism; also, these individuals do not experience health complications associated with albinism.
Smoky cream color occurs when black horses carry two copies of the cream gene, diluting their initial hue by just a bit and making identification more challenging without DNA testing.
A smoky cream horse stands out from other dun colors like buckskin, grulla and zebra dun due to its dark-colored mane, tail and legs, unlike their counterparts like buckskin, grulla or zebra dun which have lighter colored manes, tails and legs. Furthermore, these horses don’t possess primitive markings typical of other dun colors like buckskin or grulla; only through DNA testing can their status as such be verified and distinguished from perlino or cremello horses.
Grulla (pronounced grew-yah) horses feature an intense, multicolored coat consisting of mouse, blue or dove hues with dark sepia-black points and dorsal stripes, shoulder baring, and leg barring.
The modern horse’s early ancestor, the hyracotherium or eohippus, resembled more closely that of today’s horses than of any of their modern relatives; however, mesohippus eventually evolved taller with teeth more suitable for eating grass than they originally did.
This process resulted in the grulla hue, often known as gray dun or mouse dun. While its hue may look similar to that of roan hair, grulla is not composed of genes from that breed.
At their genetic core, all horses are either black or red (chestnut/sorrel). Through various modification genes, different horses display various shades derived from these base colors.
Dun horses often display mottling or striping patterns ranging from small blotches to long stripes that blend with their bodies (zebra striping). Additionally, these animals may display dark facial masking and dorsal bars.
Some duns can carry one or more cream genes that lighten their body color and add dorsal barring and leg barring, giving the horse its signature look of buckskins or, in cases with black base colors, smoky grullas. Today, pedigree analysis and DNA testing can be used to ascertain whether a horse falls under either category.