The Color of Horses Chart

Color selection should be decided based on personal taste; choose one that makes both you and your horse happy, disregarding any critics who might frown at pink leg wraps!

Horses typically display three basic coat colors: red(chestnut), black, and brown – with brown being produced through modification via the agouti gene.


Bay horses have long been popular choices among horse owners. Their reddish brown coats feature black points along their legs, mane and tail as well as their ears; bays come in various shades and variations.

Graves noted that to qualify as a bay, a horse must possess at least one copy of the E allele, according to her research. Graves explained the dominant agouti gene restricts black pigment to “points,” located on top of their heads, ears, muzzle and front of their fetlocks; while its recessive cousin called a distributes black pigment more evenly throughout their bodies.

Wild bays are another common variation, distinguished by minimal black pigment in its points and redder hues compared to normal bays; their mane and tail remain black though. Wild bays may carry recessive cream genes that dilution their coat color into lighter tones known as buckskin but should not be confused with true dun horses due to distinct primitive markings that define true duns from buckskins.

Bays can also be classified as roans; sorrel roaning refers to genetically-based coloring on legs, mane and tail; while blue roans refers to chestnut dogs with black mane/tail/leg combinations.


Horses produce two pigments – red (pheomelanin) and black (eumelanin). Together with additional genes and patterns, these colors contribute to four main base coat colors: chestnut (red), black (eumelanin), bay (black eumelanin), and brown.

Black horses are extremely rare. To qualify as completely black, a horse must possess at least one dominant extension gene and no recessive agouti genes; these act to distribute black pigment at specific areas on its body such as its mane, tail, lower limbs or ears; the dominant allele A restricts this distribution while allele a allows it to spread throughout.

Bay horses have dark brown bodies with black points. A dark reddy-brown shade known as mahogany or blood bay may also exist, while one with light reddy-brown hues and no black points is considered chestnut.

Chestnut is the most prevalent color among horses, found across many breeds such as Suffolk Punch and Haflinger. Brown is another variation on chestnut, often used by non-horse people for base coat color purposes despite not technically qualifying as basecoat color itself; brown may range in hues from deep caramel to coppery red hues in most breeds.


Brown horses can be identified by a reddish-brown coat with black points (such as on mane, tail, ears and legs). Their coloring is determined by two genes: melanocortin 1 receptor gene (MC1R) and agouti gene. While MC1R determines whether red/brown pigment exists or black pigment does, agouti regulates where that pigment will appear in their bodies.

There are various brown coat patterns, each distinguished by how they’re marked and their number of white spots. Frost patterns consist of scattered white marks over the body that range from small circles to blanket-sized areas covering hips, neck, and legs; as the horse ages this pattern tends to lighten over time. Leopard patterns feature dark spots of various sizes spread evenly across their body that resemble those found on Dalmatians; Appaloosas, Knabstruppers, and Ponies of the Americas often sport this coat pattern.

Cremellos are chestnut horses with two cream dilution genes. While these foals look less black than typical dark bay or seal brown foals, their pale golden coat boasts yellowish tones from mane to tail with coffee notes in its hues. At birth, their foal looks similar to a sorrel or chestnut colt and has pink skin with blue eyes.


There are various shades of chestnut horses can display depending on their dominant color gene, including standard bay and liver chestnut (dark version of red/rust hue) hues. Chestnut can also feature “blood marks,” lighter patches that resemble dark spots on zebras.

Champagne, dun, and silver are other dilutions of chestnut coloration that have emerged over time. Champagne and dun are simple dilutions of chestnut base coat color; only one copy of the dilution gene is required to produce its phenotype; silver is an uncommon mutation which dilutes only black pigment in points without impacting red pigment in body or mane and tail, creating what resembles either cremello (black with the dilution gene) or smoky black (black with the dilution gene).

Mealy chestnut horses exhibit another variation known as mealy. This trait can be identified by pale areas of color on their belly, flanks, muzzle and behind their elbows; often found on bay horses with very low leg black. Mealy effects tend to be recessive traits.

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