As previously discussed, there are four primary painted horse coat colors: black, chestnut, gray and palomino; however there are many more potential variations available to us.
Palominos–famous for their roles as lead stars in Trigger and Mister Ed films–are distinguished from duns by having yellow/gray base coats with white manes and tails, making them more distinct than both breeds.
Black horses possess uniform black coats with no reddish or tandish tones in their mane, tail, eyes, muzzle, genitals or any other “points.” Their pink skin typically shows areas of white markings (see “Glossary”). Overexposure to sunlight may cause some black horse colors to fade and appear more chestnut or seal brown in color; but examination of hair around eyes and genitals will provide the clue to whether a horse truly belongs in this category or not.
Black-based coat colors include grullo, smoky cream, perlino, classic champagne and blue roan coat shades. Each variant results from genetic changes which modify or dilute their base hue; two black horses cannot produce bay foals but could yield either smoky cream or perlino foals instead.
Palomino horses feature a creamy shade with golden tones, distinguished by a white mane and tail with golden-hues. The color has often been described as new gold coin or sooty claybank; this effect results from using chestnut base coat with one copy of creme gene.
Palomino Society records reveal that, although various combinations can produce palominos, most are from Cremello or cremello X chestnut parentage as these matings guarantee palomino foals.
Many horses that resemble palominos are actually roaned or speckled rather than having the characteristic dappled pattern typical of palomino horses. These are commonly known as chocolate palomino or silver dapple horses and include liver chestnut horses with flaxen manes and tails (chocolate palomino) or brown horses with silver-dappled faces and markings that reach as far down their bodies as the knees (brown dapple).
Dappled palomino horses may feature light, medium or heavy dappling. Winter may produce creamy shades while summer brings out rich golden hues in these beautiful horses.
Buckskin horses are one of the more striking horse coat colors available today, featuring golden or tan bodies with dark spots such as mane and tail blackness, ears or lower leg pigmentation, similar to that of deerskin leather. Their name derives from this similarity in appearance.
Buckskin horses are the result of both genetics and certain coat patterns. They typically feature a bay base color with the cream gene adding subtle hues of cream that give their coats their distinctive hue. Buckskin horses may exhibit several coat patterns such as tobiano, grullo or pinto markings for extra variation.
Tobiano horses feature white markings covering at least one quarter of their bodies; the other three quarters remain solid color, creating an eye-catching effect that many people appreciate. Grullo and pinto horses feature irregular, asymmetrical patterns of white spots across their bodies with more dramatic and intense spots in grullo’s pattern compared to pinto.
There are various terms used to refer to specific shades and qualities of dark bay horses’ coats, some attributed to nutrition or grooming while others seem related to hereditary factors not fully understood yet. Some include:
Buckskin horses are bay horses that carry the cream gene and lighten their coat color, leaving their mane, tail and lower legs dark while their mane and tail remain dark. A buckskin may also feature black nose and ear tips. Buckskins were commonly known by earlier texts on horse coat color as sandy bay horses.
Dark bay horses resembling black in coloration are known as dark red, mahogany bay or seal brown horses. These horses typically display tans around their eyes, eyebrows, quarters, flank and girth; though their bodies may appear mealy.
Sooty bays feature an extremely dark topline resembling a wide dorsal stripe, as part of leopard-related roaning; these darker areas should lighten with exposure to sunlight around the head, neck and shoulders but not on legs or fetlocks.
Seal brown horses are a dark variant of bay color that appears nearly black, distinguished from standard and sooty bay horses by lighter areas around their muzzle, eyes, and flanks that appear lighter tan than elsewhere on their bodies. Although not an official breed registry worldwide, seal brown horses do include them among their ranks.
Genetic mutation of the agouti gene results in this color trait, though there are currently no tests to detect it. It may fall somewhere between dominant alleles ‘A’ and ‘At’ as dominance factors.
Seal brown horses usually feature black manes, tails, legs, noses and feet. Additionally, these horses may feature black splotches on soft parts such as cheeks, flanks and quarters which could easily fool casual observers; however, their lighter tan coloring helps identify them. These horses may also be known by other names such as chocolate toffee cappuccino or brownie horses in anglophone countries – these colours do not make up a distinct breed!