Quarter horses come in various colors that can provide insight into their personality and purpose.
All horse coat colors are the result of genes controlling pigment. A dominant form of this gene produces black hair; its recessive variant results in red locks.
Buckskin and palominos horses feature chestnut or sorrel base coats with cream dilute genes; double cream dilutes like cremellos and perlinos can now be registered as quarter horses.
Bay is one of the most commonly seen horse coat colors. It is typically defined by medium reddish-brown hue with black points throughout their mane, tail, ears and legs. Other equine gene effects can alter this base shade creating various shades and patterns within it.
Sand or light bay has an indistinct hue of red while sooty bay features darker tones of the hue. Finally, blood bay boasts an intense shade that may even look mahogany depending on lighting conditions.
Silver bay horses possess two cream dilution genes which subdue the black pigmentation in their coat, similar to how cremellos have pink skin and blue eyes. Their spotting pattern may give the impression of someone dousing them with white paint!
Chestnut coloration is a striking golden reddish-brown shade, providing the base shade for many other Quarter Horse colors. Sorrel genes lighten or alter this hue; some chestnut horses even sport flaxen manes and tails! A double dilution of chestnut leads to palomino horses whose mane, tail and lower legs contain even more pigment than that found in buckskins (buckskins have bay-base hue).
The dun gene can alter either black or any of the other base colors; when expressed on chestnut horses it produces sandy shades with reddish points known as claybank dun or red dun. Bay horses with dun coloring turn mousy grey body color with black points commonly called grullo; black quarter horses may feature solid or have patches of white markings like blazes, stripes, snips or stockings to further define their dun appearance.
Quarter horse breeds feature several black-based colors that include sorrel, bay, buckskin cremello and red dun. These horses may be solid or roan with light markings known as blazes on their face, tail or ears that provide additional differentiation from other horse breeds.
Champagne horses are an extremely rare color that result from a dominant champagne gene acting upon a chestnut bay base coat, producing horses with chocolate-shaded hairs and hazel eyes. Classic champagne horses often get mistaken for Grullo Duns due to their chocolate coloring; however they lack the mouse gray mane and tail characteristic of Grullo Duns horses.
Perlinos are similar to cremellos in that they possess two cream dilution genes acting on either chestnut or sorrel base coats, yet possess pink-toned skin pigmentation instead. Unfortunately, perlinos are much less prevalent.
Gray horses are born colored but gradually gain white hairs as they mature, eventually turning all-gray. Though still with black skin and dark eyes, all gray horses may display any number of shades, including sand or light gray, sooty bay brown, standard brown or even gray dun (a lighter version of standard brown).
Some genes alter these base colors by diluting pigment to create other variations, for instance dilution of cream gene leads to palomino, while two copies lead to buckskin. Champagne quarter horses are an extremely rare modification from any of AQHA’s 17 recognized colors; their golden hue may be solid or dappled and their shade is produced by a dominant champagne gene that lightens pigment in hairs to give metallic sheen.
Dun is a color that ranges from sandy hues to almost black, distinguished by primitive markings such as dorsal stripes, zebra-esque leg stripes and sometimes dark shoulder bars or facial masks.
Sorrels with dun points may be mistaken for buckskins. Buckskins get their coloring from a cream gene, while dun has characteristics related to its dilution gene. A quick way to tell is to look out for a distinct dorsal stripe on either of your dogs.
Champagne, another dilution color popular in quarter horse breeds, derives from double cream gene and can be carried on bay or red base coat colors (such as sorrel). Champagne horses may also have face masks and other dun factor markings.
Cremello quarter horses combine the characteristics of chestnut base color and two cream dilution genes to produce a light cream to white horse with pink skin and an ivory or pale pink mane and tail, often called Cremellos. Because Cremello quarter horses closely resemble palominos and buckskins, DNA testing may often be needed to distinguish the difference.
Double dilutes (see “Glossary”) have long been frowned upon by some registries; however, they have recently gained acceptance as they provide more health benefits than purebreds without dilute genes. Furthermore, double dilutes offer an array of body types and temperaments from placid draft horses to the more exuberant Akhal-Teke horses.
Champagne is an versatile color modifier that can be combined with almost any base coat color, from chestnut to red and everything in between. On chestnut it produces a golden yellow shade reminiscent of palomino; when applied to red it produces cremello; while when combined with bay and seal brown hues it yields amber champagne or sable champagne shades.
A classic Champagne horse boasts a chocolate-like appearance with pink skin freckling. They typically begin life with light-colored eyes that gradually darken to hazel or amber with age, and boast shimmery metallic sheen coats featuring blazes, stripes or snips on their heads, ears, tails or lower legs.
Champagne combined with dun creates the gold dun color, and when mixed with sable it produces the sable champagne hue. These horses have warm chocolate bodies with primitive markings darker than what would be seen on a chestnut dun or bay horse.