Horses, in general, are a vast topic to discuss, and their coat colors are another story. Horse Colors are so versatile. Even the most experienced horsemen and women take time to learn the differences and variations of horse colors.
Not only that but also horses are considered as majestic animals that are distinguished by the color of their coat mainly.
According to the worldwide equine experts, there are four primary colors; Bay, Brown, Black, and Chestnut. Everything else is a variation, a mix, or the absence of these four colors.
There are many colors, including alterations and mixtures, giving lovely tones and shades of beauty to horses.
When it comes to Horse colors, there are terms such as ‘Markings’ and ‘Black Points.’ Markings refer to the absence of color on the body, making white patches mostly on the face and legs.
These markings come from birth. Black Points denote the black mane, tail, and black legs. Genetically, all horses start with chestnut/ red undertones.
Equine coat color is mostly determined by the genes they carry. This is why Bay and Brown are the most common horse colors seen.
Main Horse Colors
Horses with the color Bay have a reddish-brown coat. The reddish undertone can vary from dark to light. A typical Bay looks like mahogany or auburn. Most bay colored horses have black legs, tails, and a mane.
A dark bay horse is often confused with black. But if you carefully look, the dark bay has red undertones with red or black highlights on the face and the body. The bottom line is, Bay always has a red undertone.
If you are confused with the horse’s color, look for red undertones, and you will know if the horse has a Bay coat or not.
Bay variations can be:
- Blood Bay: A blood-red shade with an almost purple or iridescent look
- Cherry Bay: A cherry-like red undertone bay coat
- Golden Bay: A lighter shade of typical Bay color with a golden touch
- Mahogany Bay: A bay so dark that might get confused with black
- Light Bay: A washed-out bay with red undertones
- Standard Bay: A reddish-brown coat with black mane and tail.
Black is relatively a rare color than Bay. A Black horse has a solid black coat with black legs, mane, and a tail. Some black coats fade away in the sun.
Most Black horses have a black coat with white skin. But a horse with a black coat and black skin is called a true black coat. Most Black horses have very dark-colored eyes.
There aren’t many variations of black. But a horse can have a smoky black coat which appears as a faded black that looks like smoke.
Brown horses have a coat that covers from head to toe without mixing colors. Dark brown horses can be mistaken as black horses. But when they go into the sun, you will be able to make out the right color.
Some people call Brown a shade of Bay. But brown horses often come with a single-toned coat without mixing with markings and black points. Nevertheless, the strength of the shade can differ from one to another.
Horses with Chestnut coats do not come with black points. Their mane and tail also come in the same color or lighter. This is the best way to identify a chestnut horse. Chestnut is basically a red variant that can get very dark or very light.
Slight variations of chestnut:
Liver chestnut: These horse coats are very dark in color. Often confused with brown horse coats. The best way to identify a liver chestnut horse is to look at its mane and tail. Chestnut horses do not have black manes and tails.
Sorrel is the most common chestnut coat. It is the most reddish horse coat in the chestnut category. These horses often have manes and tails in the same color.
Light chestnut is a faded chestnut coat with the mane and tail in the same color or lighter. This is not a very common coat color.
This is a combination or any kind of chestnut with a blonde mane and tail.
Apart from the main coat colors, there are many other variants of these shades under different names. All the variances and markings are determined at birth. Most horses maintain the same coat color throughout their lives.
But some of them develop markings and black points over time. Marking and black points are present at birth but will show up later in their lives. It depends on the health, the skin, and the genes of the horse.
Rare horse colors
Horse colors are considered rare because they do not have the main coat colors. But most of the time, these rare colored horses are the most beautiful ones.
Palomino horse coats are considered to be one of the most beautiful horse coats. They have a golden coat with a white mane and tail. Palomino horses are regarded as colored horses.
As mentioned, any other color apart from the main colors are variants and mixtures of the main colors. Buckskin is a faded/ diluted version of Bay, ranging from a yellowish-cream to dark orange. Horses with Buckskin coats have dark-colored eyes.
There are variations of Buckskin, such as Dusty buckskin, Golden Buckskin, Silvery Buckskin, Sooty Buckskin, and Yellow Buckskin. A dusty buckskin has a dark shade of brown and yellow.
Golden Buckskin horses can be confused with Palomino. But Golden Buckskin is way darker than a Palomino horse. Silvery Buckskin is so light that it almost shines like silver.
Grulla is a diluted shade of dun. Dark black head, black points, and dark eyes are their main characteristics.
Red dun horses get their coat because of a dominant dilution gene that ends up in tan or reddish-brown coats. Red-dun horses can be confused with chestnut horses except for the primitive markings and black points.
Mane, tail, and legs are usually darker than the coat, and they have dark eyes.
Silver Dapple is not shown on many horses. This color of the coat is formed by a dominant gene that lightens the black pigments.
Cream-colored horses have diluted ‘cream’ genes that fade chestnut, black, and brown pigments.
Gray horses are commonly darker at birth. Their coat gets lighter with time. A fully white horse is very rare. A grey coat is a combination of white hair and colored hair (with black pigments), forming a gray shade.
Very unusual horse colors
Horses mixed with different breeds and colors can come up with very unusual mixtures such as Dapple gray, blue roan, red roan, and appaloosa. These unique horse colors have a lot of markings and black points, making their coats leopard-like.
The Bottom line: Horse colors and their genes
Horses are considered as one of the top-notch animals, exhibits, and icons on many occasions. They are highly valued because of the breed they carry and the color they possess. Horse colors are a topic every horse enthusiast looks for.
Even experienced horsemen and women get confused when it is time to determine the horse color because many coat colors look very similar with only tiny differences.
You have to look for undertones, markings, black points, and the color of the mane and tail to determine the color of the horse. Some of the horse colors are very rare, and they even make it to world records.
But the truth of the story is, every horse gains its coat color through its genes. It is the ultimate factor that says which color the coat is going to be.