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There are five basic body colors of horses. They are:

  • BROWN A brown horse has a mixture of black and brown in his coat. In Europe, a "bay" is considered to be a brown horse.

  • BAY A bay horse can be any shade of brown (which is a mixture of red and yellow), with points such as tail, mane, muzzle and lower legs being black. The brown can range from a light, almost tan or chestnut to a dark, seal color.

  • BLACK A black horse is completely black, including muzzle and flanks. Most horses that look black are actually a very dark bay.

  • CHESTNUT A chestnut horse has brown skin and the hairs are actually red. The shades vary from a light yellowy color to dark liver. The mane and tail are usually the same color as the body but can be lighter. The lighter coloring is called flaxen. Lighter colored horses are called sorrel; very dark chestnut is called "liver chestnut".

  • WHITE A truly white horse is born white and remains white. His hair is snowy; he has pink skin and blue eyes. Cream horses are a variation, also having unpigmented skin and pink or blue eyes, with a pale colored coat. Most "white horses" are actually light grey.

There are also three major color variations in horses and three major color breeds.

  • DUN Duns have black skin with an evenly distributed coat color and a black mane and tail, similar to bay coloring. The coat color can range from a pale yellowish color to the color of a dirty canvas. Dun horses usually have a dorsal stripe down their backs and some have stripes on their forearms. The lighter shades are called buckskin.

  • GRAY A gray coat is actually a mixture of black and white hairs on black skin. A foal may be born a solid color with a few white hairs sprinked in his coat, but more white hairs will appear in the coat until he is gray at maturity. "Dappled grey" looks mottled, while greys with clusters of darker hair which sometimes include a reddish brown, are called "flea bitten".

  • ROAN Roan is a mixture of white and colored hairs. White with brown is called red roan; white with red is strawberry roan; white with black is called blue roan.

  • PALOMINO Palominos are golden horses with light colored, or "flaxen" manes and tails.

  • PINTO Pintos have a mixture of white and colored areas on their bodies. Horses with black and white splotches are called piebald, while horses with any other color than black are called skewbald. Pinto is a Spanish word meaning painted. Painted horses are divided into two categories: Tobianos, the most common, have white splotches across their backs which extend downward. On Overos, the white extends from the belly and legs upward toward the back but does not actually cross the back. Overos often have a "War Bonnet" or white face.

  • APPALOOSA This is a color breed. It is divided into three color patterns:
    Leopard is a white horse with dark spots all over his body;
    Snowflake is a dark horse with tiny white spots;
    and the "blanket", the most well-known Appy pattern which usually consists of a white blanket with dark spots on the rump.

    Appys must meet three minimum requirements: striped hooves, unpigmented sclera (white around the cornea of the eye) and mottling of the skin, particularly on the nostrils, muzzle, and genitalia. There are solid colored appaloosas but they must meet the above requirements.


    Many horses have markings on their faces and legs. Here are the more common ones.

    • BLAZE A white mark spread over the forehead and the length of the face. If the blaze is exaggerated to cover the entire front of the face, the term "bald face" or "war bonnet" might be used.

    • STRIPE A white mark down the face, similar to a blaze but narrower.

    • STRIP A white mark running partway down the face.

    • STAR A patch of white on the forehead.

    • SNIP A white or pink patch on the nose or lip.

    • WHORL A patch of hair swirling opposite to the surrounding hair, usually found on the forehead.

    • SOCK White hair on a leg, looking like human ankle socks.

    • STOCKING White hair on a leg, extending from hoof to hock or knee.

      A full, legal description of a horse would include: name, age, color, breed or type, sex, height, parentage, natural marks (such as those listed above and patches on the body), whorls, acquired marks such as scars.

This article was kindly provided by Michelle Staples, Staples Stables
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