Paints, Palominos and Other Pretty Horses, Part 1


Horses come in an amazing variety of colors, most of which have been created by man. Genuinely wild (not feral) horses, like the Przewalski’s horse, are a tan or dun color. All the color combinations we see today including wildly colored spots are a result of controlled breeding. One site I looked up listed over fifty different color names.

We’re all familiar with the basic white, black, brown, and grey. Did you know there are variations in these base colors? A true white horse has pink skin, but most of the “whites” we see are actually light greys and have black skin. The Lippizans of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna are an example. They are born a dark color, usually black, and gradually lighten as they mature. They go through various stages of grey until most of them turn a snowy white. However, they keep the dark skin they started with.


Grey mare gone white with dark foal that will grey out

Grey mare gone white with dark foal that will grey out

Flea-bitten grey

Flea-bitten grey

Most grey horses follow the same pattern. They start dark and gradually lighten. Many will also turn a snowy white and can look quite unusual when you give them a bath. If they originally had white markings—a blaze or stockings—those areas will look pink, while their dark skin will show through on the rest of the body. Greys have different color variations. There are dark, steel greys that have an even mixture of white and black hair. Dapple greys have their dark coat covered with white circles or dapples. Rose greys have a pinkish tinge because their base color is brown instead of black. Flea-bitten greys are those that have tiny black or brown spots flecked through their coats that make them look freckled. Some start flea-bitten and lighten with age. Others start darker and turn flea-bitten.


The most common color is brown, either chestnut or bay. There are very dark browns that often look black but their muzzles and eye areas are brown. Going down the brown color scale there are liver chestnuts with quite dark coats, chestnuts—reddish brown, sorrels—light red-brown, often with flaxen (blond) manes and tails, and light chestnuts that look almost tan.

Liver chestnut

Liver chestnut















Bays also come in a variety of color tones but always have black manes, tails and legs. The black on the legs usually extends to the knees and may be partly or mostly covered by white makings. Mahogoney bays can be so dark you can’t easily see the black points, but they still are bays. Blood bays have a rich, dark red color, while copper bays have more of an orangey color. The lightest is the golden bay.

Bays with white covering their black points

Bays with white covering their black points

Bright Bay

Bright Bay










The least common of the base colors is black. True blacks have no lighter colors other than white markingsblack horse. Most blacks will fade (turn rusty colored) when out in the sun. Some have a blue-black coat that doesn’t fade. Even if sunburned the area around the muzzle or eyes is still black. Many blacks start out grey or dun and don’t turn dark until they shed out their foal coat.

Next time I’ll talk about the wonderful color combinations that are so popular in the horse world.

What’s your favorite color?

Categories: animals, horse colors, Horses, nature, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Paints, Palominos and Other Pretty Horses, Part 1

  1. Nancy

    Kate, I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now. Thanks for all the great info, especially the posts about body language. They’re great help to a writer.

  2. Interesting. I had no idea that horses changed colors. Thank you for the education.

  3. Very informative. I knew some of the topics covered but not all. Thank you for the info. Look forward to part 2.

  4. I adore horses. Thanks so much for the post.

  5. I’ve always been in love with true blacks, but never had one. However, my favorite horse was Duke, a bright bay. I sure miss that pretty boy! Great post!

  6. My favorite has always been a dark bay or brown with a white blaze and white on the pasterns or even up into socks. Thanks for this, especially since someone on FB told me the other day that there is no such thing as a blood bay . . .

    • Apparently there are differing opinions on what to call colors. But you can always cite Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt. My brother had a blood bay–at least that’s what everyone called him.

      I love liver chestnuts, though right now I guess I like dark/black bay the best, since that’s what my TB is. Not a spec of white on her. Most people call her black but she isn’t.

  7. Greta

    Hi, Kate.

    My favorite color=buckskin; second favorite=blood bay with high black stockings. So pretty! I probably learned the color from Walter Farley.

    I was lucky enough to be involved in the care of two pregnant ponies one summer when I was a girl. The mares were both dark brown … what a surprise when one foal was a lovely gray and the other was an amazing bright red color with dun-type markings: the cross on the spine and withers. “Little Red” also had a white muzzle with black nostril rings. So cute! But I think she turned brown pretty quickly.

    What do you think of stories that connect coat color to personality? I think I’ve heard chestnut mares can be a little flighty.

    • I love buckskins too. After having two greys and a pinto, I’ve found darker horses are easier to keep looking nice, so I’m not sure where buckskins fit in that continuum. 🙂

      Did the grey foal stay grey or darken? It’s always interesting to see how different the foal coat can be to the adult coat.

      Can’t say the chestnut mare thing has ever made much sense to me. The flightiest horses I’ve had were the greys and the most sensible have been chestnuts. I think breed has much more to do with it.

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