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.
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.
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.
The least common of the base colors is black. True blacks have no lighter colors other than white markings. 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?