How To... Horse Colors - Page 1
Horses come in a wide variety of colors, and often have numerous variations within any particular color. In the article on this page and the following pages we describe and show some of the more common horse colors. While reading this information it is important to understand that not every person or breed organization agrees on or defines horse colors in the same way. While our descriptions of horse colors can be considered reliable, we would like to point out that they may not be accepted by everyone as accurate.
If you are registering a horse consult with the registering organization for their definitions of colors. Definitions differ from one organization to another, and may be different than the ones we've used here.
A bay horse has a body color of various shades of red or reddish brown. Bay horses have a black mane and tail, and black on the lower legs.
A bay roan horse has a mixture of red and white hairs across all or most of its body, a black mane and tail, and black on the lower legs. The head is darker than the body, usually because more red hairs are present but sometimes because there are also some black hairs.
A black horse has a body, head, legs, mane, and tail that are all black. The color is a true, or dark, black all over the horse without any areas that are brownish, reddish, or a lighter color. It should be noted that white markings (like a star, blaze, socks or stockings, etc.) DO appear on black horses, and are not considered to be the lighter colorings that would cause a black horse to be classified as some other color.
Some black horses can fade or be "sun burned," which means their black hairs can become bleached to a lighter color because of sun exposure. A horse like this, however, is still a black horse.
A blue roan horse has a body with a mixture of black and white hairs. The head and legs frequently have more black hairs than white, making them appear darker. However, there are exceptions to having darker legs, particularly within the draft horse breeds. The horse in the photo at right is a blue roan draft horse. As you can see his legs are not only not darker, he has tall, white stockings. Stockings like this are characteristic of some draft horses regardless of color.
NOTE: Roan horses can sometimes be difficult to tell from gray horses. For tips on how to tell the difference, please see the bottom of this page.
Horse Colors: More Information
What About Markings?
White markings on a horse (such as a star, blaze, socks or stockings, etc.) do not affect how a horse's color is classified. For example, if a bay horse (which has black on its lower legs) has one or more white socks, it is still a bay horse. Please note that white markings are different than spots on a horse's body. Spots usually WILL make a difference in how a horse's color is classified.
The Difference Between Grays and Roans
It can sometimes be difficult to tell a gray horse from a roan horse. In both cases, the horse's main body color consists of colored hairs mixed with white hairs. With some young horses, particularly, it may not be readily apparent if they are gray or roan and it may take some time to see how their color develops.
Here are some tell-tale differences to help tell a gray horse from a roan horse:
- Roan horses keep approximately the same ratio of
white-hairs-to-colored-hairs as they age.
- Gray horses get more white hairs and fewer colored hairs as they age, causing them to lighten as they become older.
- In roan horses, the head and legs are often darker than the rest of the body.
- As gray horses age the head is often the first area to become lighter.
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