Horses come in a wide range of colors and patterns. For some horse breeds,
only a particular color or color combination is allowed. In others,
individual horses may be virtually any color.
The coat color of a horse is determined by its genes. There are two basic
coat colors: "red" & "black," which are associated with major genes.
However, many other genes affect the final appearance of the horse. The
mixing of these genes results in the rainbow of colors and patterns we see
in horse breeds today.
Click on each color to explore more!
Bay horses have coats that look reddish brown, with black manes, black tails, and black lower legs. The shades vary from sandy bay to mahogany bay.
Black horses are black all over, including tail and mane. However, they sometimes have white face and leg markings.
Chestnut horses come in various shades, ranging from reddish orange to dark brown. The mane and tail are either chestnut or cream-colored.
Dun is a genetic variation that dilutes the coloring of bay, chestnut, and black horses. It makes their coats look paler.
Also, dun horses have a dark stripe running down their spines.
Sometimes duns have stripes on their withers or horizontal striping on their legs—like zebras. A black dun is called a "grullo."
It typically has a blue-gray or smoky-colored coat, with darker mane, tail, and legs.
Some coat colors change during the lifetime of a horse. "Gray" horses are born with darker-colored coats. As they turn gray over time, they may go through intermediate stages, such as "fleabitten" (specks of white on a dark coat) and "dapple gray". A horse that has gone completely gray looks white.
Palominos are yellowish-gold horses with cream-colored manes and tails.
Part-colored horses are called pintos. They have patterned coats that combine large patches of white with a darker color. The two main types of pinto patterning are tobiano and overo. Tobianos have big patches of color, white legs, and dark coloring on the neck and breast. They often have a two-toned mane. Overos have jagged patches of white that are large or small. They have one or more dark legs. The tail is one color, rather than two-toned.
Roan horses have white hairs scattered on coats of chestnut, black, or bay. This causes their coats to look lighter in color. A black horse with roaning is called a "blue roan." A chestnut horse with roaning is called a "strawberry roan."
Spotted horses carry the leopard complex (Lp) gene. This gene causes different types of white patterning that overlay the horse's base coat color. "Leopard" and "blanket" are two of the patterning types. "Leopard" makes the horse look like it has spots all over. "Blanket" makes it look like the horse has a white "blanket" thrown across its back, though spots may show through.
Horses of all colors may have a variety of white markings on their faces and legs, such as blazes, stars, and socks. Horses are born with these markings. They can help identify individual horses.