Horse Coat Colors, Patterns And Markings

The topic of horses coat colors markings and patterns is extremely vast. Even very experienced horse men and women continue to learn more and more about the nuance of this topic with the passage of time and experience. In this article, we provide a brief overview of horse coat colors, patterns and markings along with resources that will allow you to dig more deeply into this interesting and complex topic. Read on to learn more.

Horse Coat Colors

horse coat colors


Horses come in many shades of gray that range from nearly white, to a deep gray. Gray horses typically change colors throughout their lifetimes, starting out as dark and lightening to pale gray or even white as they mature.


Bay horses are deep reddish brown with black manes and tails, muzzles, ear tips and legs.


A buckskin is like a bay horse, but its color is not as dark and deep. Buckskins are typically tan (dark or light) with black legs and black mane and tail.


A brown horse is a dark, consistent brown color all over with the exception of his flanks and muzzle, which are typically a lighter shade of brown. These horses usually have black manes and tails.


A horse who is entirely black from head to toe with a black mane and tail is considered truly black.


Dun horses are tan, reddish or gold. Their manes and tails are black, and they have a dark stripe down the back from the base of the mane to the base of the tail. These horses may also have zebra stripes on the legs.


Roan horses are genetically related to Duns. These horses typically have a darker background color with white hairs intermixed. A roan horse’s head, legs, mane and tail is usually a darker shade of the base color.

A horse whose darker base color is red is said to be a red roan. A horse whose darker base color is black is said to be a blue roan.


These horses are golden with white manes and tails.


Chestnuts come in various shades of red ranging from very light (a.k.a. sorrel) to very dark (a.k.a. liver chestnut). The mane and tail may be the same color as the body or lighter.


Pinto horses have large irregular patches of white markings on a dark base or dark markings on a white base. A pinto may be any color (e.g. black and white, buckskin and white, bay and white, etc.)


A paint horse is similar to a pinto, but paint is a breed not a color. Only horses that have Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse bloodlines can appropriately be called paints and registered as paint horses.

A Guide to Horse Colors

Horse Color Patterns

horse color patterns

Horse Markings

horse markings

Horses may have distinctive markings on their faces, legs and bodies. These markings help you identify individuals and breeds. Here are a few of the most commonly seen markings:


A horse who has a white spot in the center of its forehead is said to have a star. Stars may be small, medium or large and shaped in a variety of ways.


A horse with a white spot between its nostrils or low on the muzzle is said to have a snip.


A thin, white stripe that runs from forehead to the center of the nose is a strip.


A wider stripe that runs from the forehead to the muzzle is a blaze.

Bald Face

A horse with an extremely wide blaze the covers the entire front of the face and may even extend past the eyes is said to be bald-faced.

Coronet Band

A narrow, white band just above a horse’s hoof is called a Coronet band.

Half Pastern Band

This is a slightly wider white band above the hoof. It rises about half-way up the horse’s pastern, stopping before the fetlock.


Socks are white markings that extend from the hoof to above the fetlock, no higher than a third of the way up the leg.


A white mark that extends from the hoof to high on the leg is called a stocking.


Horses such as Appaloosa or Knabstrupper have spots in a color that contrasts with the basic body color (e.g. black spots on a white coat, white spots on a red coat, etc.) An Appaloosa may just have a spotted blanket over his rump, or this coloring may extend over the entire body.


Gray horses are often dappled with spots of a slightly darker color throughout the coat.


Some horses have zebra-like stripes on their upper legs. This is especially common in dun horses.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the rarest horse color?

Pure white is the rarest color in horses, and it is a color to be avoided because pure white horses are often susceptible to health problems. This is especially true of albino horses because their lack of pigmentation means that they have no natural protection from the sun. There is also a very rare condition called lethal white Overo syndrome (LWO) which may occur when two Overo (an unusual pinto pattern) horses are bred. A pure white foal born with LWO has abnormalities in its intestinal tract which cause it to die very shortly after being born.

2. What is the difference between flaxen and palomino?

A horse with a flaxen mane and tail is a chestnut or sorrel horse with a very light colored mane and tail. This is a hereditary trait. A palomino also has a darker body and a pale mane and tail; however, the overall color of the body is lighter, as is the color of the mane and tail. This is because a true palomino is the product of a cream gene dilution which affects overall coloration.

3. What is the difference between rabicano and roan?

A roan horse has even, white hairs distributed throughout a red or black coat. A rabicano horse only has white flecking or frosting in specific areas (e.g. the base of the tail, the flanks, along the ribs and under the elbows). A rabicano horse is genetically different from a roan horse. A roan horse may lighten overall to become white with age. A rabicano horse will not. Note that a horse who fades to white from blue or red roan is not subject to the sorts of health problems common to many born-white horses.

4. What is the difference between Ben d’Or spots and Birdcatcher spots?

Bend Or spots are an odd sort of marking that appears randomly on sorrel and palomino horses (for the most part). These scattered black spots were first noted on a thoroughbred race horse named Bend Or. They are sometimes called grease spots or smut. Birdcatcher spots are a similar phenomenon, also named for a famous Thoroughbred. The difference is that these spots are white and may appear randomly or in a small cluster. The cause of these types of coloration is unknown.

5. Do flashy horses have more personality?

It does seem that generally speaking, paints, pintos, Overos and appaloosas tend to have a lot more personality than their plain relatives. Appaloosas, especially are known for being very smart and a bit difficult for a novice to handle. Keep in mind, though, a horse usually reflects the personality of its person. A rider who chooses a flashy horse may very well be endowed with a flashy personality!

Sources & Resources

  1. A Guide to Equine Color Genetics and Coat Color
  2. Coat Colors & Markings Terms Glossary
  3. Color And Color Markings Of Horses

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