The colors of horses are based on a base color with overlying restrictions and dilutions giving us the wide range of the colors we see in horses. Each topic will cover how all horses have one of only 2 base colors of red and black. Restrictions are added to limit where the black is seen or not seen. Dilutions are then added to the base colors to give us the variety. Overlying all of this is the gray gene that dominates all colors and patterns if the gray gene is present.
The horse is then marked with patterns of white spots, patches and / or hairs making each horse an individual and even a breed as some share these patterns genetically. There are 5 groups of white markings determined by genes and there are also random markings which become unique in identifying all horses not associated with specific genes.
The order goes like this – first is the base color of red or black. Next is a gene that allows black to be seen on red horses. Next is the gray gene that can turn any horse gray with age.
The next layer for some horses are the dilution genes of cream and dun. These will dilute to become buckskin, palomino, gruella and others.
Over the base color with or without these dilutions, some will add patches of white, mixes of white hairs or white areas with spots.
Finally, over any and all of the above bases, expressions, dilutions and markings, individual markings like a star on the face or a small white sock on one leg can randomly occur. The idea here is that there is an order from base to final appearance. Just follow the order.
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The breed Bashkir Curly has a hair that maintains a curl throughout the year. The curl can range from no curl to minimal to full curl but it is unique to this breed.
On occasion a horse can be seen with patches of hair that are longer or shorter than the rest of the body.
Coat patterns are made of white hairs (non-pigmented) that are genetically determined and applied over the modified base coat color. They are categorized as white markings, roan markings, pinto markings, leopard complex markings, and white horse markings.
The Agouti gene controls where the black pigment of black horses is seen by restricting the black to the lower legs, the ears, the mane and the tail.
The cream dilution gene can dilute both the red and black base colors to yield the Palomino, the Cremello, The Buckskin, the Perlino, the Smoky Black and the Smoky Cream.
Independent of what a horse looks like, there are only 2 base colors of horses – red and black. From there horses layer modifiers and dilutors and then add on top of them patterns made up of white hairs that are base hairs without any pigment.
Dappling is the description given to any color horse exhibiting circles of a darker color (dark rings) over all of the body.
This gene can work on both red and black base colors by lightening the base color. It also allows expressing of the primitive markings, most notably the dorsal stripe.
Any horse of any color has the opportunity to become gray over time if they have the dominant gene for graying – at least 1 parent needs to be a gray horse.