This section is written for the beginner rider who is learning to associate horse color names with the visual color of a horse’s coat.
Bay horses run from light reddish or tan shades to dark brown and mahogany/auburn shades. Bay horses always have black points (legs, muzzle, mane and tail, and the tips of their ears are black). Many bay horses have black legs that are covered by white markings.
Dark brown coat, reddish or black highlights, black points. An uneducated horse person may think this horse is black…but we know better!
Dun horses have a sandy / yellow to reddish / brown coat. Their legs are usually darker than their body and sometimes have faint “zebra” stripes on them. Dun horses always have a “dorsal” stripe, which is a dark stripe down the middle of their back. Sometimes the dorsal stripe continues down the horse’s dock and tail, and through the mane. Many dun colored horses also have face masking, which makes the horse’s nose and sometimes the rest of the face a darker color than the horse’s body.
Both of these horses are a typical dun color, with a dorsal stripe down the middle of the back, with the legs a darker color than the body color. On the horse to the left, the dorsal stripe continues through the horse’s tail.
This horse is a bay dun. Bay duns have a bay color, but they are not bay since they have the dun characteristic of a dorsal stripe down the middle of their back. An uneducated horse-person might think this is a buckskin, but we know better!
This horse is a dun, but with reddish/chestnut highlights. He has a dorsal stripe down the middle of the back, and the legs a darker color than the body color.
Some dun colored horses also have primitive zebra markings on their legs, such as this one.
Roan horses have otherwise solid colored coats, but with white hairs interspersed. The white hairs are not actual spots, but single white hairs mixed with the darker coat color. You’ll find descriptions and pictures of some common roan colors below.
The Roan Gene can be applied to any color of horse. The most common are Red Roans, Bay Roans and Blue Roans. There are also Palomino Roans, Red Dun Roans, Dun Roans, Buckskin Roans, etc. The Roan gene adds white hairs into the body of the horse. The legs and head are not affected and will remain darker then the body. The mane and tail are usually not affected, but some may have some white hairs mixed in.
A Bay Roan is a horse with a bay coat and the roan gene. The roan gene gives the horse interspersed white hairs on his body. The Bay roan sometimes looks very similar to a red roan or a blue roan.
A Red Roan (sometimes called “Strawberry Roan”) is a chestnut or sorrel horse with the roan gene. The roan gene gives the horse interspersed white hairs on his body.
A Blue Roan is a black horse with the roan gene. The roan gene gives the horse interspersed white hairs on his body. The horse to the left is a blue roan.
Some horses do not have a roan color over their entire body, but only have roan spots or other roan-like markings.
Gray horses have black skin with white or gray hair. Many horse people will call a gray horse “white”, but if their skin is dark, they are gray! Gray horses are born dark, sometimes black or brown, and their hair coat turns lighter as they grow older.
This is the type of horse that people mistake for “white”. This horse is a light gray, not white. See how the skin (around his nose, inside his ears, and between his hind legs) is black? That is how you can tell that this horse is really a light gray.
A dapple is like a small, white “eraser” mark. Dapple gray horses usually have dapples throughout their entire body, often with darker colored points.
A fleabitten gray is a horse with a light gray body, but with little speckles of black and/or brown. These speckles are like tiny dots that are pretty much evenly distributed throughout the horse’s body. Don’t get this color confused with roans or appaloosa coat patterns!
Steel gray horses are a dark gray, silver color. The horse has a black base coat with lightly mixed white/gray hairs. Many steel gray horses lighten and turn into a dapple gray or a light gray with age.
Medium gray whose hairs are tinted with red. This type of hair gives the horse a light “rose” tint. Rose gray horses often have points that are darker than their body color, including mane and tail.
Buckskin horses are a light-to-dark sandy yellow or tan color with all black points. Buckskins are very similar to duns, however, buckskins do not have a dorsal stripe or other “primitive” markings that are shown in the dun color.
Champagne colored horses are born with bright pink skin which remains pink their entire life. What really distinguishes the champagne color from other colors is that champagne foals are born with bright blue eyes. Their eyes will usually change color as they age, but this takes a long time – whereas in other colors, the color of the eye changes more rapidly. The eye color will usually change from light blue to a hazel/green color.
Champagne colored foals are born with a darker coat than their future adult coat will be, and all Champagne horses have at least 1 Champagne parent.
There are a couple different types of “white” horses. Dominant Whites are very rare and must have a white parent. They have pink skin, usually hazel or brown eyes and white hair. There are also Sabino Whites which can pop up in any breed that has the Sabino gene, this includes Arabs, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Paints, Tennessee Walkers, Saddlebreds, and more.
A Sabino White is what we call a maximal pinto, just imagine that the white markings on the horse are so big they cover the entire horse. Sabino Whites also have white hair, sometimes with a few dark hairs on the poll or ears, pink skin and dark eyes.
There are also other horses that are mistaken for white, some are greys that have turned white, but they will have dark skin and eyes and are not true white horses. The others are cremellos and perlinos, to learn more about them go to the Cremello and Perlino page.
Palomino horses have gold-colored coat with a white or light cream colored mane and tail. The Palomino’s coat can range from a light off-white shade to a deep shade of gold.
Grullo – pronounced (grew-yo)
Grulla – pronounced (grew-ya)
Either of the terms are correct in describing the color. AQHA recognizes the color as grullo. The color is the diluted form of black with dun factor. In other words the black color is modified by the dun gene. “Grulla” is the Spanish word for a gray crane which is a slate-gray colored bird.
Chestnut, (also known as “sorrel”), is reddish brown. The points (mane, tail, legs and ears) are the same color as the horse’s body (other than white markings). Chestnuts range from light yellowish brown to a golden-reddish or dark liver color. All chestnuts have shades of red in their coats.
Bright reddish and/or orange shades. This color is very appealing since it is usually bright and shiny, and very saturated. The red chestnut always has red highlights that really stand out.
Light reddish-brown. Light chestnuts do not usually have points that are lighter than their body. The tips of their manes and tails may be lighter, but the base is the same color. If their mane/tail/legs etc. are significantly lighter than their body, they might be a flaxen chestnut or palomino.
Flaxen chestnuts are a chestnut colored body with a light flaxen (cream/off-white) colored mane and tail. Legs and tip of ears are the same color as the horse’s body. Many people get confused between flaxen chestnut, light chestnut and palomino. This horse is a flaxen chestnut.
A liver chestnut is the darkest of the chestnut colors. Liver chestnuts do not have black points. Notice the chestnut tint in the horse’s mane and tail?
Cremello & Perlino
Cremellos and Perlinos are often called Whites or Albinos which is incorrect. There are no albino horses, there are however White horses, to learn more about them see the page on White Horses.
Cremellos and Perlinos are “double diluted” which means they have two copies of the creme gene instead of one like a Palomino or Buckskin. In other words a Palomino is a “chestnut” with one creme gene and a Cremello is a “chestnut” with two creme genes. A Buckskin is a “bay” with one creme gene and a Perlino is a “bay” with two creme genes.
Cremellos and Perlinos have pink skin and blue eyes. Their hair coats are not white but are of a light creme color. Some can be so light they appear to be white but if you compare them to a true white horse you will see that they are actually creme.
Cremellos will have white manes and tails while Perlinos will have darker points, as a Buckskin would, but on a Perlino the points are orangish.
Black horses have pure black coats with no signs of brown or any other color. Many horse-people mistake dark bays or liver chestnuts for black. If you can see any other color (with the exception of white markings) on the horse’s coat in the winter, he is not a true black. The reason I say “in the winter” is because the sun tends to lighten a dark horse’s coat in the summer, and the exception is when the hair has been sun-burnt.