The Different Colors of the Quarter Horse
Bay horses are a variation of brown colors with black points. The brown coloration can run from reddish to tan to dark brown and even a very dark brown that looks almost black. The black points are the easiest way to identify the bay coloration. The black points can show up on the horse’s legs, muzzle, mane and tail. Often the tips of their ears are black. Many bay horses have black legs that are covered by white markings.
Those horses that are so dark that they appear black are known as dark bay. These horses have reddish or black highlights in their coat with the requisite black points.
Black horses have pure black coats with no signs of brown or any other color. Many people have mistaken dark bays or liver chestnuts for black. The easiest way to see if the horses is a true black is to check it during the winter. The reason is that the sun can bleach or lighten a horse’s color and it is truer during the winter months. 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.
Buckskin colored horse
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.
Ivory/ Champagne colored horse, photo courtesy ICHR
Champagne colored horses are born with bright pink skin. Their skin will remain pink their entire life. Champagne foals are often born with a darker coat than their true adult color. 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.
All champagne colored horses have at least a single parent that is of the champagne color.
Chestnut or sorrel colored horse
Chestnut/Sorrell- 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.
There are variations of the chestnut color. Red chestnuts have bright reddish and/or orange shades. This color is very appealing since it is usually very bright and shiny and the color is very intense. The red highlights really stand out. Liver chestnuts are the darkest variation of the color. The color is solid and there are no black points. Light chestnuts are a light reddish brown color. Their points are not usually lighter than the color of their body. While the tips of their manes and tails may be lighter, the base is the same color. If their manes, tails and/or legs are lighter, they may instead be a flaxen chestnut or a palomino. Flaxen chestnuts have a chestnut colored body with a light flaxen or cream colored mane and tail. The legs and tips of their ears are the same color as the rest of the horse’s body. It is easy to get confused between a flaxen chestnut and a palomino.
Cremellos and Perlinos are often called Whites or Albinos, but this is incorrect. There are no albino horses, there are however White horses. Cremellos and Perlinos are “double diluted” which means they have two copies of the cream gene instead of one like a Palomino or Buckskin. In other words a Palomino is a “chestnut” with one cream gene and a Cremello is a “chestnut” with two cream genes. A Buckskin is a “bay” with one cream gene and a Perlino is a “bay” with two cream 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. To learn more about them you can visit the website of the Cremello & Perlino Educational Association, www.doubledilute.com
Dun foal showing Doral stripe
Dun horses are a sandy/yellow to reddish/brown coat with a dorsal stripe down their back. A dorsal stripe is a stripe running along the spine that is of a darker color than the body color. The dorsal stripe may continue into the mane and tail. Their legs are usually darker than their body and some may have faint “zebra” stripes on them. 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.
Gray horses have black or dark 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 often born dark, sometimes black or brown, and their hair coat turns lighter as they grow older.
There are several variations of gray horses. Light gray horses are the ones most often confused with white. As noted above these horses have dark skin with white or gray hair. Dapple gray horses have darker gray color but with white eraser like marks all over their body. They may have darker points as well.
Fleabitten gray horses are the opposite of the dapples. They have a lighter color base with darker colored speckles. The speckles are small dots that are evenly distributed all over the body.
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. Rose gray horses are a 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.
Grulla colored horse
Grulla/Grullo- Either of the terms is considered 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 bid.
While you may find grullo or grulla definitions in the rule books of different registries under different definitions, we include the AQHA definition here:
Body color smoky or mouse colored (not a mixture of black and white hairs, but each individual hair is mouse colored) Usually has a dorsal stripe, shoulder striping or shadowing and black leg barring on lower legs.
Within this definition there are variations of the color often refered to as slate grulla, silver grulla, olive grulla, black dun or wolf dun. The grullo color in the quarter horse is very rare and only about 0.7% of those registered in the quarter horse breed each year are grullo.
One determining factor of the grulla is the primitve markings that can be seen on all duns to varying extents.
Golden Palomino and chocolate PalominoFlaxen
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.
Red or Blue Roan
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. 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.
There are two 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 paint. Meaning 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.