Color Breeds

Horses that are recognizable because of their color are generally referred to as color breeds. Some are not “true” horse breeds in the sense that their offspring do not always inherit the desired coloring. In addition, the physical characteristics don't necessarily matter as much as the color. For these horses, special color registries exist in which they can be registered for show and breeding purposes, as long as they possess the desired color characteristics.

The Palomino

Although it is recognized as a breed in the United States, some people would argue that the palomino is a horse color and not a horse breed in the strictest sense because it does not breed true. That is, palomino matings will produce palomino foals only about half the time. In addition, the palomino color can occur in almost any breed, so you may see palomino Arabians, Quarter Horses, and Saddlebreds.

The Palomino Horse Breeders of America registry describes the ideal coat color of the palomino to be “approximately the color of a United States gold coin.” It also includes requirements for skin color, which must be “dark colored without pink spots wherever it shows … except for skin on the face, which may be pink where it is the continuation of a white marking.” Further requirements are that both eyes must be the same color. The registry does allow the horse to have white legs and face markings.

Although it is a color breed, the registry also has conformation requirements: The palomino “must show refinement of head, bone, and general structure … and be suitable for carrying Western or English equipment. The horse must be between 14 and 17 hands when fully matured and show no pony or draft horse characteristics.”

The Appaloosa

Almost 20,000 years ago, the spotted Appaloosa horse was depicted in cave drawings in what is now France. The Spanish brought this breed to North America, where the horse spread through the Native American populations in the Northwest, especially with the Nez Perce and Palouse tribes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Because of their association with the Palouse River and the tribes that lived along it, white settlers were said to have referred to the spotted equine as “a Palouse horse,” thus their name. In 1938, the Appaloosa Horse Club was formed to promote and preserve the breed.

Appaloosas are versatile horses, used in all equine sports, from jumping and roping to racing and trail riding. Appies in the United States tend to be more of the stock horse type, typically of Quarter Horse lineage. In Europe, they are distinctly more inclined toward the warmblood type and, there-fore, often score well in dressage tests.

The Appaloosa is identifiable by four distinct characteristics:

  • Spotted coat pattern

  • Mottled or parti-colored skin (flesh color mixed with dark pigmentation)

  • White eye sclera (white rings around the edges of the iris)

  • Vertically striped hooves

  • To be accepted in the registry, the horse must possess either a spotted coat pattern or mottled skin and either white eye sclera readily visible and not associated with a white face or black-and-white striped hooves. If the horse's lineage is of Appaloosa stock but the horse does not exhibit these required characteristics, it can be registered as “noncharacteristic.”

    The leopard-like spotting can occur against almost any base color and variation thereof. A variety of coat patterns are possible, too, with the most easily recognized versions described as follows:

  • Blanket with spots: a white blanket draped over the horse's hindquarters with darker spots within the white

  • Blanket: a white blanket over the hindquarters with no spots

  • Leopard: white with darker spots all over; these horses are rare and truly eye-catching.

  • Paints and Pintos

    The pinto or Paint horse came to North America with the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1519. One of the sixteen horses that accompanied Cortés was a sorrel and white horse that bred with Native American mustangs, whose offspring were the first of the American Paint Horse breed. These boldly spotted horses became favored by the Native Americans, and in the 1950s a group dedicated to preserving the breed was formed. With careful breeding, Paint horses can be bred to consistently produce color offspring.

    What's the difference between pintos, piebalds, and Paints?

    Pinto and piebald describe color, while the term paint refers to pinto horses with Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred lineage. In the United States, the American Paint Horse is an established breed of spotted horses with the characteristics of a western stock horse. In England, the word piebald refers to a black horse with white spots, and the term skewbald commonly means a brown and white horse.

    To be registered with the American Paint Horse Association, color pattern is essential, but there are also strict bloodline requirements that the sire or dam must be registered with the American Paint Horse Association, the American Quarter Horse Association, or the Jockey Club. Coloring of the Paint must be a combination of white and any other coat color in the spectrum, and markings can be any size and shape and located anywhere on the body.

    The basic pinto patterns are described as follows:

  • Overo: There is typically no white on the back, the four legs are usually dark, the head often has a lot of white, and the predominant color may be white or dark. Eyes are often blue.

  • Tobiano: The legs are usually white, the head markings are often like that of solid color horses with a blaze, stripe, strip, or snip, and the predominant color can be white or dark. The white usually occurs across the back and down the withers.

  • Tovero: A mixture of the tobiano and overo patterns, one or both eyes are blue, with a tendency toward dark coloring around the ears (called medicine hat markings), flanks, and chest.

  • Sabino: This pattern is characterized by white markings going high up on the legs, white belly spots, splashes of white anywhere on the body, and prominent or irregular white facial markings that often extend past the eyes. There may also be roaning anywhere on the body and around the edges of the white markings.

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