Cream of the Crop

The cream dilution gene causes some of the most sought-after horse colors in the business.

The color of a newly minted gold coin, the palomino horse is the stuff of dreams. Immortalized by Roy Rogers' Trigger, it's a popular color and often demands a pretty penny (no pun intended). Palomino, along with buckskin, cremello and perlino, is caused by the cream dilution gene.

The cream gene is incompletely dominant, which means that it is always expressed when present, but affects the horse's color differently depending on if it has one or two copies. If a horse has one copy, it will be either a palomino (red-based), buckskin (black-based with agouti) or smoky black (black-based). If there are two copies present, the horse's coat color will be further diluted into a cremello (red-based), perlino (black-based with agouti) or smoky cream (black-based).

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A palomino is a sorrel horse with a single copy of the cream dilution. It turns the body color from red to a golden color, and changes the mane and tail to white. A cremello is a sorrel horse with two copies of the cream dilution. This creates a horse with a nearly white coat (white markings are still discernable, though). The eyes will be blue and the skin pale. A bay horse with a single cream dilution will become a buckskin; the dilution causes the coat color to become golden, but does not affect the points. A perlino is a bay with two copies - the body color becomes a very pale cream, the points are diluted to tan or orange, and the eyes are blue. A smoky black is a horse that would be black, except it also has a cream gene. This color is difficult to distinguish from black, and indeed is often registered as black, brown or buckskin. A genetic test can provide proof that it is a dilute, however. A smoky black with two copies of the cream gene becomes a smoky cream. It appears to be a mousey to creamy color with darker points and is usually registered as a perlino. All of these colors can happen in conjunction with another modifier, such as dun or roan.

AQHA's Horse Color and Markings Chart is the perfect reference tool for identifying horse colors. You can keep it in your horse trailer or glovebox. Download it FREE today!

Perlinos and cremellos began to be registered with AQHA in 2003. Mislabeled as albinos - a trait that does not exist in horses - they were reputed to be easily sunburned and to go blind, due to their pink skin and blue eyes. While they will sunburn like any other pink-skinned horse, research has shown that the horses are no more likely than any other horse to have eye problems. Color Facts

  • A palomino or buckskin horse has a 50 percent chance of passing on its dilute color to its progeny.
  • A double dilute will always produce a dilute foal. For example, a cremello bred to a sorrel horse will produce a palomino foal 100 percent of the time.
  • Cremellos and perlinos were previously defined as albinos. True albinism does not exist in horses.
  • The 1930 stallion Plaudit contributed his palomino color to many famous descendants, including Question Mark, Skip's Reward, Gold Mount and Diamonds Sparkle.