Anticipating Foal Coat Color

Horse-breeding tip: Learn how to make an educated guess on what color your foal will be.

From America’s Horse

To make an educated guess on what color your foal will be, you first must know the base colors of its parents. Journal photo

After breeding a mare, it will take 11 long months for her foal - your highly anticipated foal - to be born. While your mare is out grazing the fields, you’re left with a lot of time to dream: what top conformational and temperament qualities the foal will receive from its sire and its dam, what sex, and what color and markings it might end up having. We can’t help you forecast for blue or pink balloons, but we can help remove some of the mystery of color. AQHA Equine Color Specialist Lisa Covey works with AQHA members every day to help them get their horses registered correctly.

“Members are welcome to call when they have general questions about color, or if they need assistance with color testing or the horse’s papers,” Lisa says. To register a foal, or to get more help while registering, call the AQHA office at 806-376-4811. Lisa even does a guest appearance every Friday afternoon on AQHA’s Facebook page answering your coat-color questions.

Educated Guess

To make an educated guess on what color your foal will be, you first must know the base colors of its parents. For the most basic colors - such as sorrel or chestnut, bay, palomino or black - it’s fairly simple. Check the Color-Cross Chart below to find the color possibilities for your foal. The parent’s specific genetic makeup will make a difference in what colors it can produce. For example, a black horse can be homozygous for black - it carries two copies of the black gene - or heterozygous, which means it carries one copy of black and one copy of red. A homozygous black horse will thus always pass on black - and when bred to a bay, for example, always produces a black or bay horse.

Brush up on the 17 Quarter Horse colors. Download AQHA’s Quarter Horse Markings and Color Genetics e-book and become a coat-color expert.

However, if the black parent and the bay parent are both heterozygous for black (they both also carry one red gene), they can produce a sorrel/chestnut (red) foal. The Color-Cross Chart makes an assumption for heterozygosity to allow for those coat colors.

When Crossing a Gray

Gray horses carry a dominant gene for their coat color that supersedes all other colors. That is why they are born one color - for example, bay - and as they age, gradually turn the white of an aged gray. However, for figuring out coat-color possibilities, it is important to uncover what the gray parent’s base color was as a foal before he or she turned gray. For example, maybe he or she was bay as a foal, then gradually turned white over time. If you don’t know this, it is often helpful to see what color the gray’s parents were to narrow down the possibilities. Once you know what the gray’s base color is, select the appropriate cross on the Color-Cross Chart. Then simply add a 50/50 chance of the foal being gray. For example, if you cross a gray horse with a base color of bay to a chestnut horse, you will get the possibility of a bay, chestnut/sorrel or black foal. Then, you also have a chance that foal will turn gray, making your possibilities bay, chestnut/sorrel, black or gray.

When Crossing a Roan

As with a gray horse, if you have a roan horse, it is important to establish the horse’s base color. When looking at a roan, pretend as if those white hairs weren’t there - what color would he be? For example, if you have a red roan (sorrel or chestnut head, mane and tail, legs and colored body hair), the horse genetically is a sorrel/chestnut. A bay roan (brown head and body hair, but black mane and tail and legs) is genetically a bay. A blue roan (black head, mane and tail, legs and body hair) is genetically black. Once you have the horse’s base color, establish the color possibilities for your foal using the Color-Cross Chart. Next, add each of those colors in its roan form. For example, if you cross a bay roan (bay) with a chestnut/sorrel horse, your potential colors are bay, chestnut/sorrel or black. When you add in the roan factor, your possibilities are bay, bay roan, chestnut/sorrel, red roan, black or blue roan. A horse can have multiple color genetics at work, so it’s entirely possible to have, for example, a palomino roan (chestnut/sorrel carrying both the cream dilution and roan gene). This is not, however, considered an official color by AQHA, so the horse in this instance would be registered as a palomino with roan hair.

Can you name the 17 Quarter Horse colors? Download AQHA’s Quarter Horse Markings and Color Genetics e-book, and become a horse coat-color expert.

When Crossing a Dun

The dun gene also follows the same rule as roans. If you have a classic dun horse, his base color is genetically bay; a red dun is genetically sorrel/chestnut; a grullo is genetically black. Use the Color-Cross Chart to establish the color possibilities, then add the possibility of dun to each of those color possibilities. For example, if you cross a dun (genetically bay with the dun factor) with a chestnut horse, you have the potential base colors of bay, chestnut/sorrel or black. Then add the dun factor to each of those base colors, and a dun/chestnut cross’ possibilities are bay, dun, chestnut/sorrel, red dun, black or grullo. It is also possible to combine multiple dilution factors. For example, if you breed a palomino to a dun (genetically a bay with the dun factor), you would check the Color Chart as a cross between a palomino and bay, coming up with the possibility of chestnut/sorrel, bay, black, palomino, buckskin or smoky black (black horse with one cream gene). Next, add the dun factor into each of those possibilities. Because it is possible for a horse to carry multiple dilutions - for example both the dun and cream modifiers - those must also be accounted for. Thus, when crossing a dun with a palomino, you have the possibility of chestnut/sorrel, bay, black, palomino, buckskin, smoky black, buckskin dun (a bay carrying both cream and dun), palomino dun (a sorrel/chestnut carrying both cream and dun) or smoky black grullo (a black carrying both the cream and dun gene). Some of these color combinations are not available as official AQHA colors, but a phone call to AQHA while registering the horse will allow the present genes to be noted on the horse’s registration.


Color-Cross Chart Click here to see larger image.