Learn How Horses Get Their Colors

Can you name all 17 horse colors?

Legends say that a red horse is fiery, a dun is tough, and a white-legged horse is bad-footed. However, the wisest horsemen also say there is no such thing as a good horse that's a bad color.

There are 17 recognized American Quarter Horse colors: chestnut, sorrel, black, brown, gray, bay, palomino, buckskin, cremello, perlino, white, dun, red dun, grullo, red roan, bay roan and blue roan. All of them are derivatives of two base colors. Simply put, any color of horse you can think of is either black-based or red-based. All other colors - bay, gray or roan - are just modifications of these two basics.

Download your FREE AQHA Coat Color Genetics report, explaining each of the 17 Quarter Horse colors.

The Base-ics

All horse colors are caused by two pigments. One is responsible for black, and the other for the reds, ranging from yellow to dark red. White hair results from an absence of pigment. A horse with pink skin lacks pigment and gets the pink color from blood vessels under the surface of the skin. The first rule in identifying a horse's color is to ignore the white markings. They are different than base colors, like icing on a cake.

Of the two base colors, black is a dominant color and red is recessive. This means that a black horse will appear black whether it has two copies of the black gene (homozygous) or one black and one red gene (heterozygous). A horse will only appear red if it has two copies of the red gene. A black-based horse is any animal that exhibits black on the points (ears, mane, tail and legs). A red horse won't have any black on the points, even if the mane and tail appear dark or black. Black-based colors are black, bay, buckskin, grulla, dun, blue and bay roan, perlino and brown. Sorrel and chestnut are red, as are palomino, cremello, red roan and red dun. Some black horses can become sun-faded and appear to have a brown tint to their coat, but genetically are black. It can be hard to differentiate between brown and black horses. Brown horses can appear so dark as to be nearly black but are given away by brown or tan hairs, usually around the muzzle and groin area of the horse. Genetically the same color, sorrel and chestnut are used to define different shades of the recessive red gene. A chestnut horse's coat has a brown tint, with the most extreme color being an almost dark brown "liver" color. Sorrels, on the other hand, appear more red or copper colored. This color can have variations, such as a flaxen mane (sometimes confused with palomino) or a dark mane and tail, which is caused by a higher concentration of pigment.

Learn more with AQHA's detailed Color Color Genetics report. This full-color chart offers examples of each of the 17 recognized coat colors. Share this incredible FREE resource with your friends!