01 Apr 21 Common Horse Colors, Markings, & Patterns With Pictures
Horse Coat Patterns and Markings Guide
Horses come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors! No two horses are exactly the same, and oftentimes, they are identified by their coloring or markings. In this article, I’ll share common horse colors, markings, and patterns to make it easier to identify your horse friends.
What are the most common horse colors and markings? Horses are commonly found in colors of:
You may also see patterns on a horse’s coat like:
- Appaloosa spots
In terms of common markings found on horses, this includes:
- Pastern markings
- Coronet markings
It can get confusing when trying to differentiate between certain colors and markings. To get a better description of all the coats and patterns mentioned above, keep reading!
Common Horse Colors
When it comes to specifying a horse’s color, it’s important to note that each common horse color can have many different variations. By pinpointing the basics of each of the coat colors, you should be able to easily recognize the variations as well!
Horse Color#1: Black
If a horse is truly black, it should have no other color in its coat besides potential white markings on its face or legs. Many horses that appear to have a black coat aren’t truly black but instead have a dark bay coat. When a black horse lives out in the sun, its coat can become bleached and appear to be more of a brown color. This is why many people who own black horses prefer to keep their horses in during the day or in a shaded area.
While the majority of horse breeds can have black horses, specific breeds that come to mind with this visual specification include Friesians, Fell Ponies, and Shires. If you want to purchase a black horse, check out my article 200+ Black Horse Names (That You Haven’t Heard).
Horse Color #2: Bay
I like to say that bay horses remind me of chocolate since their coats are usually a rich brown, whether a lighter brown like milk chocolate or a darker brown like dark chocolate. Another visual indicator that a horse is a bay is that it will have black points across their bodies. Their muzzle, ears, mane, tail, and legs will appear black and fade into the brown coat. Bays can also have white facial and leg markings but will always have black points.
To learn more about bay horses, visit my article What is a Bay Horse? Pictures & Fun Facts.
Horse Color#3: Chestnut
A chestnut horse appears to have a red coat. Another term you will hear when referring to a specific hue of chestnut is sorrel. I personally have a sorrel Appaloosa pony. While there are solid chestnut horses, many chestnuts will have flashy white leg and face markings that make them desirable in many disciplines.
Horse Color #4: Buckskin
The best way to describe a buckskin coat is one that looks tan. Buckskin horses have tan coats with black manes and tails. They will usually have black points like a bay, with black areas on their muzzles, ears, and legs. Some buckskin horses will also have a dorsal stripe or a black stripe that runs down the center of their back.
Horse Color #5: Dun
Dun and buckskin can be difficult to differentiate if you don’t know what to look for. Like buckskins, dun horses are tan in color. Duns will also have black points on their bodies, usually on their ears, faces, and legs. The big difference between the two colors is that dun horses may have different colors in their mane or tail. Their manes may appear to have black, brown, or even gray in them. All duns will have a dorsal stripe. Some duns will also have horizontal markings on their legs that resemble zebra markings.
Horse Color #6: Palomino
The palomino coat color on a horse looks yellow. Another visual specification of a palomino horse is a white (a.k.a flaxen) mane and tail. Palominos aren’t as common as bays and chestnuts, which makes them desirable among horse buyers. The Tennesee Walking Horse consists of many palomino horses with the signature flaxen white mane and tail. Quarter Horses can also come in palomino coloring.
Horse Color #7: Gray
Did you know that most of the horses that appear white to the visual eye are actually gray? While their coats may appear white, their skin is black, and this is one characteristic of a gray horse. Gray horses will often change color over time, being born looking black or bay and gradually becoming more white with age. Many gray horses also have black points on their face, ears, and legs. All that being said, there are true white horses, although they are rare. These horses will have pink skin instead of black.
Horse Color #8: Roan
Roan is a popular coat color in Quarter Horses, Mustangs, and Missouri Foxtrotters. Roan horses will appear to have a coat color that is fading to white or white hairs intermixed with the other coat color. Roan horses can come in all different colors, with the similarity being the faded white look.
Horse Color #9: Pinto
A pinto horse is a horse that has paint markings. Paint horses are actually a breed, so I will refer to their markings as pinto. Pinto is any coat coloring that has large splashes of white over the horse’s body. Within pinto coloring, there is a differentiation between the amount of white on the body. This can be broken down into different categories of overo, tobiano, and sabino.
Common Horse Coat Patterns
Besides coat colors, there are also recognizable patterns you may notice in your horse’s coat. Some of these are color-specific, while others can be found on any horse!
Horse Coat Pattern #1: Dapples
Dapples can appear on any color horse, from bays and grays to buckskins and palominos. These patterns will look like circles or stars across the hair of your horse’s coat, and they will most often appear once a horse has shed out their winter coat. While dapples can be a sign of a healthy coat, not every healthy horse will have them since dapples come from a specific gene not every horse will have.
Horse Coat Pattern #2: Fleabites/Speckles
You may have heard the term “flea-bitten gray.” Fleabites, or speckles, are specific to gray horses. The white coat of a gray horse can be dotted with black or red speckles across their bodies. As they age, grays will usually go from a dappled gray coat to a flea-bitten coat. If you see a flea-bitten gray, chances are they are in adulthood. I remember when I first bought my gray horse, Pepper. She was dark and dapple-y. Now, she’s in her 20’s and has a very light coat with speckles!
Horse Coat Pattern #3: Appaloosa Patterns
Many people do not know that “Appaloosa” is a horse breed, not a coat color. That being said, Appaloosas do have unique patterns across their coats that can vary greatly. Leopard spots are dark spots covering a horse’s body. A blanket is an Appaloosa pattern that consists of a white splash across the horse’s rump. Snowflakes are perfect white circles in an otherwise dark coat.
Not every horse with these patterns will be an Appaloosa. Other horse breeds that may have these patterns include Pony of the Americas and Knapstruppers. My own pony is a sorrel Pony of the Americas with a white blanket and snowflakes.
Common Horse Markings
Any horse can have the markings listed below. All of these markings will appear as white areas on your horse.
Horse Marking #1: Bald-face
A bald-face marking is a white marking that will cover your horse’s face. This marking will stretch at least from eye to eye so that the front of your horse’s face will appear entirely white.
Horse Marking #2: Blaze
A blaze is a white strip that will go down the front of your horse’s face between your horse’s eyes. This white marking will still be thick in width but will not stretch eye to eye like a bald-face marking.
Horse Marking #3: Stripe
A stripe is a marking that will go down the front of your horse’s face but will simply be narrower than a blaze.
Horse Marking #4: Star
A star is a white marking that will be on your horse’s forehead or between their eyes but will not travel down the face.
Horse Marking #5: Snip
A snip is a white strip that will be on your horse’s muzzle but will not travel up to your horse’s forehead.
Horse Marking #6: Stocking
A stocking is a white leg marking that will extend at least to the bottom of a horse’s hock. If the marking extends passed the hock, this is a good indication that the horse may be a Paint Horse.
Horse Marking #7: Sock
A sock is a white marking that extends to the middle of your horse’s lower leg, above the fetlock but below the knee.
Horse Marking #8: Pastern
A pastern marking is a white marking that will extend at least passed the pastern of the horse but will not go past the fetlock of the horse.
Horse Marking #9: Coronet
A coronet marking is a thin white marking that rests just above the coronet band or your horse’s hoof. This marking will not extend past the pastern of the horse.
I hope this article will help you identify horse colors, patterns, and markings! Did you know that some of the prettiest horse breeds in the world are known for their unique coats and patterns? To learn more, visit my article 20 Prettiest Horse Breeds (With Pictures).
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.