What Is a Bay Horse? Pictures & Fun Facts

Everything You Need to Know About Bay Horses

As a longtime equestrian, there are many horse terms that I have come to know as second nature. But, sometimes explaining these terms is a bit more challenging. Over the years, I have found that many equestrians and horse owners do not truly understand what makes a horse a bay horse.

So, what is a bay horse? The term ‘bay’ describes a standard horse coat color. Bay coloring is defined by a reddish-brown coat that features black points typically found at the mane, tips of the ears, tail, and lower legs. Bay horses can vary in coloring from light to dark, with some bay horses appearing almost black in coloring. To be officially classified as a bay horse, a horse must have a black base color as well as the Agouti gene which modifies coat coloring.

As you can see, bay horses are actually quite complicated! While most equestrians assume the term ‘bay’ applies to one specific coat coloring, this is not the case. With so many variations in the category of bay coloring, it is important to educate yourself on the true defining factors of a bay horse. 

In this post, we will dive into the many complexities of what qualifies a horse as a bay horse. We will also share some fun facts on this unique coloring as well as famous bay horses from history

What Exactly is a Bay Horse?

Because bay horses do not all look the same, it can be difficult to truly understand what makes a horse a bay horse. As we mentioned previously, bay horses are defined by their reddish-brown coat that features black points often found at the mane, tips of the ears, tail, and lower legs. Bay horses also have a dark, or black, color base that is affected by the Agouti gene.

While this definition may seem quite straightforward, there are many complexities that determine the unique color variations of bay horses. Although the majority of bay horses are darker in color, bay horses can range in coloring from a light copper to nearly black. Some bay horses in certain horse breeds also feature white patterns that are made more distinct by the pinkish skin underneath. 

Defining Features of Bay Horses

So, what is the true defining feature of a bay horse? This is found in the complexity of their genetic structure. All bay horses have a specific genetic combination that leads to their coloring including the base color of their skin. In many circles, bay is actually considered its own base color. 

To achieve the unique coloring of a bay horse, the horse must exhibit a unique genetic combination that includes both the E allele and agouti genes. Without both of these genes, the bay coloring is impossible.

Without getting too in-depth regarding the genetic structure of a bay horse, there are a few defining factors. In a bay horse, the bay gene is always dominant over the black gene. More importantly, however, the agouti gene is responsible for directing the black pigment to the dark points of a bay horse such as the mane, tips of the ears, tail, and lower legs. 

Of course, the only way to truly detect the genetic structure of a bay horse is through genetic testing. Without genetic testing, the best way to identify a bay horse is the presence of specific patches of black coloring that provide their beautiful, unique appearance.

Shades of Bay Horse Coloring

As with any other base coloring of a horse, there are many shades of bay horses. Ranging from light to dark, the shade of a bay horse’s coloring is most heavily affected by its unique genetic structure. 

Standard Bay Coloring

The most common shade for a bay horse is known as standard bay coloring. When most equestrians picture a bay horse, this is what comes to mind. A standard bay horse exhibits a reddish-brown coat that features the defining black points in the mane, tips of the ears, tail, and lower legs. Standard bay coloring is often consistent across the coat without any variations in tone. 

Sandy Bay Coloring

Often confused with buckskin, bay horses with a sandy bay coloring have a coat that is much lighter in color. This shade of bay horse is caused by the addition of a cream gene in the horse’s genetic structure. To distinguish between a buckskin horse and a sandy bay horse, look for the black points that are characteristic of the bay coloring.

Blood Bay Coloring

Perhaps the rarest and most unique shade of bay horse is the blood bay. While a bay horse with blood bay coloring may closely resemble a standard bay, there are a few differences. The primary difference is that the coloring of a blood bay is significantly darker than the standard bay, oftentimes their reddish-brown coats almost appear purple. 

Amber Champagne Bay Coloring

One of the most beautiful yet rarest shades of bay horse is the amber champagne bay horse. This genetic structure is dictated by the champagne gene that dilutes the coloring of the horse. Amber champagne bay horses have beautiful gold coats and chocolate points in place of the traditional black points common to bay horses.

Silver Bay Coloring

The final bay horse shade we will discuss is the silver bay. Bay horses with silver bay coloring have a dominant silver gene that produces silver points in place of the traditional black points. Silver bay horses most often have a chocolate coat that is accented by these silver points. 

Most Popular Horse Breeds With Bay Horses

Although nearly every horse breed can exhibit bay color, there are some breeds in which this genetic makeup is more common. Some of the most popular horse breeds with bay horses include the following:


  • Andalusian Horse
  • Arabian Horse
  • Ardennes Horse
  • Clydesdale
  • Percheron Draft Horse
  • Standardbred Horse
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • Thoroughbred
  • Quarter Horse


These are, of course, just a few of the many horse breeds that exhibit bay coloring. Some breeds, for example, may exhibit this coloring but may not be recognized by clubs or associates for their breed.

Want to learn more about fascinating horse breeds? Check out my article Fantastic Horse Breeds and Where to Find Them.

Fun Facts About Bay Horses

With so many unique attributes, you can be sure that there are many fun facts about bay horses! 

Some Bay Horses Look Like Black Horses

With bay horses ranging in coloring from light to dark, it can be hard to distinguish a true bay horse. Some bay horses look almost identical to black horses! The primary method of distinguishing a dark bay horse from a true black horse is to look for reddish-brown hairs that appear around the eyes, muzzle, and elbow of a bay horse.

Some Bay Horses Have a Dark Stripe Down the Back

Some bay horses possess a dun gene that influences their coloring. Bay horses with this gene are called ‘bay duns’ and have a dark stripe down their back! Because of the location and coloring of this stripe, bay duns are often called zebra duns.

Some Bay Horses Have Two-Toned Hair

When some bay horses are clipped, they may appear to have two-toned hair! Occasionally, the hair shaft of a bay horse may appear to be significantly lighter at the base than the top of the hair shaft. Once the horse’s coat grows out again, this two-toned coloring will disappear. 

Some Bay Horses Look Albino

One of the most unique types of bay horse is the perlino. Unlike the sandy bay that has one cream gene, the perlino has a double diluted cream gene. This translates into pinkish skin, blue eyes, and orangish points in place of the standard black points.

Famous Bay Horses

Throughout the years, there have been many bay horses that have made a name for themselves in equine history.

Seabiscuit, a Light Bay

Perhaps the most common bay horse of all time was Seabiscuit. A light bay, Seabiscuit is known for beating triple crown winner War Admiral in the late 1930s. In addition to this incredible feat, Seabiscuit also held the title of Horse of the Year in 1938. 

Northern Dancer, a Standard Bay

In more recent history, Northern Dancer, a standard bay, won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. However, Northern Dancer is more well-known as one of the most successful sires in the 20th century. 

There have been many other famous bay horses over the years including War Admiral, Storm Cat, and two of the three Thoroughbred breed foundation sires.

In Conclusion

Regardless of their unique shading, bay horses are among some of the most beautiful horses to inhabit this earth. Ranging from light to dark in color, bay horses are characterized by the black points that ornament their manes, tips of their ears, tails, and lower legs. While the only true way to identify a bay horse is through genetic testing, their unique markings easily set them apart from other colorings.

Equipped with this knowledge of bay coloring, you will be able to more accurately identify the bay horses in your equestrian circle.


Looking for more horse articles? Check out my article 200+ Black Horse Names (That You Haven’t Heard.)


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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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