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A palomino mare with a chestnut foal. This golden shade is widely recognized as palomino. Mare and foal (Kvetina-Marie).jpg
A palomino mare with a chestnut foal. This golden shade is widely recognized as palomino.

Palomino is a genetic color in horses, consisting of a gold coat and white mane and tail; the degree of whiteness can vary from bright white to yellow. The palomino color derived from the inter-breeding of Spanish horses with those from the United States. [1] Genetically, the palomino color is created by a single allele of a dilution gene called the cream gene working on a "red" (chestnut) base coat. Palomino is created by a genetic mechanism of incomplete dominance, hence it is not considered true-breeding. However, most color breed registries that record palomino horses were founded before equine coat color genetics were understood as well as they are today, therefore the standard definition of a palomino is based on the visible coat color, not heritability nor the underlying presence of the dilution gene.


Due to their distinct color, palominos stand out in a show ring, and are much sought after as parade horses. They were particularly popular in movies and television during the 1940s and 1950s. One of the most famous palomino horses was Trigger, known as "the smartest horse in movies", the faithful mount of the Hollywood cowboy star Roy Rogers. Another famous palomino was Mister Ed (real name Bamboo Harvester) who starred on his own TV show in the 1960s. A palomino was also featured in the show Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001). Xena's horse Argo was portrayed by a palomino mare named Tilly. In today's horse breeding the palomino color can be created by crossing a chestnut with a cremello. [2]

Palomino is a Spanish word meaning juvenile pigeon (the diminutive of paloma, pigeon) and its equine usage refers to the color of such birds. [3] [4]


Palomino color shades
Quarter Horse(REFON)-cleaned.jpg
A light palomino. This shade is at the lighter end of the color range for a Palomino horse, but as the eyes and skin are dark, the horse is not a cremello.
Ikon- Golden Akhal Teke-Stallion.jpg
Classic palomino coloring is said to be that of a "gold coin", as shown with this horse.
Half-Arab Western Pleasure Scottsdale 2017 16.jpg
Darker gold palomino horses may appear sooty.

Palomino horses have a yellow or gold coat, with a white or light cream mane and tail. The shades of the body coat color range from cream to a dark gold.

Unless also affected by other, unrelated genes, palominos have dark skin and brown eyes, though some may be born with pinkish skin that darkens with age. [5] Some have slightly lighter brown or amber eyes. [6] A heterozygous cream dilute (CR) such as the palomino must not be confused with a horse carrying champagne dilution. Champagne (CH) dilutes are born with pumpkin-pink skin and blue eyes, which darken within days to amber, green or light brown, and their skin acquires a darker mottled complexion around the eyes, muzzle, and genitalia as the animal matures. [5]

A horse with rosy-pink skin and blue eyes in adulthood is most often a cremello or a perlino, a horse carrying two cream dilution genes. [7]

Sooty palomino horses may have darker hairs in the mane, tail and coat. [8] The summer coat of a palomino is usually a slightly darker shade than the winter coat. [8]

Colors confused with palomino

Image indicating the different color breeds. Left to right: two chestnuts with flaxen manes, a palomino, and a gray Iceland horse herd in August.jpg
Image indicating the different color breeds. Left to right: two chestnuts with flaxen manes, a palomino, and a gray
A cremello foal, showing pink skin and blue eyes characteristic of full dilution Creamwildponyfilly.jpg
A cremello foal, showing pink skin and blue eyes characteristic of full dilution

Many non-palominos may also have a gold or tan coat and a light mane and tail.

Color breed registries

Image showing the variation between winter and summer coat color on the same palomino horse. PalominoContrast.jpg
Image showing the variation between winter and summer coat color on the same palomino horse.

In the United States, some palomino horses are classified as a color breed. However, unlike the Appaloosa or the Friesian, which are distinct breeds that also happen to have a unique color preference, Palomino color breed registries often accept a wide range of breed or type if the animals are properly golden-colored. The Palomino cannot be a true horse breed, however, because palomino color is an incomplete dominant gene and does not breed "true". A palomino crossed with a palomino may result in a palomino about 50% of the time, but could also produce a chestnut (25% probability) or a cremello (25% probability). Thus, palomino is simply a partially expressed color allele and not a set of characteristics that make up a "breed".

Because registration as a palomino with a color breed registry is based primarily on coat color, horses from many breeds or combination of breeds may qualify. Some breeds that have palomino representatives are the American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, Morgan and Quarter Horse. The color is fairly rare in the Thoroughbred, but does in fact occur and is recognized by The Jockey Club. [11] Some breeds, such as the Haflinger and Arabian, may appear to be palomino, but are genetically chestnuts with flaxen manes and tails, as neither breed carries the cream dilution gene. However, in spite of their lack of cream DNA, some palomino color registries have registered such horses if their coat color falls within the acceptable range of shades.

While the color standard used by palomino organizations usually describes the ideal body color as that of a "newly minted gold coin" (sometimes mistakenly claimed to be a penny), a wider a body color range is often accepted, ranging from a cream-white color to a deep, dark, chocolate color ("chocolate palomino") that may actually be silver dapple or liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail.

Two possible palomino mimics. The horse in front is most likely a chestnut with flaxen. The horse in the background looks like a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, but coloring could possibly be due to the silver dapple gene. Some color registries may accept both shades as "palomino". Silz cheval1.jpg
Two possible palomino mimics. The horse in front is most likely a chestnut with flaxen. The horse in the background looks like a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, but coloring could possibly be due to the silver dapple gene. Some color registries may accept both shades as "palomino".

Requirements for registration

In the United States, there are two primary color breed registries for Palomino-colored horses: the Palomino Horse Association (PHA), and the Palomino Horse Breeders of America (PHBA).

The Palomino Horse Association (PHA) registers palomino horses of any breed and type "on color and conformation". [12] The shade of color considered ideal by the PHA is the color of a gold coin, but shades of palomino from light to dark gold are accepted. The mane and tail are required to be white, silver, or ivory, but up to 15% dark or reddish-brown hair is accepted. In the interest of breeding palomino horses, the PHA also registers full double-dilute blue-eyed cremellos, erroneously called "cremello palominos" by the PHA. [13] [14] Horses that are not recorded by any other registry of unknown pedigree are accepted if their color meets the PHA definition of "palomino". [13] [14]

The Palomino Horse Breeders of America (PHBA) has stricter requirements. To be accepted by the PHBA, in addition to color, a horse must have the general structure appropriate to the breeds of light riding type recognized by the PHBA. The adult height of the PHBA horse should be 14 to 17  hands (56 to 68 inches, 142 to 173 cm), and the horse must not show draft horse or pony characteristics. An individual that does not meet the height requirements may still be accepted if it is registered in one of the breed registries recognized by the PHBA. [15] [16] The PHBA usually requires horses or both parents of the horse to be registered by or eligible for registration with certain recognized breed registries, including those for the American Quarter Horse, Paint, Appaloosa, Saddlebred, Morgan, Holsteiner, Arabian, assorted part-Arabian registries, Pinto (horse division only), Thoroughbred, and assorted gaited horse breeds. [15] [16] Horses with PHBA-registered parents are also eligible even if they are not recorded with any other breed registry. In some situations, mares and geldings may be registered without pedigree on account of their conformation and color only, but stallions must always have pedigrees that are "verified in fact". [15] [16]

The ideal PHBA body color is the shade of "a United States gold coin". The mane and tail must be naturally white, and may not have more than 15% black, brown or off-colored hairs. Brown or dark primitive markings are not accepted. PHBA also does not accept horses that are gray or show color characteristics of Paints, pintos, Appaloosas or cremellos or perlinos. [15] [16] The skin must be dark, other than pink skin on the face connected to a white marking. The PHBA will not accept a horse for regular registration if it has all three characteristics of a double-dilute cream: light (or pink) skin over the body; white or cream-colored hair over the body; and eyes of a bluish cast. White markings on the face and legs may not exceed certain limits. Leg white may not be higher than the level of the elbow or the stifle, white on the face may not extend past the throatlatch. Spotting and characteristics of the Leopard complex and the various pinto patterns are not accepted, and body spots of less than a 4-inch diameter may be allowed. [15] [16] Horses with non-dark skin on the body, white or creamy coat and pink skin around the eyes are not accepted. Spots of pink skin visible in the muzzle or around the eyes, under the tail and between the hind legs are not accepted. An exception is made for horses registered with the American Saddlebred Horse Association, which may have skin of any color. [15] [16] Accepted eye colors are black, brown, blue and hazel. However, horses with blue or partially blue eyes are accepted only if their registration certificate from a recognized breed association mentions the eye color; they are also accepted on horses of unknown pedigree if they are gelded or spayed. [15] [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dilution gene</span> Gene that lightens the coat colour of certain animals

A dilution gene is any one of a number of genes that act to create a lighter coat color in living creatures. There are many examples of such genes:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bay (horse)</span> Hair coat color of horses

Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish-brown or brown body color with a black point coloration on the mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds.

At right is displayed the color traditionally called liver.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Point coloration</span> Coloration of animal coat/fur

Point coloration is animal coat coloration with a pale body and relatively darker extremities, i.e. the face, ears, feet, tail, and scrotum. It is most recognized as the coloration of Siamese and related breeds of cat, but can be found in dogs, rabbits, rats, sheep, guinea pigs and horses as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gray horse</span> Coat color characterized by progressive depigmentation of the colored hairs of the coat

A gray horse has a coat color characterized by progressive depigmentation of the colored hairs of the coat. Most gray horses have black skin and dark eyes; unlike some equine dilution genes and some other genes that lead to depigmentation, gray does not affect skin or eye color. Gray horses may be born any base color, depending on other color genes present. White hairs begin to appear at or shortly after birth and become progressively more prevalent as the horse ages as white hairs become intermingled with hairs of other colors. Graying can occur at different rates—very quickly on one horse and very slowly on another. As adults, most gray horses eventually become completely white, though some retain intermixed light and dark hairs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cream gene</span> Gene for several horse coat colors

The cream gene is responsible for a number of horse coat colors. Horses that have the cream gene in addition to a base coat color that is chestnut will become palomino if they are heterozygous, having one copy of the cream gene, or cremello, if they are homozygous. Similarly, horses with a bay base coat and the cream gene will be buckskin or perlino. A black base coat with the cream gene becomes the not-always-recognized smoky black or a smoky cream. Cream horses, even those with blue eyes, are not white horses. Dilution coloring is also not related to any of the white spotting patterns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Champagne gene</span> Simple dominant allele responsible for a number of rare horse coat colors

The champagne gene is a simple dominant allele responsible for a number of rare horse coat colors. The most distinctive traits of horses with the champagne gene are the hazel eyes and pinkish, freckled skin, which are bright blue and bright pink at birth, respectively. The coat color is also affected: any hairs that would have been red are gold, and any hairs that would have been black are chocolate brown. If a horse inherits the champagne gene from either or both parents, a coat that would otherwise be chestnut is instead gold champagne, with bay corresponding to amber champagne, seal brown to sable champagne, and black to classic champagne. A horse must have at least one champagne parent to inherit the champagne gene, for which there is now a DNA test.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silver dapple gene</span>

The silver or silver dapple (Z) gene is a dilution gene that affects the black base coat color and is associated with Multiple Congenital Ocular Abnormalities. It will typically dilute a black mane and tail to a silvery gray or flaxen color, and a black body to a chocolaty brown, sometimes with dapples. It is responsible for a group of coat colors in horses called "silver dapple" in the west, or "taffy" in Australia. The most common colors in this category are black silver and bay silver, referring to the respective underlying coat color.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Equine coat color genetics</span> Genetics behind the equine coat color

Equine coat color genetics determine a horse's coat color. Many colors are possible, but all variations are produced by changes in only a few genes. Bay is the most common color of horse, followed by black and chestnut. A change at the agouti locus is capable of turning bay to black, while a mutation at the extension locus can turn bay or black to chestnut.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dun gene</span> Dilution gene

The dun gene is a dilution gene that affects both red and black pigments in the coat color of a horse. The dun gene lightens most of the body while leaving the mane, tail, legs, and primitive markings the shade of the undiluted base coat color. A dun horse always has a dark dorsal stripe down the middle of its back, usually has a darker face and legs, and may have transverse striping across the shoulders or horizontal striping on the back of the forelegs. Body color depends on the underlying coat color genetics. A classic "bay dun" is a gray-gold or tan, characterized by a body color ranging from sandy yellow to reddish brown. Duns with a chestnut base may appear a light tan shade, and those with black base coloration are a smoky gray. Manes, tails, primitive markings, and other dark areas are usually the shade of the undiluted base coat color. The dun gene may interact with all other coat color alleles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fjord horse</span> Breed of horse

The Fjord or Norwegian Fjord Horse is a relatively small but very strong horse breed from the mountainous regions of western Norway. It is an agile breed of light draught horse build. It is always dun in colour, with five variations in shade recognised in the breed standard. One of the world's oldest breeds, it has been used for hundreds of years as a farm horse in Norway, and in modern times is popular for its generally good temperament. It is used both as a harness horse and under saddle.

The Silver Brumby series is a collection of fiction children's books by Australian author Elyne Mitchell. They recount the life and adventures of Thowra, a magnificent palomino brumby stallion, and his descendants, and are set in the Snowy Mountains and southern regions of Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chestnut (horse color)</span> Horse coat color

Chestnut is a hair coat color of horses consisting of a reddish-to-brown coat with a mane and tail the same or lighter in color than the coat. Chestnut is characterized by the absolute absence of true black hairs. It is one of the most common horse coat colors, seen in almost every breed of horse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Equine coat color</span> Horse coat colors and markings

Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">White horse</span> Horse coat color

A white horse is born predominantly white and stays white throughout its life. A white horse has mostly pink skin under its hair coat, and may have brown, blue, or hazel eyes. "True white" horses, especially those that carry one of the dominant white (W) genes, are rare. Most horses that are commonly referred to as "white" are actually "gray" horses whose hair coats are completely white. Gray horses may be born of any color and their hairs gradually turn white as time goes by and take on a white appearance. Nearly all gray horses have dark skin, except under any white markings present at birth. Skin color is the most common method for an observer to distinguish between mature white and gray horses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black horse</span> Horse coat color

Black is a hair coat color of horses in which the entire hair coat is black. Black is a relatively uncommon coat color, and it is not uncommon to mistake dark chestnuts or bays for black.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American Cream Draft</span> American draft horse breed

The American Cream Draft is an American breed of draft horse, characterized by the cream or "gold champagne" color of its coat. It was developed in Iowa during the early twentieth century from a cream-colored mare named Old Granny. A breed registry was formed in 1944 but became inactive for several decades when breed numbers dropped due to the mechanization of farming. It was reactivated in 1982 and population numbers have slowly grown since then. It is a rare breed: its conservation status is considered critical by The Livestock Conservancy and the Equus Survival Trust.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoky black</span>

Smoky black or black carrying cream is a coat color of horses which has the same phenotype as black. Smoky black is produced by the action of a heterozygous cream gene on an underlying black coat color. Therefore, smoky black is a member of the cream family of coat color dilutions, and found in horse populations that have other cream-based colors such as palomino, buckskin, perlino, cremello and smoky cream. All smoky blacks must have at least one parent with the cream gene, and a smoky black can only be verified through DNA testing or parentage. Smoky black has been mistaken for faded black, dark bay or brown, grullo or even liver chestnut.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pearl gene</span> Type of dilution gene

The Pearl gene, also known as the "Barlink factor", is a dilution gene at the same locus as the cream gene, which somewhat resembles the cream gene and the champagne gene but is unrelated to champagne. It is a somewhat rare dilution gene found in the American Quarter Horse, American Paint Horse, and Peruvian Paso. The same mutation appears in Iberian horse breeds such as the Lusitano and Andalusian. The existence of the pearl gene in Quarter Horses and Paints is probably because these breeds have some Iberian ancestors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flaxen (color variant)</span> Flaxen is a genetic trait that causes a lighter mane and tail than body color of chestnut horses.

Flaxen is a genetic trait in which the mane and tail of chestnut-colored horses are noticeably lighter than the body coat color, often a golden blonde shade. Manes and tails can also be a mixture of darker and lighter hairs. Certain horse breeds such as the Haflinger carry flaxen chestnut coloration as a breed trait. It is seen in chestnut-colored animals of other horse breeds that may not be exclusively chestnut.


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