A chestnut horse
|Other names||Red, sorrel|
|Variants||Flaxen, Liver chestnut|
|Base color||Recessive extension "e"|
|Description||Reddish-brown color uniform over entire body other than markings|
|Head and Legs||Same as body, occasionally lighter|
|Mane and tail||Flaxen to brown|
|Skin||Usually black, may be lighter at birth in some breeds|
|Eyes||Brown, eyes may be lighter at birth|
Sorrel is a reddish coat color in a horse lacking any black. It is a term that is usually synonymous with chestnut and one of the most common coat colors in horses. Some regions and breed registries distinguish it from chestnut, defining sorrel as a light, coppery shade, and chestnut as a browner shade. However, in terms of equine coat color genetics there is no known difference between sorrel and chestnut. Solid reddish-brown color is a base color of horses, caused by the recessive e gene.
The term "sorrel" probably comes from the color of the flower spike of the sorrel herb.
In practice, in England and the east coast of the United States, all of these shades are usually called chestnut. The term "sorrel" is more common in the western United States. The practical difference is most often not in color, but in usage: horses ridden in the Western tradition are more often referred to as sorrel and horses ridden in the English tradition are chestnut. The American Quarter Horse Association, which uses both terms, describes a sorrel as a type of copper-red chestnut, but allows that chestnut is also a correct term. Many organizations simply avoid the issue and choose one of the two terms to denote all reddish or brown colorations that are not bay.
Sorrel or chestnut coloration can be distinguished from dun, which results from different genetics, by the dun's slightly washed-out yellowish color, with a darker mane and tail than the rest of its coat, a narrow, dark line down the middle of the back, and possibly areas of darker color on the shoulder and forelegs.
The base shade of a sorrel is similar to that of a blood bay, but sorrel can always be distinguished from bay by the bay's black "points" — a black mane, tail and lower legs.
Light-colored sorrels, sometimes called "blond sorrels," especially if they have flaxen manes and tails, may resemble a palomino. However, true palomino coloration is the result of a horse's being heterozygous for the cream dilution gene.
Some definitions list sorrel as a self color, used to describe only horses whose mane, tail, and legs are the same color as the rest of the coat, with the exception of white markings. Other definitions are broader and include reddish-brown horses with flaxen manes and tails.
Roan is a coat color found in many animals, including horses, cattle, antelope and dogs. It is defined generally as an even mixture of white and pigmented hairs that do not "gray out" or fade as the animal ages. There are a variety of genetic conditions which produce the colors described as "roan" in various species.
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. 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.
Skewbald is a colour pattern of horses. A skewbald horse has a coat made up of white patches on a non-black base coat, such as chestnut, bay, or any colour besides black coat. Skewbald horses which are bay and white are sometimes called tricoloured. These horses usually have pink skin under white markings and dark skin under non-white areas. Other than colour, it is similar in appearance to the piebald pattern. Some animals also exhibit colouration of the irises of the eye that match the surrounding skin. The underlying genetic cause is related to a condition known as leucism. The term is also used to describe spotting patterns in various other animals, such as goats.
Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish-brown or brown body color with a black point coloration of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Extension and agouti are particularly well-known genes with dramatic effects. Differences at the agouti gene determine whether a horse is bay or black, and a change to the extension gene can make a horse chestnut instead. Most domestic horses have a variant of the dun gene which saturates the coat with color so that they are bay, black, or chestnut instead of dun, grullo, or red dun. A mutation called cream is responsible for palomino, buckskin, and cremello horses. Pearl, champagne and silver dapple also lighten the coat, and sometimes the skin and eyes as well. Genes that affect the distribution of melanocytes create patterns of white such as in roan, pinto, leopard, white, and even white markings. Finally, the gray gene causes premature graying, slowly adding white hairs over the course of several years until the horse looks white. Some of these patterns have complex interactions.
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 steel 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.
The Fjord horse 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. All Fjord horses are 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.
Grullo or grulla, also called blue dun, gray dun or mouse dun, is a color of horses in the dun family, characterized by tan-gray or mouse-colored hairs on the body, often with shoulder and dorsal stripes and black barring on the lower legs. In this coloration, each individual hair is mouse-colored, unlike a roan, which is composed of a mixture of dark and light hairs. The several shades of grulla are informally referred to with a variety of terms, including black dun, blue dun, slate grulla, silver grulla or light grulla, silver dun, or lobo dun. Silver grulla may also refer to a grullo horse with silver dapple, regardless of shade. In the Icelandic horse, the grulla color is called gray dun, in the Highland pony it is called mouse dun, and in the Norwegian Fjord horse, grå or gråblakk.
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.
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.
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.
Markings on horses are usually distinctive white areas on an otherwise dark base coat color. Most horses have some markings, and they help to identify the horse as a unique individual. Markings are present at birth and do not change over the course of the horse's life. Most markings have pink skin underneath most of the white hairs, though a few faint markings may occasionally have white hair with no underlying pink skin. Markings may appear to change slightly when a horse grows or sheds its winter coat, however this difference is simply a factor of hair coat length; the underlying pattern does not change.
Smoky black is a hair coat color of horses in which the coat is either black or a few shades lighter than true 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 gene-based colors such as palomino, buckskin, perlino and cremello. All smoky blacks must have at least one parent with the cream gene, and a smoky black can be verified through DNA testing. Smoky black has been mistaken for faded black, dark bay or brown, grullo or even liver chestnut.
Seal brown is a hair coat color of horses characterized by a near-black body color; with black points, the mane, tail and legs; but also reddish or tan areas around the eyes, muzzle, behind the elbow and in front of the stifle. The term is not to be confused with "brown", which is used by some breed registries to refer to either a seal brown horse or to a dark bay without the additional characteristics of seal brown genetics.
Roan is a horse coat color pattern characterized by an even mixture of colored and white hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower legs, mane and tail—are mostly solid-colored. Horses with roan coats have white hairs evenly intermingled throughout any other color. The head, legs, mane and tail have fewer scattered white hairs or none at all. The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found in many horse breeds. While the specific mutation responsible for roan has not been exactly identified, a DNA test can determine zygosity for roan in several breeds. True roan is always present at birth, though it may be hard to see until after the foal coat sheds out. The coat may lighten or darken from winter to summer, but unlike the gray coat color, which also begins with intermixed white and colored hairs, roans do not become progressively lighter in color as they age. The silvering effect of mixed white and colored hairs can create coats that look bluish or pinkish.
The flaxen gene is a trait which causes the mane and tail of chestnut-colored horses to be 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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