Horse Breeding

Fade to Gray

November 21, 2008

Gray is a common horse color that’s tricky to pin down.

At age 2, All American Futurity winner AB What A Runner, owned by Dennie and Kris Hill of Blackfoot, Idaho, was a steel gray.

At age 2, All American Futurity winner AB What A Runner, owned by Dennie and Kris Hill of Blackfoot, Idaho, was a steel gray.

By Andrea Caudill

If your dream horse is a handsome dark gray and you want him to stay that way forever, he’d best be on a poster on your wall. The gray color is confusing and frustrating, because while a horse’s coat may be dark and dappled when young, it progressively turns white as he ages.

Gray horses are actually horses of any color that also carry the gray modifier. This means that a gray horse’s base color can be anything on the equine color spectrum. But because the gray modifier is dominant, it will eventually cover the original color.

This is why a gray foal is born dark, showing its base color, which can be anything from black to red. It will begin to gray out as it ages, due to gradual depigmentation of the hair coat. An aged gray is pure white, with dark (black) skin underneath. Because gray is a dominant modifier, one or both parents must be gray for the foal to become a gray.

Get the entire series on horse colors with AQHA’s Quarter Horse Coat Colors report. It’s a great resource and a wonderful addition to any horseman’s library. Plus, it includes a bonus article on the rare brindle coat pattern.

The way a horse grays out is as individual as the horse. The first indicator that a foal will turn gray is usually gray hairs around the eyes or muzzle and gray hairs in the coat. This can be confused with a roan when being registered, so the parents’ genetics should be checked to determine the color.

A horse that is red-based and starts to gray has a rosy color and is called a rose gray, while a dark-based horse is usually called a steel gray. One with a pattern of “dots” of light and dark gray are referred to as dapple grays, and one that is white with flecks of color is called a fleabitten gray. Occasionally, the fleabites of color will be situated together to form a patch, which is called a blood mark (often this happens on the shoulder, thus the term “bloody shoulder”).

Gray Horse Color Facts

  • To be registered as a gray, a foal must have at least one gray parent.
  • Gray is a dominant gene. If a horse is gray, it has a 50 percent chance of passing the trait to its offspring.
  • Grays can be born any color. The gray will cover all other colors as the horse ages.

Order AQHA’s Quarter Horse Coat Colors report and become a coat-color expert!

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