Horse Color Genetics

It can be tricky to breed for a specific horse color.

It can be tricky to breed for a specific horse color.

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We all have our favorite horse colors and markings. Often, our favorites are the least common, such as roans and palominos. Many breeders strive for a unique nitche – top-quality horses displaying those fun, less-common AQHA colors and markings we love to see in action.

Here are some coat-color thoughts to keep in mind:

  • The genetics of coat color are complicated, and the science of color is an ongoing process. Researchers do not know everything yet.
  • All white markings are superimposed over a base body color. This includes gray horses. Thus, when discussing color inheritance, the base color must be considered and understood.
  • Foals are rarely born the color or shade they will appear in adulthood. If there is any uncertainty, it is usually best to wait until the foal has shed the foal coat before identifying the color. Papers can be sent to AQHA with the color blank and filled in after the foal has shed the foal coat.

Learn more about horse colors. Get AQHA’s FREE report, Coat Color Genetics.

Some fun facts about horse color:

  • Combined, sorrel and chestnut horses comprised 37 percent of all American Quarter Horses registered in 2005. Black horses accounted for approximately 3 percent.
  • Legend says sorrel horses are generally flightier and more “hot” than horses of other colors and that they mature faster than those of other colors. Black horses, on the other hand, are generally held as sleepy.
  • Black horses are usually not born jet black, instead typically appearing as some shade of gray (from light to dark) with a black mane and tail. As foals, they will have dorsal stripes and usually zebra stripes and are often confused with grullos. When these horses shed their foal coat, they will look black.

Understand the color genetics of all 17 approved AQHA colors. Get the FREE Coat Color Genetics report today!

Brush up on these color terms:

Allele – Alternative forms of a gene that occurs on the same place on a chromosome.

Chromosome – A series of genes strung together. They appear in pairs, and each parent gives one of its chromosomes to the foal. Horses have 32 pairs.

Dilution
– A gene that causes a horse’s coat color to become lighter in appearance.

Dominant
– A gene that will be expressed phenotypically over a recessive gene.

Gene
– Segment of DNA that provides a blueprint of genetic information.

Genotype
– The genetic makeup of an animal.

Homozygous
– A pair of genes that are the same.

Heterozygous
– A pair of genes that are different.

Modifier
– A gene that changes the phenotypic appearance of a horse.

Phenotype
– The physical appearance of an animal.

Points
– The mane, tail, legs and eartips of a horse.

Recessive
– A gene that will be hidden phenotypically if a dominant gene has control.

128 thoughts on “Horse Color Genetics”

  1. Autumn, we can’t comment on Appaloosa coat color genetics. We are experts only in Quarter Horse coat colors.

    Jody Reynolds
    AQHA Director of Online/Interactive Communications

  2. Hello, I was looking around for info on predicting colors of horses. My dapple grey thoroughbred/paint pony cross is 10 months pregnant now and I just have to know what color he/se is! I know this is a quarter horse website, but I just wanted to see if you had any leads. As I said my mare is a dapple grey, but with a black mane and tail. her mother was a blue roan color and her father was a fleabitten. I am not quite sure how she is part paint pony. The sire is a dark bay thoroughbred. If you could help that would be great!

  3. Hello, I bred my Bay mare (black points, black mane and tail, and dapples) to a Homozygous Black and White Tobiano Stallion. Her Sire was a Sorrel and her dam a black mare. His sire was a Black tobiano and his dam was a Sorrel Tobiano. I am really hoping for a Black Tobiano as the foal is guaranteed to be painted. Is this a possibility or am I guaranteed a bay tobiano? Thank-you!

  4. Rae,

    Thank you for your e-mail and to answer your question, any color would be possible. It would help if I knew what the color of the gray mare was at time of foaling, then I would be able to help you better.

    Thank you,

    Lisa Covey
    Equine Color Specialist

  5. I have a sorrel QH mare that was bred to a zebra dun QH stud. When the colt was born, he looked like a buckskin – solid buff/tan colour with black mane and tail. His tail had some tan streaks in it along the sides and he had a slight dorsal stripe. He’s now shedding out very dark. Could he be a grulla? What about a smokey buckskin? It’s still hard to see a dorsal stripe. I can’t say for sure, but I think there’s a possibility that the stud also carries the cream gene along with the dun gene.
    Thanks for your help!

  6. Regarding the above question about the ? grulla or smokey buckskin colt, I forgot to mention that when he was born his eyes had a bluish tinge. Now they are kind of a dark hazel colour.
    Thanks again.

  7. Lorranin,

    Thank you for your e-mail and to answer your question, from the description you gave sounds grullo. If the stallion does carry creme then it is possible for the offspring to be buckskin, it you are still unsure when time to send in the registration you can leave the color blank and include photos.

    I hope this will help you.

    Thank you,

    Lisa Covey
    Equine Color Specialist

  8. Abdul,

    Thank you for your e-mail and to answer your question it would be more helpful if you could give the color of the gray sire when he was a foal.

    Thank you,

    Lisa Covey
    Equine Color Specialist

  9. If breeding a (buckskin) dun mare what color sires would give a dun foal? If we dont want a double dilute foal what color sires should we avoid?

  10. Hi, I am looking at getting a Dunalino Mare, and my stud is a Buckskin, what are your thoughts? Good Idea? Bad Idea? What color foals would we get? We have bred for years, but not really sure what this would come to be, we usually breed Blacks and Blue Roans to Buckskins…Would this produce a double dilute foal? Im not very familiar with Dunalinos…Thanks – Jacque

  11. Jacque,
    Thank you for your e-mail and to answer your question your color possibilities are , sorrel/chestnut, palomino, red dun, bay, brown, black, buckskin, dun, grullo, smoky black, perlino, cremello or smoky crème.
    A dunalino is a palomino with dorsal stripe, zebra stripes and “carries dun dilution”.
    I hope this will help you.

    Thank you,
    Lisa Covey
    Equine Color Specialist

  12. I recently bred my bay roan mare to a quarter horse/paint stud he is dark sorrel Wt3 white stockings, a wide blaze and he has blue eyes. What color can I expect the foal to be. His dam is a stock paint. Should I be expecting a painted baby

  13. i have a 22 year old quarter horse we where told she has had over 10 foals and that she was a show horse ,barrel horse etc…. but she had foundered years back and we really want to breed her because she is getting older and id hate for her to go without me having something of her own blood she isnt lame anymore. she is sound and i was wondering if i should breed her we dont have papers on her but she still runs 15s on barrels and she can rein really good so she has to be registered.

  14. Hi, I have a flaxen chestnut mare, I am looking at breeding her with either a Friesian, Spanish pure bred or a palomino.
    Which one would I have a better chance at getting the stallions colours?

  15. Hi just recently I put my part bred Arabian mare in foal and I’m curious what colour chances ive got for the foal which is due in september my mare is chestnut flaxen mane And tail she has a palomino sire and a chestnut dam.
    She stallion that we had her seved to is a bay tobiano.

  16. hello,
    I was thinking about breeding my bay mare, she is a amazing barrel mare but she has a very long stride and she has trouble, I prefer the short stocky ones. my few questions I have for you is should I breed her to a cutting stud or reining? and I would love to have a roan baby what is the chances of that? she is 10 is that an ok age? and if the chances are low on a roan what about a buckskin? thank you very much for your time!(:

  17. I have a mare that looks dark bay in the winter and buckskin in summer. The registry registered her buckskin but sometimes I think she’s bay. Her dam is a buttermilk buckskin so I think the cream gene in there. She has had two foals born bay when bred to a bay stallion. She is now in foal again to a dark bay stallion. What are my odds of having a true buckskin foal this time around??
    Thanks, Anne

  18. I have a solid paint sorrel mare, and would like to know what I should breed her to to get a blood bay.
    Sire: Palomino/Overo
    Dam: Sorrel/Overo

  19. I have a chestnut mare and thinking next year to breed to a gray stud. Owners say he does produce a lot of white. So what color am I looking at with the chestnut mare and gray stud horse?

  20. I just bought a buckskin mare and I was thinking anout breeding her in the future and would like to get a palomino. What color combinations could I try to do so?

  21. I have a sorrel and white paint stud fixing to get a buckskin mare what color foal will I get out of them?

  22. Daisy, we can only comment on American Quarter Horse coat color genetics. We’re sorry we can’t help you on that!

    Jody Reynolds
    AQHA Online/Interactive Communications

  23. Is there such thing as a homozygous blue roan AQHA horse to have spots that almost look like a leopard appaloosa?

  24. Hey, i was wondering what a brown and white stallion would make with a black and white mare? Thank u for your time

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