coat colors


Black : Black is relatively uncommon, though it is not „rare“. There are two types of black, fading black and non-fading black. Most black horses will fade to a brownish color if the horse is exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. Non-fading black is a blue-black shade that does not fade in the sun. Genetically, the two cannot yet be differentiated, and some claim the difference occurs due to management rather than genetics, though this claim is hotly disputed. Most black foals are usually born a mousy grey or dun color. As their foal coat begins to shed out, their black color will show through, though in some breeds black foals are born jet black. For a horse to be considered black, it must be completely black except for white markings. A sun-bleached black horse is still black, even though it may appear to be a dark bay or brown. A visible difference between a true black and a dark chestnut or bay is seen in the fine hairs around the eyes and muzzle; on a true black these hairs are black, even if the horse is sun-bleached, on other colors, they will be lighter.

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Brindle: One of the rarest colors in horses, possibly linked to chimerism. Characteristics are any color with „zebra-like“ stripes, but most common is a brown horse with faint yellowish markings.

Champagne: Produced by a different dilution gene than the cream gene. It lightens both skin and hair, but creates a metallic gold coat color with mottled skin and light colored eyes. Champagne horses are often confused with palomino, cremello, dun, or buckskins.

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Palomino: chestnut horse that has one cream dilution gene that turns the horse to a golden, yellow, or tan shade with a flaxen or white mane and tail. Often cited as being a color „within three shades of a newly minted gold coin“, palominos range in shades from extremely light, almost cremello, to deep chocolate, but always with a white or flaxen mane and tail.

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White : One of the rarest colors, a white horse has white hair and fully or largely unpigmented (pink) skin. These horses are born white, with blue or brown eyes, and remain white for life. The vast majority of so-called „white“ horses are actually grays with a fully white hair coat. A truly white horse that lives to adulthood occurs one of two ways: either by inheriting one copy of a dominant white („W“) gene, of which several have been identified, or is a particular type of sabino that is homozygous for the „SB-1“ gene. However, a foal with the genetic disease known as lethal white syndrome dies shortly after birth. There are no „albinos“ in the horse world. Albino, defined as animals with a white coat with pink skin and reddish eyes, is created by genetic mechanisms that do not exist in horses. In some cases, homozygous dominant white is thought to be an embryonic lethal, though this has not been established for all white horses.

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Colors and markings

Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings, described by a specialized vocabulary. Often, a horse is classified first by its coat color, before breed or sex. Horses of the same color may be distinguished from one another by white markings, which, along with various spotting patterns, are inherited separately from coat color.

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Many genes that create horse coat colors and patterns have been identified. Current genetic tests can identify at least 13 different alleles influencing coat color, and research continues to discover new genes linked to specific traits. The basic coat colors of chestnut and black are determined by the gene controlled by the Melanocortin 1 receptor, also known as the „extension gene“ or „red factor,“ as its recessive form is „red“ (chestnut) and its dominant form is black. Additional genes control suppression of black color to point coloration that results in a bay, spotting patterns such as pinto or leopard, dilution genes such as palomino or dun, as well as graying, and all the other factors that create the many possible coat colors found in horses.

Horses which have a white coat color are often mislabeled; a horse that looks „white“ is usually a middle-aged or older gray. Grays are born a darker shade, get lighter as they age, but usually keep black skin underneath their white hair coat (with the exception of pink skin under white markings). The only horses properly called white are born with a predominantly white hair coat and pink skin, a fairly rare occurrence.Different and unrelated genetic factors can produce white coat colors in horses, including several different alleles of dominant white and the sabino-1 gene. However, there are no „albino“ horses, defined as having both pink skin and red eyes.

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Biology

Specific terms and specialized language are used to describe equine anatomy, different life stages, colors and breeds.

Lifespan and life stages

Depending on breed, management and environment, the modern domestic horse has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. Uncommonly, a few animals live into their 40s and, occasionally, beyond. The oldest verifiable record was „Old Billy“, a 19th-century horse that lived to the age of 62. In modern times, Sugar Puff, who had been listed in Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living pony, died in 2007 at age 56.

Regardless of a horse or pony’s actual birth date, for most competition purposes a year is added to its age each January 1 of each year in the Northern Hemisphere and each August 1 in the Southern Hemisphere.The exception is in endurance riding, where the minimum age to compete is based on the animal’s actual calendar age.

The following terminology is used to describe horses of various ages:

  • Colt: a male horse under the age of four. A common terminology error is to call any young horse a „colt“, when the term actually only refers to young male horses.
  • Filly: a female horse under the age of four.
  • Foal: a horse of either sex less than one year old. A nursing foal is sometimes called a suckling and a foal that has been weaned is called a weanling. Most domesticated foals are weaned at five to seven months of age, although foals can be weaned at four months with no adverse physical effects.
  • Gelding: a castrated male horse of any age.
  • Mare: a female horse four years old and older.
  • Stallion: a non-castrated male horse four years old and older. The term „horse“ is sometimes used colloquially to refer specifically to a stallion.
  • Yearling: a horse of either sex that is between one and two years old.

In horse racing, these definitions may differ: For example, in the British Isles, Thoroughbred horse racing defines colts and fillies as less than five years old.However, Australian Thoroughbred racing defines colts and fillies as less than four years old.

Horse

The horse (Equus ferus caballus) is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus. It is an odd-toed ungulate mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today. Humans began to domesticate horses around 4000 BC, and their domestication is believed to have been widespread by 3000 BC. Horses in the subspecies caballus are domesticated, although some domesticated populations live in the wild as feral horses. These feral populations are not true wild horses, as this term is used to describe horses that have never been domesticated, such as the endangered Przewalski’s horse, a separate subspecies, and the only remaining true wild horse. There is an extensive, specialized vocabulary used to describe equine-related concepts, covering everything from anatomy to life stages, size, colors, markings, breeds, locomotion, and behavior.

Horses’ anatomy enables them to make use of speed to escape predators and they have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight response. Related to this need to flee from predators in the wild is an unusual trait: horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down. Female horses, called mares, carry their young for approximately 11 months, and a young horse, called a foal, can stand and run shortly following birth. Most domesticated horses begin training under saddle or in harness between the ages of two and four. They reach full adult development by age five, and have an average lifespan of between 25 and 30 years.

Horse breeds are loosely divided into three categories based on general temperament: spirited „hot bloods“ with speed and endurance; „cold bloods“, such as draft horses and some ponies, suitable for slow, heavy work; and „warmbloods“, developed from crosses between hot bloods and cold bloods, often focusing on creating breeds for specific riding purposes, particularly in Europe. There are more than 300 breeds of horse in the world today, developed for many different uses.

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