Horse Color Genetics

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

Quarter Horses come in all different colors so it can be difficult at times to determine what color your horse is. Photo by Carol Marr of Rockdale, Texas.

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 niche – 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 and learn 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.


KT Gunpowder N Lead with mares

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