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Horse of A Different Color (Part 1)

Submitted by: Dona Neargarder, KICKAPOO ACRES

A horse is a horse, no matter how big or small. 
But the Miniature breed has the unique capability of producing every equine color (and color combinations) imaginable… something not usually seen in most full-sized horses breeds. For this reason, I think that Miniature Horses have earned the title of
“Horse of a Different Color”! Heck…they even go one better….they are a horse of MANY different colors!   

Many people go solely on the color a horse “appears” in person. This would be the horse’s “phenotype”. But if you are breeding for specific colors, you need to know a horse’s “genotype”, or what color genes a horse carries & can reproduce. Determining a horse’s true “genetic” color (genotype) can be surprisingly difficult when it comes to Miniatures. Usually, researching the colors of a horse’s parents & grandparents on their pedigrees can be a big help in determining a foal’s color. But erroneous color identifications are so common on Miniature registrations, that it is often no help at all in determining a foal’s (or adult’s) true color. When dealing with several different color genes on one horse…you can come up with amazing combinations resulting in very striking colors, which may appear to be something they are not. Over the years I’ve been involved with Minis….I have come to the conclusion that much of the confusion of colors in Miniatures, is in large part, due to the silver (Silver Dapple) gene that runs rampant in the Miniature breed. What “appears” to be a Palomino, may very well be a Silver-Chestnut. What “appears” to be a Dun, may be a Silver-Dapple. What “appears” to be a Chestnut, could actually be a Silver-Bay, etc., etc.

Then add to this mix, the different roaning genes & dilutes….and you can see how things can get very confusing! 

Before I overwhelm anyone right at the start….it really isn’t as hard as it seems, if you first learn the “basic” colors…then go from there. This being said, please know that I do not profess to be a professional on Equine color genetics. But I have had a fascination with this subject for many years & have done much research. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that nothing is “written in stone”. You can read all the books & manuals in the world on any given subject, but just because you read it in a book, doesn’t mean that current “fact” can’t be proven wrong sometime in the future. For instance, the Frame Overo pattern was long believed to be caused by a “recessive” gene. But it was proven just a few years ago that it is actually “dominant”. Inquisitive minds are what fuel the quest to learn & discover new things, and you should always be “open” to new ideas or theories. Books can teach us so much, but I believe there is just as much to be learned by years of experience.
 I will be glad to share with you, without getting too technical, the "basics" I have learned not only thru books, but thru my own experiences… in this “series” on Miniature Horse Color.


BLACK - A uniformly colored horse, black all over, including points.

BAY - A black horse with the “Agouti” gene. “Agouti” restricts the black color to the “points” of a horse…resulting in a red body with black legs, mane & tail.

CHESTNUT/SORREL (or brown) – A uniformly colored horse, in various shades of reddish brown, and no black points. 

(“Points” are the lower legs, mane & tail & sometimes ear tips) All other colors are “variations” of these “base” colors. 

Base colors can be affected by “dilutes” such as the Crème gene or Silver Dapple gene, as well as Roan or Gray. 

For instance…A black foal that inherits the silver gene will become a Silver Dapple. 

A Chestnut foal that inherits one crème gene will become a Palomino. (2 crème genes will result in a Cremello.) 

A Bay foal that inherits one crème gene will become a Buckskin. (2 crème genes will result in a Perlino). 

Any color that inherits the “roan” gene will become a roaned version of their base color. (Bay Roan, Blue/Black Roan, Red Roan, etc.)

ANY color that inherits the “gray” gene will gradually lose their base color & eventually become gray/white. 

The rate of graying varies greatly and some horses may gray out very rapidly turning completely white within a year…while others may take a whole lifetime to gray out completely. Also…this may be very hard to determine on some horses that are very light to begin with, such as cremellos. 

Now that we’ve discussed the “base” colors for horses….lets take a look at the many different variations that can be derived from them. 


A “dilute” is a horse whose base body color has been altered (usually lightened) by another gene. The different “dilute” genes are Crème, Dun, and Silver.

(Many may think that Gray is a dilute. But Gray is not a “dilute”. It is actually considered a “pattern” of white hairs mixed on any other color. It does not affect the color of the actual hairshaft. The horse will progressively get more & more white hairs mixed in with the dark over their entire body, which will result in the horse getting lighter every year until they become white.) 

CRÈME Dilutes:

Palomino, Buckskin, Smokey Black, Cremello, Perlino, & Smokey Crème….are all the result of the “crème” gene on various colors. 

Palominos, Buckskins & Smokey Blacks are “single dilutes”…in that they only carry one copy of the crème gene. 

Crème x Chestnut = Palomino

Palominos have various shades of golden/yellow bodies with white or flaxen manes & tails.

Crème x Bay = Buckskin

Buckskins also come in various shades of golden bodies, but have black points (manes, tails & legs.) They do NOT have leg barring or true dorsal stripes. Buckskin colored horses that have these “primitive” markings are actually “DUNS”. Occasionally you will find a line-backed Buckskin. The line down their back is usually not a true dorsal…but “countershading”. They are not as wide or pronounced as a true dorsal on a Dun. 

Crème x Black = Smokey Black

Smokey Blacks tend to look very much like a regular black, but can sometimes even look dark brown or can fade noticeably in the sun.

Cremellos & Perlinos & Smokey Cremes are “double dilutes”. They carry two copies of the crème gene.

Crème x Crème x Chestnut = Cremello

Cremellos are a light crème color (almost white) & always have pink skin & blue eyes. Mane & tail are the same color as the body.

Crème x Crème x Bay = Perlino

Perlinos bodies are also a crème color (almost white), but the points (mane, tail &legs) are a “tinge” darker than the body color (enough to notice). They also have pink skin & blue eyes.

Crème x Crème x Black = Smokey Creme

Smokey Cremes are also a crème color, but have darker points than a Perlino & sometimes even retains some color on their bodies.

DUN Dilutes:

The Dun gene lightens base colors, while retaining the darker points, often including the front of the face. Their body color is one smooth, uniform color, unlike the mixed colored & white hairs of a roan. “Lineback Duns” also have distinct “primitive markings” which can include a very distinctive dorsal stripe that travels all the way thru the center of the mane & tail, leg barring, Mask on face, ear tips/edging, shoulder stripe, neck striping, cobwebbing on face, mane & tail guard hairs, mottling. One horse need not have ALL these primitive markings, but usually do carry at least three. Golden lineback Duns are often called Buckskins in error. While Buckskins do have the yellow bodies & black manes, tails & legs….they do NOT have the true dorsals or primitive markings of a Dun. 

There are many different “shades” of Dun.

Red Dun – The red shade of Dun with darker red primitive markings.

Grullo (Grew-yo) – result of the dun gene on a black horse. Their bodies have a uniform slate gray coloring with black primitive markings. They are sometimes called “blue dun”. Zebra Dun – Tan or yellow Dun with black primitive markings.

There are several different “terms” used to described the many & varied shades within the Dun family…including golden dun, silvery dun, coyote dun, lobo dun, olive dun, claybank dun etc., etc. But the three I mentioned above should include all the various shades within them.


The Champagne dilute colors are a separate group of very rare pale colors distinct from the duns, crème and silver genes.

The whole group consists of pale colors, all of which have pinkish or light brown skin (often called “pumpkin” skin) and amber eyes. Most Champagne foals are born with blue eyes that change to amber as they age.

The colors in this group can vary from chocolate brown to various shades of yellow with varying point color. They also exhibit a very distinctive bright iridescent “sheen” to their coats. Another interesting thing about this color is that the foals are usually born a dark color & lighten to the champagne color after shedding their foal coat. This is the reverse of other colored foals…where they are usually born lighter & then turn darker as they shed their foal coats.

The darkest group of the champagne shades is simply called “Champagne”. These horses have a pinkish or beige body color, and generally have medium to light brown points that are darker than the body color.

The next group is the champagne dilutes are the “Amber Champagnes” which have light tan or yellow body color with points of medium to light chocolate brown. They are often confused with shades of dun…but the distinctive amber eye color, iridescent coat & pumpkin skin is a tip off! The third group is called “Gold Champagnes”. They have a bright golden body color with white mane & tail. These horses are commonly registered as Palominos…but their pale skin, iridescent coat & amber eyes should easily separate them from Palominos & identify them as “Gold Champagnes.

The last group of Dilutes will be Silver Dapple. This gene is so interesting & can result in several different colors. In fact, this is the gene that I feel has so many confused on Miniature horse colors.

So, I am going to devote most of my next installment in this “Horse of a Different Color” series to the Silver Dapple gene….as well as Roan & Gray


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