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Horse of a Different Color (Part 2)

Submitted by:  Dona Neargarder, KICKAPOO ACRES

In this issue….I’ll be discussing Grays, Roans, Whites and Silver Dapples.Gray, Roan & White are not actually “colors”…they are “patterns” of white hairs on an otherwise colored horse. But since they are commonly referred to as colors, I will explain them as COLORS here.


Gray is the result of a dominant gene that “masks” all colors.

“Gray” is actually a “pattern” of white hairs superimposed OVER a color. 

The gray gene causes white hairs to be mixed in with the original color of a horse, causing it to get progressively lighter & lighter. This process will continue year after year until the horse is totally white…or near white, and can be very slow & take a lifetime to completely whiten (and some never turn completely white). Depending on the horse’s original base color…they may go through many color stages as they progressively lighten. For instance, a red horse will look “rose gray” at mid point of graying out. 

A “gray” horse can start out as ANY color possible on horses. Whatever color they are born, usually by a year old it will be very apparent that they are going to gray out.

One should always take note of what color a foal is born, as once it has grayed…it may be impossible to know what “base color” that horse carries. At certain points during the ‘graying out” process, a gray may resemble a “Roan”. But, true Roans will always have dark heads, and the head is usually one of the first places a “Gray” horse begins to lighten. So, if a horse “appears” Roan…but does not have the dark head & points of a true Roan….it is most likely just a horse that is “graying out” Some horses with the gray gene can be born almost white…as in the case of a foal who has inherited both the Silver gene AND the Gray gene. These foals are commonly referred to as “Silver-Whites” and are either born white, or turn white very rapidly upon first foal shed, as the whitening process on them is greatly accelerated. Horses that have dark skin & then turn “gray” are very striking & beautiful in appearance, as the dark skin around the muzzle & eyes provide a stunning contrast to their white hair coloring. Contrary to popular belief…a “Gray” does not always have dark skin. As I mentioned above, the Gray “gene” can affect ANY color horse. Cremellos or Perlinos (who always have pink skin) can also carry the Gray gene. It just doesn’t “show” on the light colored horses, because they are already near white.

Grays are often confused in the Miniature Breed with Silver Dapples or Roans.

Actually…there is a very big difference amongst the three. The confusion exists because most people label a horse the color it “appears” to be….not it’s true genetic color. Silver-Dapples & Blue Roans usually appear to be a gray color…so are mistakenly called Gray by many. But, Silver Dapples & Roans will remain their birth color for their entire life….where a true “Gray” will continue to get lighter every year…continually changing, until their original color is completely gone.

This difference is very important to anyone who is breeding for specific colors or patterns….as the gray gene will obliterate any color or pattern that a foal is born with.


“Roan” is also not a color, but a “pattern” of white hairs superimposed on the body…but does not affect the “points” (head, legs & mane & tail) and leaves them dark. 

A classic “Roan” is almost always born looking roan, or it is evident at the first foal shed, and will remain its roan color for its entire life.

Roan is a dominant gene….and for a foal to be Roan; it needs to have at least one Roan parent.The Roan gene can be inherited on any color.

A Bay who inherits the Roan gene would be called a Bay Roan.

Black …. Blue Roan

Chestnut….. Red Roan

Buckskin…....Buckskin Roan


Interesting facts about Roans….

They change colors with the seasons. They are the lightest in the spring, with their body coloring almost white, creating a very dramatic color contrast against their dark points. Then their body darkens a bit to a medium roan coloring in summer. In winter coat….they are at their darkest & it may be very hard to tell that they are Roan at all! But upon close inspection, you will plainly see that their undercoat is extremely light…it’s only the top hairs that are darkened for winter. 

When roans have an injury, the hair will grow back over that injury DARK…not lighter as in most other colors.

Roan and Grays are the only colors/patterns in horses, where white hair originates from dark skin. 

There are other genes which can cause “roaning” to various extents on a horse. There is Sabino roaning (a pinto pattern), Appaloosa varnish roaning, and roaning caused by the Gray gene. But, none of these will produce the distinctive “classic” Roan that retains the dark points. Sabino & Appaloosa patterns will be discussed in a future article.


Albinos are non-existent in the equine world. In fact, most cases of “dominant whites” referred to in scientific literature can actually be easily explained by the Sabino-White gene. 

Many horses can “appear” to be white. Grays that have completely lightened will “appear” to be white. But they will almost always have dark skin.  

Cremellos & Perlinos are often thought to be white, but are in fact, “off white”.

“Few spot” Appaloosas may appear to be white as well.But, most cases of completely WHITE horses can usually be attributed to the Sabino gene. These horses are referred to as “Maximum-expressed” Sabinos, and may be born with some color on their ears or a sprinkling of color down their backs. But this color soon roans out to white, making the horse appear to be totally white. These Sabino Whites can crop out from normal colored parents who carry the Sabino gene.

There is also “Lethal White”. These are totally white foals born to two Frame Overo parents. These foals have inherited TWO copies of the lethal white (LWO) gene…and will die soon after birth due to incomplete intestinal tracts. This is why there are no Homozygous Frame Overos….they all die. Breeding a LWO carrier to another LWO carrier will result in a 25% chance of producing a Lethal White foal, so most responsible Overo breeders test the potential mates for their LWO stallions, to make sure they do not carry that gene.


Silver-Dapple is another “dilution” gene, but it primarily affects black.

The Silver Dapple color is caused by a dominant gene that is unique because it only acts upon black pigment and leaves red pigment unchanged on the body. Or in other words Black and Bay horses will be physically changed by this gene, but Chestnut horses will see relatively little effect, except for lightened manes & tails.

It is the “Silver” gene that I feel has caused so much confusion in the Miniature Breed colors. Silver Dapple is VERY common in Miniatures & ponies, but unfortunately, not usually understood or registered correctly. Nor can one rely on the stud books or registrations for much help in identifying these colors…as the parent’s colors on these are so unreliable.

Because the Silver gene can cause a wide variety of beautiful colors & shades, depending on what base color it is working with…they can mimic other colors. Also, a Silver-gene foal’s color can be quite different from its adult color. This is where even more confusion comes in. Silver-gene foals are often born a taupe, light tan, or even red color. Then they will shed out to Silver-Dapple (or some other Silver color) later on.

The name Silver-Dapple itself is misleading….not all Silver-Dapples will have dapples.

Here are some examples of Silver colors:

SILVER-DAPPLE ( Black x Silver)

Without the silver gene, this would simply be a black horse. This horse will be a silver gray color with or without dapples. The shades can range anywhere from very light silver, a chocolate color, or almost black “slate gray” with manes & tails that range from silvery white to dark gray. “Silver Dapples” are often registered incorrectly as Dapple Grays, Liver Chestnuts, or even Chocolate Palominos. 

SILVER-BAY (Bay x Silver)

This horse will still have the red body of a Bay, but the black lower legs will be diluted to a brown shade & the mane & tail will be lightened to a much lighter shade ranging from silver white….to a dark slate gray.Some of the lighter colored Silver-Bays are registered incorrectly as Palominos or Chestnuts with “flaxen” manes & tails.

SILVER-CHESTNUT (Chestnut x Silver)

While the Silver gene is said to only effect black, doesn’t mean a Chestnut cannot carry the Silver gene. It’s just a little harder to “see” the silver effect on a Chestnut. Many people will tell you that it is impossible to see. But I, as well as many other breeders will confirm that you CAN usually tell if a Chestnut is carrying the Silver gene if you know what to look for. Silver Chestnuts will have silvery white (not flaxen) manes & tails & their lower points (fetlock area) will have a silvery tinge to them. Silver Chestnuts are often registered as Palominos incorrectly.

Of course, ANY color or combination color can carry Silver as well….such as Silver Buckskin, Silver Palomino, Silver Cremello, Silver Dun, Silver White (silver x gray)., etc., etc. 

Now…add to this array of colors, all the different “patterns” that are possible, such as pinto & appaloosa, and you can REALLY get a mixture!

I have found, with Miniatures … anything is possible! That is what makes them so unique! Say you have a mini that displays tobiano, sabino & splash pinto patterns, as well as the appaloosa pattern, AND carries the crème, silver, and bay genes. You would have a Smokey Silver-Bay Tovero Pintaloosa!  

I truly think the Miniature Breed has earned the title of “Horse of a Different Color”… Don’t you?


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