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All the Horse Colors of the Rainbow

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This summer I was cruising down a rural side road and spotted a shiny blonde horse in a nearby pasture. I’m aware that blonde is not a horse color but I swear he was blonde! Not just his mane and tail but his entire body glowed like my own sun kissed hair did as a child. It turns out this color is called “Perlino”.

Palomino Arabian Stallion Golden Vagdhan Chesnut + single cream gene = Palomino

Palomino Arabian Stallion Golden Vagdhan
Chesnut + single cream gene = Palomino

All horse people are familiar with these common colors:

Grey – a silver colored horse sometimes with dapples.

Chestnut or Sorrel – variations of red ranging from pale orange to a deep liver color.

Bay – brown/reddish body with black mane, tail, legs and the rim of the ears.

Black – a pure black coat, mane and tail with no brown hairs at all.

Rare horse colors such as Perlino, are eye catching, unique and can command a higher price tag. There are quite of few different colors that start with one of the familiar bases and changed with the addition of a dilute gene.

Chestnut + double dilute cream gene = Perlino, like this stallion used in Cavalia.

Two genes control a horse’s color; one is the Extension, which controls the production of red and black hues and the other is the Agouti, which controls pigment distribution to the points like mane, tail, legs, and ear rims. There are 10 other genes that control the shade and distribution of the basic color.

The cream gene is a dilute gene visible in a single or double copy dosage. The single dosage with a chestnut gene with result in a golden palomino, with a bay equals a buckskin, with a black a smoky black will result.

Cremello Morgan stallion with blue eyes. Photo: Sue Olson.

Cremello Morgan stallion with blue eyes. Photo: Sue Olson

Double dilutes have blue eyes and are less common than the single dilutes. A double dilute cream gene with a chestnut will produce a Cremello, the double dilute gene with bay will produce a Perlino and with black will produce a smoky cream.

The dun gene is common as well and when combined with the base colors results in different shades of dun. A dun horse always has a dorsal stripe, black legs, a black mane and tail, black-rimmed ears, and can have lighter “frosting” of on the top layer of its mane and tail. A chestnut with the dun gene will result in a red dun, a bay with the dun gene will result in the most common shade of dun, and the dun gene with black with result in a grullo.

Chestnut + dun gene = red dun.

Chestnut + dun gene = red dun.

People often confuse a dun horse with a buckskin horse and it’s hard to tell the difference at first glance. Buckskin’s can be the same creamy pale beige color with a black mane, tail, and legs but they are missing key components that the dun and grullo horse have. A dorsal stripe and zebra striped legs are a dun factor trademark.

The dorsal strip end legs stripes are a dun factor feature.

The dorsal strip end legs stripes are a dun factor feature.

Cream and dun dilute genes are just the tip of the horse color iceberg, other dilute genes are Champagne, Pearl, and Silver Dapple. Rare markings, patterns, and color blends appear in all breeds of horses. Color patterns in Paint horses and pintos is a topic all it’s own, along with Appaloosa color types. Unique flecks, dots, spots, and smears each have a specific name.

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