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The Brindle Horse: Color Patterns, Rarity, and Breeds

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My granddaughter quickly pointed out a horse with a brindle color coat competing in a barrel race. She had lots of questions about it – like what breeds can have this pattern and how rare are they? I told her that I wonder about these things too, so we should learn about them together!

Brindle is a rare color pattern of stripes and unusual hair texture in horses. The unique coloring often looks like dark paint spilled over the horse. However, the cause of this distinctive coat pattern isn’t wholly understood, but there is evidence linking it to genetics.

The brindle horse color pattern is one of the rarest, but they do occur, and there is a lot of information about them that you may not know but should.

Picture of a bay brindle horse
Picture of a chestnut brindle horse.

What makes a horse brindle?

If you’re interested in breeding horses for brindle foals, you may have a difficult time, but it’s not impossible. It’s believed there are two ways the brindle pattern comes about, genetically or as the result of an abnormality.

Genetic brindle pattern

The Brindle pattern can be produced genetically, just like the spots on pinto and paint horses are made from different genes. Certain male and female horses with the brindle genotype pass the brindle coloring even if they don’t display a typical brindle coat pattern themselves.

Brindle horses have a unique gene that gives them their distinctive color pattern-it’s created by two alleles or variations on chromosomes represented as BR1. To create this special coloration in foals, its parent must have the BR1 alleles.

Female horses have two X chromosomes which can be either BR1/N or BR1/BR1. Those with BR1/N genotype display the brindle coat texture and may pass it to 50% of their offspring.

If a mare is a BR1/BR1, she will not display the brindle coat texture but transmits the brindle gene to all her offspring. Male horses with the BR1 gene variant typically don’t show the brindle coat texture but pass the brindle variant to all their offspring.

Brindle coloring in horses is rare, but it can occur with the correct gene combination of a female with two copies of the BR1 gene with a male with one copy of the gene. If you want to test your breeding stock, contact UCDavis veterinary genetics laboratory.

Some brindle horses are created via an abnormality (Chimera horses).

In general, the more striking brindle patterns result from two embryos blending during the early stages of pregnancy to form one individual. When this occurs, the horses are considered chimeras.

Chimerism is a rare and fascinating genetic disorder in which two fertilized eggs combine to form one that develops normally. The resulting individual, therefore, has two types of cells, each with a different DNA mutation.

The result in horses is striping and different hair texture created by cells from the DNA of the extra eggs. It’s very rare and happens by chance.

What horse breeds are brindle?

Brindle is not a horse breed or a color but rather a specific coat pattern. Horses are well-known for their variety of colors. They can be found in shades of black, chestnut, bay, gray, and many others. However, one horse color that you may not have seen is brindle.

Brindle color patterns have been found in many horse breeds, including Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Mustangs, Quarter Horses (to name only a few), and they come in all sorts of variations from light to dark brown with black stripes or spots peppered throughout the coat.

The earliest recorded appearance of the brindle coat pattern was seen in a Russian cab horse during the 1800s. But since then, this unique and rare horse coloration has been noted in many different breeds over the past century.

Picture of a brindle horse.

What color is a brindle horse?

The patterns on a brindle horse’s body are unique for each animal; sometimes, the black hair makes up a significant portion of their patterns, while other times, roan (white) hairs make these markings stand out more prominently. But remember, brindle isn’t a color but a color pattern.

The most common color pattern of brindle horses is striping ranging from light brown to black across their bodies, with lighter areas between them that look like they have been rubbed out by dirt or mud. However, they vary greatly and can change shades with the seasons.

The color pattern of a brindle horse is variable and is typically accompanied by abnormal hair texture. The hairs from the stripes are less straight and unrulier than those from the normally pigmented coat and go from the back to the horses’ sides.

Are brindle horses rare?

There’s an old saying that once you see one brindle horse, you’ll never forget it. In fact, the rarity of seeing this animal is what makes it so memorable and distinctive.

Horses with the brindle pattern are rare and an exception to the general rule of coat colors. The molding of two embryos can create the brindle pattern, or they can be made genetically. 

All Horses are born with base colorings that include bay, brown, black, or chestnut; other hues are created through genetic variations of these original colors, such as palomino and buckskin.

The rarity of a horse is determined by the number of members in the equine population. However, there doesn’t seem to be any data available that specifically states how many brindle horses exist today. Their scarcity and lack of knowledge in identifying one make it near impossible to know their numbers.

FAQ

Are merle and brindle colors the same?

A merle coat isn’t the same as a brindle, and the term merle is primarily used to describe a dogs’ color, not horses. Merle is a coat pattern with dark pigment patches (black, brown, or red) on an otherwise lighter-colored body.

Good names for a brindle horse.

If you’re lucky enough to own a brindle horse, it deserves the best. And if you decide to base your name on its unique color, here are some excellent names: Splash, Dusty, and Champ; because of their rarity, Blue Moon would be perfect!

How much does a brindle horse cost?

Many factors determine how much a horse is worth, such as conformation, training, and age. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay between $2,500-$5,000 for a brindle foal, but this may change based on the individual’s characteristics.