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What is a Dapple Gray Horse? Breeds, Facts, and Color

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My six-year-old grandson informed me he wanted a dapple-gray horse because his dad says it’s the prettiest of all the horses. Then he asked me, “what is a dapple-gray horse, is it a breed or a color?”

A dapple-gray horse has a color pattern of dark rings over a gray coat. This color combination is beautiful and exudes good health and vibrance.

Many people choose a dapple-gray horse because of its color. But there is more to a dapple-gray horse than meets the eye.

Use a brightening shampoo to reduce yellowing and keep your dapple-gray horses’ coat looking fresh.

Picture of a dapple gray horse

The Basics of a Dapple-Gray Horse

As we stated earlier, a dapple-gray horse has a gray coat with dark rings over its entire body. So let’s begin our study of dapple-gray horses by first understanding grey horses, then looking at dapples.

Gray Horses.

The gray coat color is created by the dominant gray gene (G). Dominant genes override the effect of a variant on the same gene. The impact of a dominant gray gene on other coat color genes will always create a gray coat color.

The gray gene is not a color gene, but rather it dilutes the color of the base coat hairs, and it affects all base colors. Foals born with a dominant gray gene can be any color. A horse typically displays its first signs of graying around its eyes and muzzle.

Picture of a dapple gray mare.

The dilution of hair color continues as horses age, and by six, some horses look white. Gray horses have a high rate of melanomas late in life. More than 70 percent of gray horses over fifteen suffer melanomas typically around their tails and heads.

The gray gene generally doesn’t change horses, skin, or eye color, but in some instances may cause depigmentation of the skin near the eyes, mouth, and anus. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between a white horse and a gray horse.

The most straightforward indication that a horse is gray and not white is to examine its skin color. A white horse typically has pink skin, and a gray horse has black skin.

An interesting fact discovered in a 2008 Swedish study confirmed that all gray horses have a common ancestor that lived over two thousand years ago.

This revelation confirms that selective breeding practices to obtain an attractive color have been happening for a long time. But it may also be because people believe grey horses symbolize wisdom, patience, and clarity

Picture of a dapple gray racehorse.

Dapples on a horses’ coat

Dapples are rings throughout a horse’s coat that encircle lighter colored hairs. There are at least two types of this pattern on horses I’m aware of, true dapples and bloom dapples.

True dapples are genetically created dark hair that’s always present; these are the circles found on a gray-dapple horse. Blooms are rings that come and leave a horses’ coat because of their conditioning and diet.

Dappling in gray horses may be caused by the deactivation of the dominant gray gene in specific locations. The deactivation of the gene also creates “flea-bitten” or “speckled grays” as well.

The dappling of gray is not seen in all horses and is a stage in the graying process. The amount and pattern of the dappling change as the horse grows older. But unlike bloom dappling the dapple pattern is not affected by health or diet.

Stages of graying in horses

Aging a gray horse by its coat color is not a good idea. There are some generalities we can make, but many horses don’t follow the patterns. Horses are individuals, and most don’t gray at the same pace.

But we can cover some general stages you can expect if you decide to buy a gray horse or foal.

Foals and weanlings

A foal is a horse that hasn’t turned one year old; once a colt weans, it’s called a weanling. Foals are not born gray; they can be bay, black, chestnut, or just about any color.

Foals possessing the gray gene typically begin to display signs of gray relatively soon after birth, but almost all have apparent signs by the time they wean. The first signs of gray hair typically are seen around foals’ eyes and mouths.


All horses in North America have the same official birthday, Jan 1. A yearling horse has passed its first birthday but has not reached its second. A yearling is similar at this age to an adolescent child.

Before most gray yearlings reach two, they have a dark steel gray coat of hair and begin to display dapples.

Two Year old to six years old

From two to four years old, the dapples are most prominent. After four, the dark hairs lighten and fade until they are no longer visible. Most six-year-old dapple-gray horses look white with no dapples. But this is a general rule; there are dapple-gray horses that never fade.

picture of an older gray horse,

For many gray horses, fading to white is the end of their color schemes, but for others, they continue to transition. Some gray horses gain blotches of black in their coat which could occur years after a horse faded.

Once the black returns, the number of speckles increases as the horse ages. Horses with this coat pattern are called flea-bitten grays or speckled grays. Most flea-bitten gray horses are beyond ten years old, but just like dappling, speckling can occur in different stages.

Horse Breeds that have grays

Gray-colored horses are prevalent across many horse breeds. It’s believed that one in 10 horses carries the graying gene. However, some strains produce even higher percentages of gray horses.

Breeds with the majority of gray-colored coats

Lipizzaners horses.

Lipizzaner horses are the famous dancing horses of Vienna. Just like all other grays, their foals are born dark and progressively lighten. By six years old, many look because of the extensive color dilution of their hair. The breed originated in Slovenia.

Lipizzaners were not always gray; initially, the horses were bay, black, chestnut, dun, and just about any other equine color. The movement to the majority of gray horses traces to the royal Haspurg family’s preferences for light-colored horses.

Through selective color breeding, which began over 200 years ago, gray coat colors became the majority of Lipizzan horses.

Andalusian horse

Andalusian horses originated in the Iberian Peninsula, and are typically gray but can also have a bay coat. Just like Lipizzaners, Andalusians of the past could be almost any color, including spotted patterns.

Today approximately 80 percent of Andalusians are gray, 15 percent bay, and the remaining 5 percent black, dun, palomino, or chestnut.

Percheron horses

Percheron horses originated in France and typically have gray or black coats. In addition to gray and black, Percherons can also be roan, bay, or chestnut in color.

However, to register a Percheron in France or Great Britain, the horse must be either gray or black, no other colors are accepted.

picture of a dapple,gray yearling at an auction,

Horse breeds with gray coats colors

The vast majority of breeds produce horses with gray coats. They’re common among Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses, and Arabians. Most of these breeds can trace their heritage to Arabian stock.

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