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Do Baby Horses Change Color as They Age? Foal Colors Explored

Last updated: October 11, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Our friend’s gray mare recently had a baby, and the newborn foal is a dusty brownish color with dark ear tips. The father is a gray stallion. So, is this baby going to change colors as it ages and have a coat like its parents?

Baby horses change color as they age. Foals are generally born a pale shade of their adult color. In the wild, the dull coat color camouflages weak babies from predators. However, they typically shed their foal coat at three or four months and start evolving into their adult color.

Horse owners often breed horses for color; however, it typically takes a year or more to know if their foal will have the coat color they were hoping to create. In this article, we will explore how foals can change color and what causes these changes.

babyhorse1 edited

Colors of baby horses

Foals change colors; they are born with dull coats they usually shed three or four months after birth. Very few are born the color they will become as an adult horse. However, white markings are permanent.

Some foals are born with native markings, silver surrounding their tails, and lower leg stripes. These traits typically fade shortly after birth but are pronounced enough to fool their owners into believing they’re a dun or grulla.

What color are buckskin foals born?

Buckskin foals come in an array of colors and are challenging to recognize because they vary so much. Some buckskin babies have a dorsal stripe, and others don’t.

But most buckskin foals don’t show their dark points and dorsal stripe until they shed their rough foal coat. And many buckskin babies have a musty yellowish-white or tan coat with a scattering of black hairs throughout their mane and tail.

However, buckskins are also born in various shades of brown. But one thing is consistent about buckskins: they never exhibit any red in their coats. If your baby looks like a buckskin but has red hair, it’s likely a bay.

picture of a baby buckskin horse that looks like it may change color,

The color of gray foals.

Gray babies may be born in numerous coat colors, making it hard to determine if you have a gray foal. But there are some tell-tale signs: gray hairs around their eyes and mouth and solid-colored lower legs.

Gray is a dominant color gene that influences a horse’s base color. All gray horses have a base color, either bay, chestnut, or black, with a dominant gray gene that dilutes the pigment.

The base color determines the color of the baby horse at birth. A foal with a gray gene and chestnut base will display a different coat than one with a bay or black base.

A gray can either be homozygous, which carries two copies of the gray gene, or heterozygous, which carries one copy of the gray gene. Homozygous gray horses always produce gray offspring.

To make an educated guess of what color our friend’s foal will be when fully grown, we need to know its parents’ base colors. If the gray mare has a bay base and the stallion has a chestnut base color, it could be various colors: chestnut, gray, bay, or black.

Gray horses continue to lighten in color as they age; by the time they reach six or seven years old, many look entirely white. Homozygous horses lighten quicker than heterozygous and often white out by four years old.

picture of a bay foal looking at the camera,
Bay foal

What does a dun foal look like?

There are different color duns, bay duns, red duns, and classic duns, but almost all dun foals are born with a dark dorsal stripe and webbing across their faces.

When you examine your foal to determine its ultimate color, don’t worry that it doesn’t have leg stripes. Dun babies usually don’t exhibit leg striping until after they’re three or four months old.

But like most foals, a newborn dun’s coat color is dull. For example, a red dun foals coat is typically light red-brown, and a bay dun is a muted sandy color.

A unique feature of dun foals is their dark ear tips. So when you’re attempting to determine if your baby horse is a dun, look for a mask, dark dorsal stripe (that may be red or brown), and dark ear tips.

Picture of a foal standing in a pasture.

What does a bay foal look like?

Bay horses are recognized by their dark points, deep reddish-brown coats, and dark skin. However, baby foals are typically not born with noticeable dark leg points, but once the baby sheds its foal coat, its lower leg points are visible.

Bay foals exhibit slightly reddish coats with black-tipped ears, light coloring on their lower legs, and small black patches on the rear of their heels. They are born with dark skin and are frequently mistaken for chestnut.

They also display noticeable “foal fringes.” Foal fringes are the light-colored hair that often outlines a foal’s tail. These fringes are found in most newborns but are more recognizable in bay babies.

horses foal yearling 1 edited 1
Sorrel foal

What does a chestnut foal look like when it’s born?

Chestnut horses are red with no black hair in their coats, manes, or tails. There are many chestnut shades, some as light as a creamy palomino or so dark they look black.

Because of the broad spectrum of chestnut shades, foals’ coat colors vary. However, they are all born with red in their coats.

picture of a sorrel foal next to its mother,
Sorrel foal

Many have light-colored legs and lighter-colored bellies, either cream, peach, or tan. Chestnut foals are typically born with yellowish-pink-colored skin that darkens shortly after birth.

Dark chestnuts may shed out and look black, but they are genetically chestnut horses. Flaxen chestnut foals aren’t born with their beautiful light-colored manes; they develop the color as they age. However, some foals show early signs of their future flaxen near the manes’ roots.

Picture of a Friesian mare with her foal.
Black Friesian mother and foal

What does a black foal look like when it’s born?

A black foal is typically born with a mousy grey or charcoal color with a dorsal stripe and possibly lighter-colored lower legs with dark stripes. After the foal shedding, it may exhibit a dull brownish coat.

Black foals continue to change colors and may fool you into thinking it’s a chestnut, bay, or even brown horse. It could take a full year before the foal develops its black coat.

How do you tell if a foal will roan?

When a foal is firstborn, it’s difficult to determine if the baby horse will roan. The first area that typically displays roan is on the foal’s hips, usually within the first two months after birth.

However, after the baby goes through its foal shedding, its roaning should be obvious and spread over its hips, sides, and neck. Blue roan foals are typically born dark gray or black, and red roans are born sorrel.

What causes foals to change colors?

The changes in color that occur as foals age are caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, hormonal changes, exposure to the sun, and other environmental factors.

Genetics play a large role in determining the color of a foal at birth, but as the foal grows, its coat may lighten or darken due to exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors.

Hormones also play a role in color changes, as a foal’s coat will often change as it goes through the process of shedding its baby hair and growing its adult coat. Additionally, some horses develop white or gray hairs as they age, which can also contribute to changes in color.

Picture of a newborn foal.  It will change colors as it ages.

Do foals’ eyes change color?

Some foals’ eyes change colors; for example, champagne foals are born with blue eyes that typically turn amber but can also turn green or brown. Many buckskin foals are born with blue eyes that darken within a few weeks after birth.

Palomino foal’s eyes change color, typically from blue-gray eyes to brown. But even the shades of a foal eye color change. I’ve seen a palomino foal with bright green eyes change to a pale green color with amber flakes.

Below is a YouTube video about foals.

YouTube video


What are common horse colors?

Sorrel, Bay, Palomino, Dun, Dapple gray, Buckskin, Roan, Paint, Appaloosa, Gray, Chestnut, and Black are the most common horse coat colors.
To learn more about the colors of horses, you may find this article helpful: 12 Horse Coat Colors: Patterns, Genetics, and Pictures.

What is a baby horse called?

Baby horses are called foals, regardless of their gender; male foals are colts, and female foals are fillies. You can learn more about the topic here: What is a Baby Horse Called?

Is a pony a baby horse?

Ponies aren’t baby horses but equines that don’t grow over 14.2 hands tall. To learn more, check out either of these two articles: Is a Pony a Baby Horse? or 10 Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds …

Are baby horses born with teeth?

Baby horses typically don’t have teeth when they’re born, but they begin to grow shortly after birth, usually within the first month. To learn more about baby horses’ teeth, you may find this article helpful: Are Baby Horses Born with Teeth?