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Rare Horse Colors: Unusual Coats That Catch the Eye

Last updated: October 23, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

While at a recent horse show with some friends, I was amazed by a horse with a coat color I had never seen before. Curious, I asked the owner what the color was called, and he told me it was a brindle. This sparked our curiosity and led us to discuss other rare horse colors.

While most horses we see are bay, chestnut, or gray, many other equine colors are incredibly rare, such as brindle, true white, champagne, and even chocolate palomino. These colors catch the eye and make a horse stand out from the rest.

Discover the world of rare horse colors. Some of these colors are so unusual that you might not believe they’re real. In this post, we will explore some of the rarest horse colors around and learn a little about what makes them so unique.

Rare Dilute Colors

Picture of a cremello stalliion.
Cremello Stallion

Have you ever seen a horse with a coat color that looked pale gold or silver? These are dilute colors caused by a genetic mutation that dilutes the color of the horse’s coat. Some of the most popular dilute colors include palomino, buckskin, cremello, and perlino.

The genetics behind dilute colors are quite fascinating. Horses have two copies of the same gene, one inherited from each parent. The dilution gene is recessive, meaning that a horse must inherit two copies of the gene to have a dilute coat color.

If a horse inherits only one copy of the dilution gene, it will have a standard coat color but can still pass it to its offspring. This is how diluted colors are passed down from generation to generation.

In addition to their unique coloring, dilute horses can also have beautiful and striking features. Their light-colored coats can make their eyes and facial markings stand out. Some dilute horses have other distinctive markings that make them even more eye-catching.

Overall, dilute horses are a beautiful and rare sight to behold. Their unique colors and genetics make them a particular part of the equine world worth learning about. If you’re interested in dilute colors, take a look at some photos of these beautiful horses.

Picture of a perlino mare and her foal. One of many rare horse colors.
Perlino mare and foal

Cremello and perlino horses

Cremello and perlino horses are two rare colors that are similar to each other. These colors are both considered dilutions of chestnut or sorrel horses. A cremello horse has a cream-colored coat, white mane, tail, and blue eyes. A perlino horse, on the other hand, has a cream-colored coat, a white mane and tail, and brown eyes.

The genetics behind these colors are a little more complicated than other dilute colors. Both colors are caused by two copies of the cream gene, which dilutes the red pigment in the coat to a cream color. However, to be a perlino, a horse must also carry one copy of the dun gene, which adds a darker shade to the mane, tail, and legs.

Cremellos and perlinos are both very eye-catching and beautiful horses. However, they are also rare, as both parents must carry the cream gene to produce a dilute offspring. This makes them highly sought after by horse enthusiasts, especially those participating in shows or competitions.

Picture of a palomino pony horse.
Palomino horse

Chocolate Palomino

Chocolate palomino is considered a rare dilute color in horses. This color is created when a horse has a chestnut base gene and carries one copy of the cream gene, just like any other palomino. However, in these horses, the gene dilutes the horse’s base color to a chocolate brown shade while the mane, tail, and legs remain a lighter, creamy color.

Chocolate palomino horses may also have golden or amber-colored eyes, which adds to their unique and striking appearance. While not as common as other dilute colors like palomino or buckskin, chocolate palominos have recently gained popularity.

Picture of a splash white mare.
Grullotobi at English Wikipedia, Splash White Mare

Rare Pinto Patterns

Pinto horses are known for their beautiful spotted or patched colorful coat patterns, but did you know there are rare pinto patterns, too? While pinto coloring, in general, is not rare, some specific pinto patterns are considered to be unique.

The genetics behind these pinto patterns can be pretty complex, but they result in some of the most stunning and rare horse colors out there. Some examples include:

Splash White

Splash White is considered a rare pinto pattern. It is characterized by white markings that appear to splash onto the horse’s body, typically with a distinctive jagged edge. Unlike other pinto patterns, the white areas are solid and smooth-edged rather than roaned or mottled.

There are three levels of Splash White, with higher levels producing more extensive white markings on the horse’s body. While it is not as common as other pinto patterns, Splash White is still found in many horse breeds.

Frame Overo

Frame Overo is considered a rare pinto pattern in some regions, particularly in the United States, where it is associated with a genetic disorder called “lethal white syndrome.” Breeders aim to avoid breeding horses with this pattern to prevent the syndrome from occurring. However, in other regions or breeds, Frame Overo may not be considered a rare pinto pattern.

Picture of a pinto horse with a medicine hat pattern.
Just chaos, CC BY 2.0 Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat is considered a rare pinto color. It is a specific type of pinto pattern that features a mostly white coat with a colored patch over the ears and/or top of the head, resembling a war bonnet or headdress.

The white coat typically covers the body and extends down the legs, with the colored patches appearing only on the head or ears. The term “Medicine Hat” comes from Native American folklore, which held that horses with this color pattern were sacred and possessed special powers.

Rare Roan Colors

Roan coloring is a popular and sought-after coat color in horses. The roan pattern is characterized by intermingled hairs of white and colored hairs, which gives the coat a speckled or “salt and pepper” appearance.

The most common roan color is red roan, which is characterized by a mixture of red and white hairs evenly distributed throughout the horse’s coat. But did you know that some roan colors are considered rare?

Picture of a blue roan quarter horse in a stall.
Blue Roan

Speckled Blue Roan

Blue roan is considered a rare color in some horse breeds, resulting from a genetic mutation that occurs when a horse inherits one copy of the roan gene and one copy of the black gene. The roan gene causes the horse’s coat to be flecked with white hairs, while the black gene darkens the coat color.

Combining the two genes creates a striking blue-gray color that is quite rare and highly prized among horse enthusiasts. A speckled blue roan horse is a type of blue roan horse that has a speckled or mottled appearance in its coat.

This can be caused by a combination of different factors, such as genetics or environmental conditions, resulting in a unique and striking appearance. However, it’s worth noting that not all blue roan horses have a speckled appearance, and the intensity of the speckling can vary between individual horses.

Picture of a leopard Appaloosa horse in the snow.
Leopard Appaloosa

Rare Appaloosa Color Patterns

Appaloosa horses are known for their spotted coats caused by a specific genetic pattern. The breed has a variety of color patterns, including leopard, blanket, snowflake, and varnish roan, among others.

While these patterns are not necessarily rare in the Appaloosa breed as a whole, certain variations within these patterns are rare.

Few-spot Leopard Appaloosas

The few-spot leopard is a rare and stunning Appaloosa pattern characterized by a predominantly white coat with just a few small, scattered spots. These spots are usually darker in color than the rest of the coat, and they can be black, bay, chestnut, or any other color.

The few-spot leopard is created when a horse inherits two copies of the LP gene, which controls the Appaloosa coat pattern. This pattern is relatively rare because both parents must carry the LP gene for the offspring to inherit it, and even then, there is only a 25% chance of producing a few spot leopards. These horses are highly sought after for their striking appearance and unique coloring.

Picture of a varnish roan appaloosa horse running.
Varnish roan appaloosa

Varnish Roan Appaloosas

Varnish Roan Appaloosas are a unique and striking variation of the Appaloosa breed. A mixture of dark and light spots on a white or light-colored base coat characterizes this rare color pattern. The spots typically concentrate more on the horse’s lower legs, face, and ears.

The varnish roan pattern is caused by combining the roan gene and the leopard complex gene, which produces the spotted coat. Unlike other roans, the varnish roan pattern does not result in a solid-colored head or legs, making it a remarkably distinct and eye-catching variation.

Varnish roan Appaloosas are highly sought after by horse enthusiasts and are often used in Western riding events and shows. However, they are relatively rare and can be challenging to find. The varnish roan pattern is one of many unique and beautiful variations of the Appaloosa breed, and its popularity continues to grow among horse lovers and enthusiasts.

Picture of white horses in a field.
White horses in Ireland

True White

Have you ever seen a horse that was so white it almost seemed to glow? You may have seen a true white horse. Unlike other white horses, true white horses have unpigmented skin and a white hair coat, and many have dark eyes, though some have blue eyes.

True white horses are uncommon, and some breeds are likelier to have them than others. For example, the Camarillo White Horse, a breed developed in California, is known for its true white coat.

But how are true white horses produced? The answer lies in their genetics. For a horse to be truly white, it must inherit two copies of the dominant white gene. This gene can cause a horse’s pigmentation to be diluted or completely absent.

While true white horses are stunning to look at, they also come with unique challenges. Because they have no pigmentation, they are more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. Additionally, breeding for true white horses can be tricky, as the gene can cause health problems in some cases.

Picture of a brindle horse.
Kumana @ Wild Equines, Brindle horse color

Brindle

The brindle pattern is considered rare in horses. It is characterized by a striped or marbled coat pattern similar to that of a brindle-colored cow or dog. The stripes can vary in width and color and may appear on any color base coat.

Breeding for brindle horses can also be difficult, as the genetics behind the pattern are still not fully understood, making it difficult to predict the likelihood of producing brindle offspring.

Identifying brindle horses can be challenging, as the pattern may not be visible until the horse sheds its winter coat. While the brindle pattern is not associated with any specific breed, it has been observed in various breeds, such as Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Appaloosas.

Picture of an amber champagne horse.
Amber Champagne

Champagne

Champagne horses are a rare and unique color that has recently gained popularity. They are known for their unique coloring, with a metallic sheen, lightened mane, and tail. But it’s not just their coat color that sets them apart.

The skin of Champagne-diluted horses is also unique, with a pinkish or lavender tone that becomes speckled as the horse ages. This speckling is most noticeable around the eyes, muzzle, and genitalia.

Champagne horses are found in various breeds, including Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, and Draft Horses. The genetics behind producing Champagne horses involves a dilution gene that lightens the coat color and gives it a metallic sheen. If you’re lucky enough to spot a Champagne horse, its striking appearance and unique characteristics will catch your eye.

Here is a good YouTube video showing 5 rare horse colors.

YouTube video

Other Rare Horse Colors

When it comes to horse colors, some are truly rare and unique. Some of these rare horse colors include pearl, silver dapple, and sooty. These colors can be found in various breeds, such as the Arabian and the Icelandic horses.

The genetics behind producing these equine colors can be complex, but generally, they are caused by specific gene mutations that affect pigment production in the hair. While these rare colors can be stunning, they also present unique challenges.

For example, some colors may be more prone to sunburn or skin irritations. Additionally, breeding for these colors can be tricky due to the complex genetics involved. Nonetheless, these rare colors continue to fascinate horse lovers and are a testament to the diversity and beauty of horses.

pearl horse
Arsdelicata, CC BY-SA 3.0 Pearl Horse

Pearl

Pearl is a rare and unique horse coat color that’s characterized by a metallic sheen on the hair. The coat appears almost iridescent, with a lustrous and shiny appearance that sets it apart from other horse colors.

Pearl horses can range in shades from a light cream to a darker bronze or chocolate hue, making each one truly unique. The Pearl gene is a dilution gene found in certain horse breeds, including American Quarter Horses, American Paint Horses, and Peruvian Paso.

It’s also present in Iberian horse breeds like Lusitanos and Andalusians. Unlike dominant genes, the Pearl gene is recessive, meaning a horse must inherit two copies of the gene to show visible effects. Horses with one copy of the Pearl gene do not display the color.

This dilution gene is located at the same locus as the cream gene, which creates a pale apricot color on horses with two copies of the Pearl gene. Pearl horses are particularly striking in the sunlight.

While they are undoubtedly beautiful and eye-catching, breeding for the Pearl color can present unique challenges, such as identifying gene carriers and avoiding inbreeding to prevent genetic disorders.

Picture of a silver dapple mare and her foal running in a pasture.
Silver dapple mare and foal

Silver dapple

Silver dapple is a rare and unusual coat color found in certain horse breeds. Horses with this color have a striking and unique appearance, with a dark, chocolate-colored coat and a mane and tail that are almost silver or gray in color.

This color is created by a dilution gene that affects the black base coat color and dilutes the mane and tail to a silvery gray or flaxen color, while the body color turns into a chocolaty brown, sometimes with dapples. This gene is also associated with Multiple Congenital Ocular Abnormalities.

The silver dapple color is most commonly seen in breeds such as the Rocky Mountain Horse, Norwegian Fjord, and Icelandic Horse. These horses have been selectively bred for this color, which has become the breed’s defining characteristic. However, silver dapples can also occur in other breeds due to natural genetic variation.

While the silver dapple color is undoubtedly eye-catching and unique, it can also present some challenges. It can be difficult to accurately identify silver dapple horses, as their appearance can vary depending on factors such as age, time of year, and grooming.

Silver dapple and gray dapple horses are not the same. Gray dapple horses result from the gray gene, which causes a horse’s coat to progressively lighten with age, often resulting in a dappled appearance before turning completely white.

Picture of a Connemara that has a sooty coat color.
Satu Pitkänen, CC BY-SA 3.0 Sooty horse color

Sooty

Sooty is a color that gives a horse’s coat a smoky or hazy appearance, often concentrated in certain areas such as the mane or legs. It is a rare and unusual horse coat color that is not often seen.

The sooty gene is responsible for this coloring and affects the distribution of black pigment on the coat. Horses with the sooty gene have a coat color that appears to be darker than the base color, with a smoky or charcoal-like appearance.

This can create a striking contrast between the lighter and darker areas of the coat. The sooty gene can be found in various breeds, including Appaloosas, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds.

While sooty horses are not a breed, they are certainly unique and eye-catching. Breeding for this trait can be challenging, as the sooty gene can be difficult to identify and pass down to offspring.

Picture of a horse competing in dressage.
Sooty Bay

Conclusion

Bay, chestnut, and gray are the most common horse colors we see, but rare horse coat colors are a fascinating aspect of equine diversity. From the striking patterns of Appaloosas to the iridescent sheen of pearl horses, these unique colors offer a glimpse into various breeds’ genetic makeup and history.

These rare coat colors serve as a reminder of the endless beauty that exists within the equine world. Whether you’re an avid horse enthusiast or just appreciate the awe-inspiring nature of horses, exploring the world of equine coat colors can be enlightening.

FAQs

What is the most popular horse color?

The most popular horse color varies by region and breed, but bay and chestnut are generally considered to be the most common horse colors.

What is the rarest color of a horse?

Horses with true white coats are considered the rarest color by many horse enthusiasts. However, the title for the rarest horse color is subjective. That being said, colors such as silver dapple, pearl, and certain shades of roan and appaloosa are also extremely rare.

What is a rare horse breed?

A rare horse breed has a small population worldwide and is in danger of becoming extinct. Examples of rare horse breeds include the Akhal-Teke, Caspian, Knabstrupper, and Marwari. Some rare breeds are highly valued for their unique characteristics, and efforts are being made to preserve them.