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I took my grandson with me to visit our neighbor and check the progress of a young American Paint horse. My grandson noticed the horse’s blue eyes and asked what other horse breeds and colors also have blue eyes.
Blue eyes are found in most horse breeds and many colors. However, blues eyes are most often seen in light-colored Quarterhorses and Paints. The reason is likely because blue eyes result from a double-dilute coat color caused by a creme gene.
Some people like blue-eyed horses, and others think they’re too sensitive to the sun and inherently crazy. The truth may surprise you.
Horse breeds with blue eyes
Most horse breeds produce blue eyes; however, it rarely occurs in some. They are most common in breeds with white spotting in their coats, cremellos, and perlinos.
That’s not to say they don’t occur in other coat colors; it’s just not as common; for example, they are seen on dark-colored horses, but infrequently.
A registry for them was established to understand better these unique animals, the Blue-Eyed Horse Association (BEHA. The BEHA accepts horses of any breed so long as it has at least one blue eye easily identified in a photograph. They also take ponies.
Blue-eyed horses of many breeds are members of their registry, including Paints, Pintos, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Tennessee Walking Horses, and Gypsy Vanners.
Horse coat colors and blue eyes
There is a relation between coat color and blue eyes. Horses with blue eyes tend to have light coats or white spots. These are the two most common coat patterns but not the only ones.
Horses in various colors can have blue eyes, including brown, chestnut, and palomino horses, but it’s rare, and they often have white face markings. Let’s turn now to the horses that are more likely to have blue eyes.
Light colored horses
Light-colored horses with blue eyes typically have a double dilution coat color caused by the creme gene. Horses with two copies of the cream gene are called double-dilutes or blue-eyed creams,
The double dilution creme gene washes out the horse’s base color and reduces the animal’s skin’s pigmentation. The eyes of double-dilute gene horses have pale blue eyes and pink skin.
However, a double-dilute horse’s pink skin is different from unpigmented pink skin under white hair, and these horses range in color from off-white to rust.
Cremellos and perlinos are examples of horses with double-diluted creme genes and commonly have blue eyes. A cremello has a cream-colored coat with an almost white tail.
The base color for cremello horses is chestnut. If, instead, the horse had only one creme dilution gene, it would be a palomino. Perlinos have a bay base coat color with double dilution creme genes.
This combination produces a horse with a cream coat with points with a red tinge. A single dilution on a bay base produces a buckskin.
Horse with white marking and spots
Paints, pintos, and horses with white faces often have blue eyes even without the double diluted coat gene. Paints and pinto with bald faces such as overos commonly have blue eyes.
Overo’s can be further categorized as frame, sabino, or splash. There are distinct differences between these overo horses’ coat patterns, but they all have some white on their heads, and many are blue-eyed.
The cause of their blue eyes is decreased pigmentation in their iris.
Why do some horses have blue eyes?
Horses’ eye color is determined by genetics. If a horse has a double-dilute coat color caused by the creme gene, it will have two light-colored eyes that look blue.
The color of the eyes is exhibited in their iris. In equines and most mammals, the iris controls the amount of light that reaches the retina. It is the circular form surrounding the pupil.
The color of a horse’s iris is dependant on the amount of the pigment, melanin. The denser the pigment in their iris, the darker their eye color. Light-colored eyes, blue, green, and grey, have less melanin in their iris.
There are some horses with different amounts of pigment in each eye. When this happens, an animal may have one blue eye and one brown eye; this is called complete heterochromia.
Horses can also have different parts of the same eye in various colors; it is called segmental heterochromia when this happens.
That brings us back to the double diluted coat color. This gene applies two dilution genes to a horse’s coat color and affects pigment density in the iris.
Most of this is conjecture because there is no complete understanding of why some horses have blue eyes. But the double dilution color coat genes are commonly found in horses with two blue eyes.
What problems do horses with blue eyes have?
Horses with blue eyes are not any more susceptible to most eye diseases than horses with dark eyes. A 2014 study looked at the prevalence of eye-related diseases in blue-eyed horses.
The study compared their finding to a similar study of brown-eyed horses. The researchers determined that horses with blue eyes have a higher chance of developing ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) than horses with brown eyes but are not any other eye diseases.
Ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a form of cancer that affects horses’ eyes and eyelids and is the second most common cancer in horses. UV exposure is a risk factor in the development of SCC.
SCC often displays as tumors in the outer layer of skin, conjunctival, or corneal cells. The horses at most risk are ones without pigment in the skin that surrounds their eyes.
Blue-eyed horses often have pink skin around their eyes, making them susceptible to UV exposure and ocular squamous cell carcinoma damage.
In a nutshell, blue-eyed horses are not more likely to develop diseases that affect their vision than horses with brown, hazel, or green eyes.
To reduce the risks associated with SCC, put UV-protective fly masks on your horse and stabled them during peak sunlight hours.
Sensitivity to light
Blue-eyed horses’ vision is not any different than their brown-eyed counterparts. Ultra-violet sun rays do affect the skin surrounding their eyes if the skin is pink.
But not all horses with blue eyes have pink skin surrounding their eyes. So, their iris’s blue color is not more sensitive to light, but the skin around the eyes is.
Are blue eyes rare in horses?
Rare is a subjective term; if you’re asking if they are listed as endangered, the answer is no, they aren’t rare. However, most horses have brown eyes; blue eyes are rare in the general horse population.
You won’t find many blue eyes in popular horse breeds like Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Morgans, or many others. And even though you do see some blue-eyed quarter horses, they aren’t common.
However, blue eyes are frequently found in pinto, paints, cremellos, and perlinos.
Why do some horses have one blue eye?
Horses have one blue eye because of a benign genetic mutation affecting pigments’ development in the animal’s iris. This trait is called complete heterochromia.
Complete heterochromia is most often seen in paints and pinto horses. There are also other types of heterochromia, segmental and central. Segmental displays as an off-colored patch in the animals’ iris.
Central heterochromia is the most common. It is an iris of two colors. The primary color of the iris is different than a thin ring surrounding the pupil of the eye.
Blue-eyed horses are frequently found in horses with a double dilution creme gene and with white spotting. They aren’t prone to eye disease any more than a brown horse. However, the skin around their eyes has less pigment and is susceptible to skin cancer from UV rays.