Horse Coat Color: Basic, Common, and Rare

Last Updated on July 27, 2020 by Allison Price

Horse coat colors, markings and patterns topic is extremely vast.

Even people who have been in the horse world for years still continue to learn more about this topic. We will give you an overview of horse coat colors, patterns and markings.

Read on to learn more about horse coat colors.

Basic Colors

The basic colors of horses are Chestnut, Bay, Brown, Black and Gray.

They can be one color when they are young and a different color as they age. This is particular among gray horses. There are different opinions on exact definition. But in general, here are the base colors and their variations.


They are to be the red horses in the horse world. They can look almost orange in color. They can also be almost brown color called “liver chestnut.”

One of the things that sets chestnuts apart is that there is no black in the coat. The mane is always the same shade or lighter than their body. The variations include:

  • Sorrel – horses that are color red of a new penny are sorrel. They have the same colored mane and seldom have white on them.
  • Flaxen – these are chestnuts with a lighter blond mane and tail
  • Liver Chestnut – these horses are darker. They are different from Bay because of their red or flaxen mane.


They range in various shades from reddish to an almost black color. Their mane, legs and tail will be black, unlike chestnut horses.

  • Blood Bay – they have a rich red color along with dark points
  • Dark Bay – dark bay horses are darker brown color
  • Standard – it is somewhere between the colors of the blood bay and dark bay


These are brown with points that generally match the rest of the body and have no black points. It can be a specific term for certain breed registries. There is also a color called seal brown where the horse is almost dark brown. But the black mane and red or lighter colored areas around the face are not included.


Black horses have a black coat, mane and tails. They have no other color except for white markings on the face.

Some black horses’ color fade under the sun but are still considered black. The difference between faded black horses and very dark bays can be seen around the eyes and chin.


Gray horses vary in color as a foal. They lighten as they age.

Their base is dark but some of their hair lightens to white and sometimes with darker spots. Many continue to grey out as they age. And they may become completely white with time. They are different from true white horses because of their dark skin around the areas with thin skin.

  • Iron Gray – they are also known as steel gray. These horses are often younger in age. They have dark gray coat since the amount of white and gray are similar. Horses that start out with a redder coat may be called rose gray.
  • Dapple Gray – the process of greying out in these horses are late. More of the white hairs are expressing themselves. The gray spots are called dapples.
  • Fleabitten Gray – the white overtakes the gray and the gray spots become less common

Horse Coat Colors

  • Buckskin – This is like a bay horse. But its color is not as dark and deep. Buckskins are usually tan having black legs, mane and tail.
  • Roan – They are genetically related to Duns. Roan horses have a darker background color intermixed with white hairs. Roan horses’ head, legs, mane and tail is a darker shade of the base color. If the darker base color is red, it is a red roan. If it’s black, it is said to be a blue roan.
  • Pinto – They have large irregular patches of white markings on a dark base. Or dark markings on a white base.
  • Dun – These are tan, reddish or gold. Their manes and tails are black. And they have a dark stripe down the back from the base of the mane to the base of the tail. They can also have zebra stripes on the legs.

Solid Coat Based Horses

Buckskin and Dun

These terms are often confused with each other. Buckskins and duns both have dorsal stripe down the back. Sometimes they have zebra-like stripes on the legs. But buckskin horses have redder coat. They are different from Bays because of their dorsal and leg stripes. Duns are lighter and more yellow than Buckskins.


Palominos fall under the color breed designation. They can be registered with the palomino associations if they meet the requirements. These horses vary in color. But oftentimes, they are a version of a golden color and they always have a white or flaxen mane and tail.


Cream colors can have the base of any of the above colors. It consists of a range of light colors from a light tan to almost white.


Indeed, white horses are rare. Gray horses that have gone completely white are confused with true white horses. Unlike gray horses, white horses have an unpigmented body. They are born white and stay white for their entire life. They can also have brown and blue eyes.

Mixed Colored Horses

Red Roan

It refers to either strawberry roan or bay roans. They have white hairs mixed with a red colors base. The two types are chestnut or bay. Chestnut based roans have red manes and tails. Bay based roans have black manes and tails. They don’t change in color with age unlike grays.

Blue Roan

Blue roans have black base and black points. Like red roans, they can be distinguished because they don’t change color with time.


Under this term is a variety of horses with spots which are white or dark spots that extend over the parts of the body. Foals often change with time. They are a color breed that can be registered.

Other Variations

Some variations include:

  • Blanket – it has a white area over an area of a horse with a different base coat
  • Blanket with Spots – these horses have a white blanket and darker spots on it
  • Snowflake – these horses have areas or flecks of dark spots on their body. It is often seen in younger horses that will lighten with age.
  • Leopard – it has a blanket over the entire body with spots
  • Appaloosa Roan – a variation of the leopard color. There are intermixed colors. What makes this different from other roans are the dark areas on the bonier areas like the legs and above the hip.
  • Roan Blanket – it is a variation of the roan with a roan colored blanket. This horse may or may not have spots.


There is a wide variety of horse colors. There is an incredible number of horse coat colors, variations and special colors. The ones listed above are some of the colors you are likely to run into. The basic colors can be found in almost any breed. Knowing these colors is important so you can identify the horses you may encounter.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!