What Age Do Horses Gray Out?

Gray horses are dark when young but they lighten as they age. Most horses gray out by an average age of 10 or 12. Some horses gray faster or slower than this, some never turn grey or white in a proper way. Some breeds and lines have exceptionally fast graying. We will discuss more about this thing in this article.

The Process of Graying in Horses

The process of graying in horses is the same with why our own hair goes grey with age. In humans and horses, hairs do not grow forever but are regularly replaced instead. In the case of human hair, each hair grows in one to three years before it is fully shed and replaced. New pigment cells need to be produced to color the hair every time a hair grows. These pigment cells proliferate from precursor cells. But we only have limited supplies. As we age, we run out of pigment cells. It leaves our hair a paler shade and eventually white. Horses without the gray gene go through this same process. They begin to lose pigment in their hair with age. But horses with grey gene have a surprising mutation that speeds up this process.

Grey Horse Breeds

Grey can be found in a large proportion of modern horse breeds. But like black breeds, there are a few which are known specifically for their glorious grey coat. A grey horse is generally born with color. But its coat is affected by a grey modifier. It means that with every shedding, there is more and more grey hair in their coat. It is slowly making them lighter and lighter until they go almost pure white. You can get an idea of how old a gray horse is by how dark his coat is.

The gray gene causes continuous depigmentation of the hair. It often results in a coat color that is almost completely white by the age of 6-8 years. Horses that inherit progressive gray can be born with any color. Then, they gradually begin to show white hairs mixed with the colored throughout the body.

Gray Facts

  • As the horse age, grey modifier removes pigment from hairs and skin
  • Pigment is deposited in the gut and intestines
  • Graying differs between horses and breeds
  • First signs of graying are often seen around the eyes
  • The grey gene is dominant. It does not skip generations

Rare Horse Colors

Albino Horses

Pure albino gene is fatal in horses. They do not develop properly in the utero. If they survive until birth, they die shortly after.

White Horses

A true white horse is very rare. A white animal can carry a white gene and give it to their offspring. It takes two parents with white genes to produce a pure white horse.

Black Horses

There are two types of black horses, fading black and non-fading black. Fading black horses fade out with age. But a non-fading horse retains their deep black color throughout their life. And that is what makes them rare.

Buckskin Horses

Buckskin color comes from the addition of a creme dilution gene on a bay. Even a single dilution of a creme gene is able to produce blue eyes. They are also rare because they are reliant on creme gene. This gene is elusive and can be difficult to reproduce even if both parents carry it.

Chocolate Palomino

It is usually the result of a paring between a palomino and a liver chestnut animal. It is considered a palomino because it is created by the creme dilution gene.

Silver Dapple Horses

The silver dapple color is a result of a silver dilution gene on a black base. It is indeed a rare color. Gaited and mountain breeders call it chocolate. Iceland breeders call it blue silver.

Flaxen Chestnut Horses

It is a horse with a chestnut base affected by a flaxen color modifier which turns the mane and tail flaxen in color. This color modifier only affects chestnut animals. It is still a mystery gene that is believed to be recessive. This modifier is often found in Haflinger Horses.

Grey Shades

The graying gene is found in all breeds of horse. It has the ability to mask all other colors or patterns. Pinto, appaloosa and roan white patterns are included. The graying process is like that of humans. The animals are born with their base color and become gray with age. The process often starts when foals shed their coat. But can wait several years to show. Graying will progress at different rates in different horses. But horses will eventually turn white.

Every grey horse will go through a variety of stages during the graying out process. It also varies by horse, breed and local conditions. The different stages are categorized below.

Steel or Iron Gray

This is in the early graying process on a black base. It is a sign that the horse is still young. The horse will sometimes have a bluish tint. It can be mistaken for a grullo or blue roan.

Rose Gray

This is in the early graying process on a bay or chestnut base. The coat will sometimes have a rosy or pink shade. They can be mistaken for a red roan.

Dapple Gray

This is the second stage of greying. It occurs between the ages of 4 to 12. Any base color can display dapples. They are patches of the base color surrounded by grey hairs.

Fleabitten Gray

As gray animals age and become whiter, some will keep flecks of their base color. Fleabitten grays are rarer than regular grays. Their spots can change or even pop up after the graying process is complete.

White Gray

This is the final stage of the greying process. It occurs when all pigment in the hair is gone. A white grey coat denotes a mature animal. At this stage, it is usually impossible to tell what their original base color was.

Takeaway

We know how human hair turns grey and eventually white with age. In general, horses show a similar phenomenon of hair silvering with age. But it starts at, or soon after, birth and continues until all the pigment in the body hair, mane, and the tail is gone. The speed of color loss varies. Horses that have two gray genes often go white faster than horses with only a single copy of the gray gene.

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