You can probably say whether a horse is a sorrel or a bay. And you can probably readily tell the difference between a palomino and a buckskin. But what about a perlino versus a cremello? And what about all those paint variations – overo, tobiano, tovero, sabino? And forget about breeding! How many people can tell you what you might get if you breed a bay roan to a dunskin? Probably very few. Horse coat colors can be complicated, and even the most experienced horse owners might not know some simple facts about horse coat coloration.
But it can be very fun to study horse coat colors, even if you’d just like to be able to say with some certainty what color a certain horse is. If you are breeding, it can be particularly exciting to understand what color foal you might get from a certain cross. So here are some handy resources available to anyone to learn more about horse coat colors:
Each of these books is available online at Amazon.com and some of the other major book retailers. I like each of them for different reason. I hope these very short reviews will help you decide which ones might be best for you.
Horse Color Explained: A Breeders Perspective by Jeannette Gower
Of the several books about horse colors, breeding and genetics I have in my library, I think I enjoy this one the most and find it most useful. It is easily understood and simply written, yet it offers an overview of genetics and how color traits manifest themselves, and how they are passed to offspring. It includes sections on the base colors and the dilute colors, as well as the many patterns of these different colors, including interesting information about roan and grey horses. I think any horse lover would find this book very useful, enjoyable and informative.
Equine Color Genetics by D. Phillip Sponenberg
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Gee! I wish I had taken a college course in horse color genetics!” but never had the chance, this is the book for you. It is a college text book. It feels and smells like a college text book. It weighs as much and costs as much. Nonetheless, it offers you everything you ever wanted to know about horse colors, particularly how they are related to genetics. I promise: if you want to know almost anything on the topic, you will find it in this book.
Horse Color by D. Phillip Sponenberg & Bonnie V. Beaver
You will notice that one of the authors of Horse Color is Sponenberg from the previous text, but this book is not as intimidating. It is, however, somewhat dated and probably only available in used copies. It offers readers the knowledge to identify and classify the colors of horses, but does not dive into genetics. It has an extensive collection of pictures as examples of each of the colors described. If that’s all you are looking for, this may be the book for you.
The Color of Horses by Ben K. Green and Darol Dickinson
This is a beautiful book. Like Horse Color, it is a little older and only available used, but you may find it worth hunting down a copy if you appreciate horse art and love to look at wonderful paintings of horses. The book contains more than 30 full-color illustrations by Darol Dickinson of the various horse colors. It is a great quick reference, but does not describe inheritance and genetics.
If you are a breeder and want to determine what a specific cross will result in as it relates to coat color, there is a great Horse Coat Color Calculator from the company Animal Genetics at: http://www.animalgenetics.us/Equine/CCalculator1.asp
It is very easy to use and gives specific genetic statistical probabilities for the coat color of foals resulting from specific crosses. The more information you have about the prospective sire and dam’s color genetics, the more accurate the results. After entering the color and coat patterns of the parents, it asks for additional information about specific color genetics and then calculates the probabilities of the resulting foal color. I love it!
If you want information about the genetics of a horse you own, Animal Genetics (www.animalgenetics.us) also offers various color tests for a very reasonable fee. All you have to do is pull a few hairs from the mane or tail of your horse and mail them in along with a simple form. I was able to use one of these tests to find out that a particular paint horse I owned was actually a sabino pattern, after everyone I knew had told me it was tobiano. These types of tests can also be performed by several other labs, such as the lab at U.C. Davis (http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/coatcolorhorse.php)
One more great internet find is a fantastic poster by Majnouna at: http://majnouna.deviantart.com/art/Guide-to-Horse-Colors-and-Patterns-243666224
I have never seen a more complete graphic representation of all the possible horse colors and patterns on a single infographic. I am going to buy the poster and hang it in my office!
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