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Color Combinations

AKA: Composite Colors

Copyright and "Up to Date" Note:

Please note that all of the text information on this page was originally composed by me unless otherwise referenced, and was typed with great thought.  I have read books and many educational web sites to contribute to my knowledge base.  Some of the content was created in the late 1990's, and may need to be updated. With 300+ pages in this web site, I can't remember which pages need updates all the time. If you see an out-of-date page, let me know so I can update it.

Some photos were donated by people that have horses with color examples needed to provide educational content. For that reason, permission is not granted for anyone else to use photos from these pages.

Please feel free to link to this page, but do not copy the content and place it on your site.

"UP TO DATE" Note:  Some of the color/informational pages on my site have not been updated for a long time due to my lack of free time to do so. 
I am leaving the pages up because they are still helpful. BUT, some of the terminology is incorrect and there is also NEW knowledge available regarding color genetics. Some day, I will update these pages...when time allows.

Click here to learn more.

Homozygous Colors     Color Combinations     Exceptions

Have you ever seen a horse that appeared to be a combination of two different colors?  Or a horse that had 100% colored foals?  How about a stallion who threw foals of a color that you would never have guessed, based upon how he looked (phenotype) and the colors of the mares he bred? These horses might be examples of horses that carry more than one color-modifying gene.  This might be happening in one or both of two ways:

  • They may carry two identical color modifiers (homozygous for a trait), or

  • There may be two or more different color modifiers working in combination.

Heated arguments have happened over horse color.  Many a long-time breeder has made the mistake of calling a sooty buckskin a grullo, or a graying horse a roan.  Knowing what color a horse really is can help you look like you know what you're doing (instead of....well...looking inept), and can also help people (who have unusually-colored breeding stock) understand what to expect in their foals' colors.

It would take a couple chapters of a genetics book to describe all the combinations and the why's of them, but  here's a shortened summary of what might go on with those unusually-colored horses.

Homozygous colors

Horses all are variations of a very few base colors.  Some say all horses are a variation of sorrel or black, while others include bay in those base colors.  To avoid going into more genetics here, I'll include 3 base colors from which all other colors evolve:  sorrel, bay, and black.

A horse that is homozygous for a color means that the horse carries a matched pair of alleles for a certain color, and that all of its foals will receive one of those traits.  Many of those traits can be seen visually.  For example...horses that are homozygous for black will have 100% black-legged offspring.*  A homozygous roan will have 100% roan foals.*  A horse that is homozygous for the creme gene will have nearly all buckskin and palomino foals, and maybe a few smoky blacks.*

In order to be homozygous for a trait, BOTH parents of the horse must have had that same trait.

That means that a homozygous roan must have two roan parents.  A homozygous gray must have two gray parents.  A homozygous black must have both parents with black legs.*  Registration papers can be wrong, but the parents themselves must both carry the same trait to have a foal that is homozygous for the trait.

Why is this important?  It isn't, for most horses.  It is mainly important to those horses that are of breeding quality and who are therefore used for breeding.   Knowing a horse's homozygous status for color-affecting genes just allows you to have some predictability of offspring colors.  Being homozygous for a trait does NOT constitute breeding quality!  But it does help you predict and determine foal colors.

To learn more about what homozygous means, click here.

This table sums up what you might expect from horses that are homozygous for these traits:

If a horse is homozygous for this trait.... ...you can expect to see these colors of foals all the time.*
(not a color modifier, but one homozygous trait that you might see)
Any body color, but always with black legs, mane, tail
Roan Red roan, bay roan, and blue roan
Gray Can be born any color, but will eventually turn gray, white (with dark skin), or fleabitten gray
Buckskin, palomino, or smoky black
Dun factor Red dun, dun, or grullo
Agouti Sorrel, bay, and variations of those base colors, but NEVER black, grullo, or blue roan
Champagne Varying shades of champagne
Silver Dapple (coming soon...I haven't researched that yet)

Examples of Homozygous Horses:

Homozygous for Creme, Homozygous for Black, and Homozygous for Dun Factor! 
AQHA Macriffik, left.  AQHA Driftwood Amos, right.
Homozygous for Black

Looks like a normal roan.
Homozygous for Roan

Could be many colors, but NOT black, blue roan, or grullo.
Homozygous for Agouti

Looks like any other gray.
Homozygous for Gray

Homozygous for Champagne

Homozygous for Dun Factor


Other genes can cover up or alter visual expression in horses that carry certain color genes.  For example, a perlino or smoky creme foal can carry a black gene (or even be homozygous for black) but will still have white/cream legs.  A gray gene will change black legs to gray or white over the years, though the horse still carries the black gene if it received it from a parent.  Combinations with other colors may also change what you see.

To learn more about what homozygous means, click here.

Color Combinations (aka "Composite Colors")

There isn't any genetic law that says that you can't have a horse with multiple color-altering genes.  All horses' genotype (genetic) color stems from their base color (sorrel, bay, or black).  But the phenotype (how it looks visually) can be modified by one or more color-modifying genes.  When horses receive more than one modifying gene, it can really get difficult--even emotional--when trying to determine its color.

Think of it as adding food coloring to water.  If you drop blue food coloring into water, what color will the water turn?  Blue!  But what if you add yellow color to the blue water?  There's no law against adding a second modifying color to the blue water, so do it!  It then changes to green.  You can keep on adding colors, and the water will keep changing for a couple more turns.

Horse colors are similar.  If you add a dun gene to a bay foal's genetics, the foal will be dun instead of a bay.  But if you add a gray gene to that dun, you will get a "dun turning gray."  (This horse should properly be registered as a gray, even though it may look more like a dun when it is young...eventually, it will turn gray if it inherited a gray gene.)  What if you added roan gene to that dun foal instead of gray gene?  You would have a dun roan.  AQHA would register this foal as a dun, though in the summer, its roan coloring would be easily seen.   Some color combinations you might have seen and wondered about include:

  • buckskin roan

  • gray roan (will turn gray)

  • dunskin (dun + buckskin/creme)

  • dunalino (red dun + palomino/creme)

  • grullo roan

  • graying palomino (will turn gray)


Blue Yahooty Hancock (left), and two of his daughters.
Crowheart WYO Boy, an grullo roan stallion (right).
Grullo + Roan
Weanling (left), yearling (right)
(will eventually turn gray, but can also throw roan foals if bred)
Gray + Roan
Dunalino: Red dun + Palomino (red dun + creme)
The palomino on the right had a red dun foal from a black stallion. Both of her parents are grullo, and she has had 6 dun-factored foals in a row as of 2007.
Dun + Buckskin (dun + creme)

(will eventually turn gray, but can also throw dun-factored foals if bred)
Gray + Grullo

Champagne + Dun Factor

Champagne + Creme
Gold Cream and Amber Cream Champagnes

  Blue roan quarter horse

Gray-blue eyes at birth, which darken to brown in a couple months.
Looks like a normal blue roan, but throws palomino and buckskin
Blue roan + Creme

Grullo + Creme (smoky grullo)

(Will eventually turn solid gray, but can throw dun-factored foals if bred.  Note white face and gray at bottom of the tail)
Gray + Dun

"Flying X 6"
Roan+Gray+Probable Dun genes
Note the upside-down "V" above the knees, which is a good indication of roaning.

Gray+Dun with possible Roan and Cream genes

Champagne + Appaloosa pattern
Foal color, left.  Yearling, right.
Dun + Roan

Palomino + Roan
A Hancock-bred colt in Wyoming sports a shiny palomino coat with roan.

Gray + Dun Factor
Will eventually turn gray, and should lose dorsal stripe as graying progresses.

Smoky Black
Black + Cream Gene

Possible gray-blue eyes at birth, which darken to brown in a couple months.
Looks much like a normal black, but throws palomino and buckskin

Black + Cream (smoky black)
Yes, this foal is black! He is actually a "smoky black" mini foal.
A smoky black is a black horse that also has one cream gene. The cream gene turns bays to buckskin, and sorrels to palominos. On a black horse, the cream gene does not markedly change the color, though we feel that most smoky blacks sun fade more than non-smoky blacks.

There are many, many more combinations of colors.  Some are obvious, and some are not (for example, a grullo, black, or blue roan might also carry the creme gene, but you can't tell unless you test it or learn via its offspring).  But the next time you see an oddly-colored horse, try to pick apart its characteristics and see if you can figure out what modification(s) have been applied to that base coat!

Photo Ownership Notice:
All of the photos on this page are the property of Cedar Ridge QH's or were sent to us with permission.
If someone has sent a photo to us for use on our pages that belongs to you,
and if they did not have permission to do so, please let us know.
If you are interested in contributing a photo, we thank you! But please do not alter the photo or place your contact
information on it. Our educational pages are for just that...education. Not advertisements. Thanks!

Color and Genetic Testing Labs

There are many laboratories in the US and around the world that do horse color testing, disease testing, etc. When you choose a lab, make sure it is a reputable one! There are several university-related labs, which I recommend, and many private labs (some of which can NOT be recommended!). Here are a few I'm familiar with:

University Laboratories:

Private Laboratories:

  • Animal Genetics, Inc. http://www.horsetesting.com/Equine.asp

  • Pet DNA of Arizona: http://www.petdnaservicesaz.com/Equine.html ONLY tests for Brown in horses (1/2010)

    DNA Diagnostics (aka Shelterwood Labs, and also affiliated somehow with Catgenes.Org)
    http://www.dnadiagnostics.com/  DNA Diagnostics/Shelterwood Labs offers a test for multiple characteristics at one price. I had seen a fair bit of chatter online about how they cash the checks and don't give the results of  the test. So, I tested them by paying for three horse tests. Guess what...they sent back two of my horses' test results and after 4 1/2 months, the third was still missing in action! Repeated phone calls and e-mails were ignored by the lab. Finally, five months after the test, someone gave me the results for the third horse. 
    If you choose to use this lab, my opinion is to only send them as much money as you are willing to lose, in case you don't receive your results. Update: A friend just called that used this lab and she still hasn't received her results after many months of waiting, phone calls, and e-mails. 3/2010. I know of another horse that tested homozygous for black that is not homozygous, as he has produced sorrel and palomino foals. In both cases, Shelterwood does not return their repeated phone calls.

How To Donate Your Educational Photo:

  • If you are wondering what color your foal is, click here. We are having a lot of people send us pictures for this page where it is obvious that the foal owners don't know what color their foal is. Please, only send us photos for this page if you know your foal's color. If you don't know what color your foal is, click here.

  • If you foal is a Paint or Appaloosa, we will only use it if the vast majority of the foal's body is not included in the white patterned areas, as this page is intended to help people determine foal colors, so the colored hairs must be very obvious.

  • This is an educational page, and photos should show a safe environment and healthy horses. I don't even know how to respond when I receive photos of wormy, skinny horses in pastures littered with abandoned cars, farm equipment, wire fences laying on the ground, and falling-down buildings. I simply can't put photos like that on an educational page like this, where people come to learn.

  • Please note that this is not intended to be a free opportunity for you to advertise your breeding operation, and instead is an educational page. We will not use photos with watermarks/writing on them. There are many free advertising sites on the Internet at which you can advertise your farm/ranch/horses. Also, only send photos of foals you own. This way, there won't be copyright problems.

Feel free to click the "Send Your Photo" logo at the left
to send a good photo or two to us for inclusion on our color pages.



Photo Ownership Notice:
All of the photos on this page are the property of Cedar Ridge QH's or were sent to us with permission.
If someone has sent a photo to us for use on our pages that belongs to you,
and if they did not have permission to do so, please let us know.
If you are interested in contributing a photo, we thank you! But please do not alter the photo or place your contact
information on it. Our educational pages are for just that...education. Not advertisements. Thanks!


This page last updated 06/29/16
If you notice this date being 2 years or older, please let us know that we need to check out this page!

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Toni Perdew       Bedford, Iowa
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do not call us on the phone with color inquiries for your own horses.
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