Mia's Painted Dream, owned by Janet & Cliff Tipton

Tobiano spotting is a pattern of white hair with underlying pink skin which can occur with any other coat color, and can occur in combination with other patterns. The pattern is present at birth and stable throughout life.

Tobiano is a coat pattern that is single gene dominant - in other words - a horse needs only to inherit a single Tobiano gene from one parent in order to show the pattern. If the horse carries the gene, it will show it.

Whether the horse carries one (heterozygous) or two (homozygous) Tobiano genes, the pattern will manifest itself.

Tobianos who carry two Tobiano genes (homozygous) may show visual clues, which include "cat track" spotting, "ink spots" etc., but if you want to know for sure, get the horse tested. Homozygous breeding stock is desirable to breeders, as their offspring will always be Tobiano.

This lovely grullo tobiano was shown by the Laumann Family of Oregon at the 2001 National Wild Horse & Burro Show in Reno

This South Steens HMA band band of wild horses
with two tobianos in front

Wild bay tobiano      photo: Andi Harmon


  • head markings like those of a solid-colored horse; their heads may be completely solid, or have a blaze, strip, star or snip. (Extreme facial white, such as Aprons, bald faces, etc. are NOT Tobiano traits.)

  • Generally, all four legs are white, at least below the hocks and knees. 

  • White extends over the topline;  (the reverse of Frame Overo)

  • The tail is usually white at the base, and black or red at the tip.

Heike Stabenow's tobiano Pinto "Majuba"

The Tobiano gene is not related to Overo Lethal White, and will never produce a Lethal White. Qualification: The Tobiano Gene will not produce Lethal WHite. Tobiano Horses, if they also carry  Frame (the gene that causes Lethal White when doubled up on) can and do. But it's the doublihg up on the FRAME gene that does the damage.

This is not to say that horses who show the Tobiano pattern are necessarily free of the OLWS gene, however. Tobiano and Frame Overo are separate genes, and it is both possible and not uncommon for a horse to carry both. The only safe route to avoiding the tragedy of Overo Lethal White syndrome is to have your breeding horses tested!

Sparky is a Tobiano

Red Tobianos at Palomino Valley

The yearling on the right (above, in Palomino Valley photo) was adopted and grew up to be a show champion owned by Katrina Henigan


Both The University of California at Davis and Animal Genetics, Inc. of Florida can test for the presence of Tobiano, Red, Frame, Creme, Silver, Sabino1, and Agouti (Bay). The test for Tobiano can determine whether or not a horse is homozygous of heterozygous (good to know if you are trying to breed for Tobiano).

You can download forms for these tests from their website-- follow
the links from http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu

OR, from the Animal Genetics website



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