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This is a non-commercial, independent website, owned and written by Nancy Kerson, for the benefit of actual and potential adopters of BLM Mustangs and Burros and similar animals.

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Working With Wild Horses, Second Edition
Working With Wild Horses
Second Edition 
Printed Book $23
$7.50 Download

Now available on iTunes!

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by Nancy Kerson, a private
citizen - I am not the BLM or anyother branch of  government!

Information about BLM adoptions
is offered as a service, to help
mustangs find homes and to
promote public appreciation of
wild horses and burros.

For information about the BLM
Wild Horse & Burro Program,
please call (866) 4MUSTANGS
or Click HERE

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I have NO horses or burros for
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Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003,
2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008,
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
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Kitty Lauman:
From Wild to Willing:
Using the Bamboo Pole to Gentle Mustangs
More from Lauman Training available now!

2-DVD set: almost 3 hours of instruction!

$39.95 plus $5 shipping/handling = $44.95 total

BUY 2 DVD Set:

Can't Order Online?
No Problem!
Just email us and we'll tell you
how to mail order

Lesley Neuman:
The First Touch
Gentling Your Mustang

Lesley works with 3 wild horses at a BLM adoption, and very clearly explains what is happening, what she is doing, & what she sees in each horse as it progresses. Study this video and you can learn "pressure and release" gentling techniques to gentle your own new mustang!


Help for Burro adopters!
Crystal Ward
Donkey Training

All the basics of gentling, handling, and training. A MUST for new burro adopters! Good for domestic donkeys, too!




A Quick Overview of (Horse) Genetics   l   Horse Color Genetics2 with Charts   l     Equine BASE COLORS (Extension Locus, Dominant and Recessive, Red & Black)   l    The Dominant Color Genes  (Most) l    The Dilution Genes  (Champagne, Cream, Dun, Pearl, Silver)   l     The Recessive Color Genes  (Red, Flaxen)   l    Miscellaneous Color Issues (Brown, Brindle, Curlie, White)
Horse Colors, Color Genes, & Color Patterns

Horses from the 2003 Blue Wings-Seven Troughs gather
Disclaimer: I am not a geneticist. The information on these color pages represents the best scientific info I have been able to locate. Theories and knowledge change over time, and it may be you know something I don't - this site is not intended to be "the last word" in colors, just a guide for those wishing to explore the topic.

Color genetics are the same for all horses, regardless of breed or ancestry.

Since this is a Mustang website,
I use and prefer pictures of wild, or formerly-wild horses wherever possible.

Jump to
of Colors

Colors and color patterns in mustangs are extremely varied, the inheritance of the early Spanish Horses who came in many colors and patterns.
- Dr. Phillip Sponenberg

Horse Color variations are so numerous, and they go by so many names, that it may seem impossibly complicated to understand. But understanding horse coloring does not have to be so hard.

Think of it as LAYERS, like painting with stencils or making wax-resist batik.

You start with a BASE COLOR: it will be one of two: Red or Black. That's all there are.

Every horse is, at base, either red or black.

The base color is determined by one "gene" - the Extension Locus. With the dominant form of Extension, the horse can be either red or black, but in reality will be black, except in the presence of a second "gene" - Agouti, which makes Bay, by restricting the black pigment to the "Points: (ear tips, mane, tail, lower legs).

In its recessive form the Extension Locus creates red pigment. All other colors and color patterns are created by the actions of genetic modifiers on these two base pigments.

photo: Andi Harmon
RED (chestnut, sorrel)

"Chrome" is a term that refers to white markings on the face (stars, snips, blazes, aprons) and lower legs (socks, etc).

Chrome is determined genetically (by a color blocking agent) that may be an entirely separate component to coloring, or it may be part of certain pinto patterns.

Chrome is not considered in identifying the base color.

A horse may be any color or combination of colors and also have chrome - or not.

What About BAY?
Because many color genes affect BAY differently than Red or Black, BAY is also considered a "Base Color" although genetically it is the result of a genetic modifier ("Agouti") on the base color Black.



BROWN is not a color gene in itself. Brown comes about in many ways:

The most common useage of the term "Brown" in horses refers to a black horse or donkey with tan or lighter muzzle, and lighter mottling around the flanks.

Smokey Black may appear "brown."

Silver Dapples on Black creates "Chocolate"

Dark Red or Bay horses also appear "brown"

Here's a quick Pictorial Overview
of all the Known Horse Color "Genes"* (*common use, not technically correct) and how they affect  each Base Color:
Click on a link to go to a page about that subject:





AGOUTI (BAY modifier)
no effect on red;
may be carried "silently" by red


Agouti On Black
Creates BAY

Bay can range from almost buckskin to  almost black.

Bay foals are born with light legs and tails

BAY & "Wild Type Bay"A+)

(One of the Four  DILUTION factors)
Creme is a mixed dominant, creating one effect if heterozygous and a more intensified effect if homozygous.

Single Creme: Palomino

Single Creme:
Smoky Black

(sometimes hard to identify - can be positively identified by genetic testing for Creme)

Single Creme : Buckskin

Double Creme on Red:

Double Creme on Black: Smokey Cream
(Looks Cremello or Perlino but can be identified by genetic testing for Black and Agouti)

This Champion Welsh Stallion owned by Shirley Brand was tested by UC Davis to be Smokey Cream

photo: Greg Schultz
Double Creme on Bay: Perlino

Creme can also team with other dilutions (dun, silver, pearl, champagne) and other patterns (pinto, roan, etc) to create a spectrum of colors.



(another DILUTION Gene)

Champagne on Red =Gold

Champagne on Black

Champagne + Bay


Champagne + Creme on Red =  Ivory

photo: American Cream Draft Horses
Colonial Williamsburg Sour Cream (CW Sour Cream), reg. #230, and the colt is Colonial Williamsburg Cream Soda (CW Cream Soda), reg. #299

Champagne on Smoky Black


Champagne + Buckskin


Dun on Red = Red Dun
Claybank Dun

Dun can also team up with other color patterns for interesting effects:

Red Dun Sabino

Dun on Black = Grulla/o

 Zebra Dun, Bay Dun, Classic Dun







Bay dun Tobiano

Dun on Palomino: "Dunalino"
"Linebacked Palomino"

Dun on Smokey Black
Looks light Grullo

This is a wild horse - the only way to tell for sure what color it is would be a genetic test - it could be a dunskin, too.

Dun on Buckskin
"Dunskin "


is a recessive that dilutes red mane and tail to blonde or white

 No effect on Black but may be carried "silently"

 No effect on Bay but may be carried "silently"

(Part of the OVERO paint/pinto group)

If you're breeding Frames, be sure to read: Overo Lethal White Syndrome


Grey/gray is a progressive color - actually a color replacing gene.

The foal may be any color (depending on the rest of its genetics) at birth. The gray gene causes the color to be gradually replaced by white hairs, bringing the horse through a roan-ish phase, then glorious dapple gray, then lighter and lighter until the horse is either almost pure white (but with black skin) or "fleabitten" gray (white with dark freckles or specks)

The famous "White Stallions" of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, and the famous Lippizanner Stallions are grays in the final, mature white form.




Appaloosa coloring is complex, and recent research indicates that more than one gene is at work. Appaloosa coloring is not always stable throughout life, often becoming a "varnish" pattern at maturity.

Photo: Cody Pendant

Few Spot


Varnish Roan







PANGARE (Mealy Factor)

"Belgian Sorrel"

Maybe Seal Brown
(one theory)

Wild Type Bay

Angelo from Sinbad, Utah HMA


PEARL ("Barlink Factor")

Pearl was long thought to be just an especially shiny, metallic-looking version of Creme. Like Creme, Pearl is a mixed dominant, creating one effect if heterozygous and a more intensified effect if homozygous. Pearl can also team with other dilutions (dun, silver, champagne) to create a spectrum of effects.





Bay Rabicano

showing "skunktail"


Aidan from Devils Garden, adopted by Melissa Mattis
Strawberry Roan

Blue Roan

Bay Roan

(Part of the OVERO PINTO group)

(The fourth DILUTION Gene)

AKA Silver Dapples, Taffy, Chocolate

No effect on Red;
may be carried "silently" by red




(Part of the OVERO PINTO group)

Robin, owned by Marcia Grahn


Also responsible for Dappling

Chocolate / Sooty Palomino

Liver Chestnut

"Silver" manes on certain palominos and flaxen chestnuts

Does not show up on Black


Seal Brown maybe


"fake dorsal stripe"

(One of the Pinto/Paint patterns)


Ponokamita, one of the "Internet Six" older South Steens studs sold under the new 2005 sale rider

(Dominant White)

Genetic agent that completely blocks all color. But a genetically White horse has normally-colored eyes. A white horse is NOT an albino.

The Major Sub-Sections of the Color part of this website are:
A Quick Overview of Horse Genetics
Horse Color Genetics Charts 2
Equine Base Colors
Dominant Horse Color Genes
The Dilution Genes
Recessive Color Genes
Rare & Miscellaneous

Equine Base Colors includes:
Black  l  Red (sorrel, chestnut)

Within Dominant Color genes you will find these sub-chapters:
Agouti/Bay  Black  Gray  Pangare  White Spotting Patterns  Roan  Rabicano  Sooty 

Although most of the Dilution Genes are dominants (Creme is "Mixed Dominant"), they have their own section:

The Dilution Genes includes:
Champagne   Creme   Dun   Pearl   Silver

Subchapters of Creme inlcude:
Single Dilutes: Palomino, Buckskin, Smokey Black
Double Dilutes: Cremello, Perlino, Smokey Cream  

White Spotting Patterns includes:
The Appaloosa Complex   Tobiano  The Overo Complex

and Pintaloosa

The Overo Complex includes:
Frame   Sabino   Splash  Tovero

plus a page about
How to Tell the Overos Apart

Frame includes a special page about Overo Lethal White Syndrome

Recessive Color Genes includes:
 Red  Flaxen  Pearl

Miscellaneous Color Issues includes:
Brindle   Brown   Curly (not a color, but...)   White   Dun or Buckskin? 
Somatic Mutations & Chimeras





Main Sections of this Horse Color Site:
A Quick Overview of (Horse) Genetics   l   Horse Color Genetics2 with Charts   l     Equine BASE COLORS    l   
The Dominant Color Genes   l    The Dilution Genes     l     The Recessive Color Genes    l    Miscellaneous Color Issues

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copyright 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015  Nancy Kerson, all rights reserved - I'm happy to share, just need to be asked and have credit given where due.

Disclaimer: Horses are inherently dangerous. Use the information contained within this website at your own risk.