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Breeding Horses For Color

Overo, tobiano and leopard/appaloosa complex patterns are all believed to come from dominant genes. In  theory, you can apply a colorful pattern to virtually any "type" of horse you like, as though putting frosting on the cake.

Genetic researchers are discovering Nature's secrets for producing horses with tobiano, overo and appaloosa horse breed patterns. Horse breeders are putting the recipes to work.

Horsemen and women have long been fascinated by the various coat patterns displayed by the equine species, from the zebra's stripes, to the Appaloosa breed's spots and varnishes, to the Paint breed's bold splashes of color. While it may sometimes seem that such breed patterns appear randomly in nature, the more we learn about genetics, the more we've been able to reproduce these patterns in the horses we breed. Although we can't yet precisely control how these patterns are expressed (sometimes as lots of white, and sometimes as just a little), that knowledge is adding to the popularity of Paints, Pintos and Appaloosas as it reduces the risk of producing "solid-colored" horses.

The fact of the matter is, by selective breeding for dominant traits, we can introduce colorful patterns to virtually any "type" of horse we like… creating tobiano-patterned Saddlebreds, or leopard-spotted warmbloods, if that's what suits our fancy.


There are a lot of myths and old wives tales when it comes to white markings on horses. Some people like the appearance of blazes and white stockings on horses, while others are prejudiced against them. Have you ever heard the saying, "One white foot, buy him. Two white feet, try him. Three white feet, there's some doubt about him. Four white feet, you can do without him." Or: "One white foot, ride him for your life. Two white feet, give him to your wife. Three white feet, give him to your man. Four white feet, sell him if you can."

It is easy to refute such prejudices. Secretariat and Northern Dancer, two of the most outstanding racehorses and sires of this century, both had three white feet, and Northern Dancer's outstanding son, The Minstrel, had four. However, it is true that white lower legs are more likely than colored legs to be affected by scratches and photosensitization.

If you breed Paints, Pintos, Appaloosas and Ponies of the Americas, an attractive pattern can make a significant difference in the economic value of your foal crop.

Color genetics are complicated enough when confined to solid-colored horses. However, the rules governing the inheritance of white markings and patterns are even more complex.

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