Noble Life

Beginner Basics: Basic Horse Colors


Horses come in many different shapes and sizes…. and colors! Here is a quick list of the basic colors of horses and ponies. Much like The Horse of Many Colors in The Wizard of Oz, the shades of horse coat colors can vary greatly. It should also be noted that not all breeds (or types) of horses can come in all the colors listed below.

Basic Colors:



For a horse to be black, it must be completely black except for white markings. Don’t be fooled, some black horses will fade in the summertime and appear brown or bay. Here’s a clue to tell the difference: a black horse will have black hairs around their eyes and nose or muzzle where a dark chestnut or bay will have lighter ones. Photo by Newlitter (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons



This color comes in many beautiful shades, from light reddish-brown to very dark brown with “black points”. Points refer to the mane, tail, and lower half of the legs. These horses can sometimes almost appear black. A dark bay horse is very dark red or brown with black points and might also be called “black bay”, “mahogany bay”, or “brown”.  A “blood bay” horse is brighter red with black points.

Chestnut or Sorrel


This horse has a reddish-brown to bright red body color but lacks black points. The mane and tail are the same shade as the body, although they can be a slightly lighter or darker shade. This color also has many variations. A “liver chestnut” is a very dark coat color; almost brown. A “blonde” or “light chestnut” has a lighter coat and a pale mane and tail color that is called “flaxen”.



A horse that changes color? That’s right! Grey horses can be born any color, and lighten as they age. Usually “white” horses are greys that are older and have faded to pure white. A grey horse will exhibit many shades of grey over its lifetime. Some terms you may hear: A “steel grey” horse has a coat with evenly mixed white and black hairs. “Rose grey” is a grey horse with a reddish or pinkish tinged color and is generally in the process of greying out. “Dappled grey” is a darker grey horse with lighter rings or circles of color, called dapples. “Flea-bitten grey” is a horse that has greyed out to white and has small red spots over its body. And, no, the flecks do not come from the bites of fleas.

Wait, what about Palomino, Pinto, Buckskin? Don’t worry, there are more great horse colors covered in our next article here:

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The Author:

Alek Majtenyi’s love of horses began at a very young age with pony rides and reading endless horse stories. She started riding English at age 10 and joined The United States Pony Club at age 18 where she earned her C1 Level Rating. While earning her B.A. in English at the University of California, Davis, Alek worked at the UC Davis Equestrian Center giving beginning riding lessons to horse crazy girls and riding horses. She has worked closely with all ages and levels of riders in the last 10 years as the manager of The Tack Room, a small retail shop in Modesto, CA. She currently lives in Oakdale, CA with her German Shepherd Dog, Kyra, and lovely Thoroughbred mare, Miss Vesta.

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