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Genetics 000
Dark Colors

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Horse color myths are like cockroaches ...

... they're everywhere, and they're hard to kill.  But, no matter how many people may believe to the contrary, there is no such thing as an "albino" horse, for example.

You may have heard:  "A good horse is never a bad color."  That  saying is not  a myth.  What a horse can do is almost never  limited by its color genetics.

But back to albino.  "Albino" is a gene that exists in mice, for example, and causes ALL PIGMENT (color) TO BE BLOCKED.  This would mean the horse would have no color, even in its eyes. The horse's eyes would then not be blue, but pink or red, like those of albino mice.  This condition does not exist in horses.

There are some horses in which all of the pigment (color) in its visible hair seems to be blocked; but in horses, this is not caused by a universal color-blocker, like albino, but a combination of partial-color-blockers, that is, pinto (or "paint", if you prefer) genes.  These horses almost always have one or two colored spots, however small, usually on the ears or front of the chest, and do have pigment in their eyes (their eyes are not pink or red, but tan, yellow, green or blue).

The lightest dilutions, and the pinto horse with extreme white, will both have various kinds of pink skin, and as with humans, light skin may sunburn.  This only means that, as with any horse, you should provide it some shade.

Not all pink-looking skin is the same.  The pink skin of a dilute horse has a little pigment in it, and is capable of tanning a little.  The pink skin under a white marking, be it a star, a stocking, a "loud" pinto, or a "few spot Appaloosa", however, has no pigment, and therefore is more sensitive to the sun.  The pink skin of an extremely diluted horse (homozygous for cream + several other dilution genes, for example) may have so little pigment in it that it would be almost impossible to determine any difference from "white-marking pink" skin.

Pink-skinned horses with blue eyes do not have poor vision, nor are they prone to eye disease; though they may squint  in brilliant light, just as humans with blue eyes do.

One gene that causes white markings, frame overo, is lethal in its double (homozygous) form.  A white foal born with two frame genes will not live more than a few dying days.  But most foals that are born looking white are not these LWO's (lethal white overos).  And horses with one frame overo gene are just as healthy and long-lived as those with none; this author has interviewed many owners of those about their frame overo horses' health and longevity.  And, there are many other kinds of "overo", none of which are lethal, even when they combine to produce a pure-white-looking horse.

Some myths exist as "rules" that some people who know a little about a color may believe are absolute.   Some "rules" can be useful, but only if they are used only as "rules of thumb".  Why is this?  Because it seems that every single horse color rule has exceptions. 

Here are some examples of horse color "rules" you may run across that are not absolute:

It may seem obvious that "a dun horse will always have a dorsal stripe".  But dun horses don't always have visible dorsal stripes -- sometimes their base color is just too light for striping to show up, or they may have white markings that cover their entire backs, for example.

Champagne horses don't "always have pink, freckled skin", because if they also have two cream genes, or extensive white markings, the freckles just won't show up.

To learn the truth about anything you may have heard about any horse color, read all you can about that color on this web site.  Look at as many horses of that color - genetically - as you can.  As you learn the truth about horse colors, the myths and absolute rules will simply become "things to consider".


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