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Genetics 000
Dark Colors

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The Whites:

Gray Tobiano Sabino Frame Splash White Rabicano Roan Appaloosa Misc. White


White is not a color; white hairs are crystal clear and colorless

WHITE hair looks that way because it's as clear and colorless as pure water. Snowflakes are made up of clear, pure water in the form of ice, yet appear to be white.  In the same way, when the light hits clear, colorless hairs, they appear to be white.

Very diluted hair, which can sometimes be mistaken for white, has a certain amount of pigment (color) distributed inside each hair.

WHITE hair occurs when the pigment-making cells are turned OFF.  This can happen before birth, so that the horse is born with pigment-free areas (born-white hair), or it can happen later, so that only individual hairs have no pigment (acquired white hair).

White hair as it relates to skin color:  sometimes the skin under white hairs has pigment in it, and sometimes it doesn't.  It depends on the type of white hair pattern in the horse's genes.


The various known patterns of white hairs may cause entire areas to be pigment free, as in the large white "spots" of a tobiano, or individual hairs to be pigment free, as in the scattered white hairs among the dark in parts of a rabicano pattern.

This web site will use "white areas" when discussing the former, and "roaning" for the latter, with this caveat:

... apologies for the possibly-confusing terminology:  there is a specific gene called roan.  The roan gene causes a specific type of "roaning".  However, not all "roaning" is caused by the roan gene; i.e. not all roaning is roan  (see roan and the various other white patterns for more in-depth explanations.)

You can choose a button, below, to begin learning about any one of the white-hair patterns present in horses.

Gray Tobiano Sabino Frame Splash White Rabicano Roan Appaloosa Misc. White

Factoid: The various patterns of white areas seem to have arisen as a result of the domestication of horses, as happens with other mammals.

More in-depth information about white hairs and the underlying skin:

Pigment can be turned off from birth, to an area, as in the case of white markings; or to individual hairs, at varying times in the horse's life, by various roan-like patterns; or the pigment can be turned off gradually, to most of the horse's hair only (not the skin), by the prematurely-graying gene ("gray").

In the first case -- a star, a stocking, or other pinto (or "paint") patterns - pigment is also absent from the skin out of which the hair grows.  This is also the case under some appaloosa (leopard complex) patterns, and with some roaning.  However, in many roan-like patterns, and as a gray horse loses the pigment in its hairs, the skin itself has normal pigmentation for whatever color the rest of the horse is (or was).  

The pigment in the skin of a graying horse sometimes also later disappears in patches, causing pink-skinned patches, usually small ones, and usually most noticeably on the face.  This is called gray depigmentation, and is similar to vitiligo in humans.

"Roaning" is one way to describe areas where there are white hairs mixed in among colored hairs, like salt-and-pepper.  Some white-area genes cause areas of roaning, and under that type of roaning, varied amounts of pigment-free skin may be present.   In the white-hair-causing pattern called rabicano, for example, there may be some pigment-free pink skin under the white, even though it's popularly considered a type of roaning; and when the sabino pattern causes roaning, pink skin may also be present under the "roaned" areas.  The differences between the specific pattern called roan, and the ones that cause "roaning", will be explained in their own sections.

A quick look at a white-spotted horse:

  • Does the white look:

    • POURED ON (smooth edges) from above? Think tobiano.

    • SPRAY-PAINTED ON (jagged edges, lacy, or roaned) from below, beginning with the feet and face? Think sabino.

    • SPRAY-PAINTED ON (jagged edges, or lacy) the sides of the body and on the face only? Think frame.

    • like the horse was DIPPED in white (smooth edges) from the feet up? Think splash.


To follow the educational, logical progression of this web site, click "Next", below.

Gray Tobiano Sabino Frame Splash White Rabicano Roan Appaloosa Misc. White

Back Genetics 000 Dark Colors Dilutions White Camouflage

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