Within certain breeds, some horse colors are preferred, or even required, whereas others are undesirable or even constitute disqualifications for the registry. Also, a good horseman needs a working knowledge of horse colors and patterns because it is the most conspicuous feature by which a horse can be described or identified.
There are 4 basic horse colors: black, brown, bay and chestnut. These are genetically modified to produce white, grey, cream, dun, roan, piebald and skewbald.
Black: the body, head, limbs, mane, and tail are all black. A black horse is completely black, including the muzzle and flanks. If there is doubt as to whether a horse is dark brown or black, one should note the color of the fine hairs on the muzzle and hair on the flanks; tan or brown hairs at these points indicate that the horse is not a true black, but a seal brown.
Brown: the body color is brown and the mane, tail and lower parts of the legs are black.
Bay: Bay is a mixture of red and yellow. It includes many shades, from a light yellowish tan (light bay) to a dark, rich shade which is almost brown (dark bay); a bay horse usually has a black mane and tail and black points.
Chestnut: the body color ranges from a light golden red to a dark chocolate shade, often described as liver chestnut. The legs, mane, and tail may be a shade lighter or darker than the body color, but they are never black.
White: the foals are born white, and in some cases the eyes are blue. Most white horses are greys that have become whiter with age.
Grey: the body color of the foal at birth shows one of the basic colors, ie, black, brown, bay or chestnut. As previously stated, the grey horse becomes whiter with age since white hairs develop in the same way as they do in the aging human being. The white hairs usually appear first on the face. Grey may appear in combination with other colors: black, brown, bay and chestnut. The mane, tail, and points keep their basic color.
Roan: the foal is born a roan color, and this remains constant throughout life. The head, neck, mane, tail and lower parts of the limbs are fairly free of white hairs. The different combinations of white hairs with the four basic colors give the different types of roan: black (blue) roan, brown roan, bay (red) roan and chestnut (strawberry) roan.
Dun: the body color ranges from a light yellowish to a dark brown. The mane, tail and points are dark. Duns have a stripe down the back and may have transverse stripes on the knees and hocks. Piebald: the body coat color shows large white areas alternating with black. Skewbald: large white areas alternating with any color but black.
Cream: the body coat, mane and tail are creams. Palomino, a variation, is a body color varying from light to dark gold, with a light mane and tail.
In addition to horse colors given, the most common natural markings on a horse’s head and legs are usually formed by white hair assuming a particular shape, irregular but recognizable.
Star: a solid, white mark on the forehead, varying in size and shape.
Stripe: a narrow band of white running down the face, approximately from the eyes to the nostrils. It may be joined to a star or separate from it.
Snip: a white mark situated between or in the region of the nostrils.
Lip: a white mark on the upper and/or lower lip(s).
Blaze: a solid white mark from the position of the star to the snip, covering the full width of the nasal bones.
Bald (White) face: a broader extension of the blaze, usually involving both eyes.
Heel: a white area above the heel.
Coronet: a white strip of hair just above the hoof.
Pastern: white hair in the area extending from the top of the hoof (coronet) to just below the fetlock joint.
Sock: white hair in the region from the top of the hoof (coronet) to the top of the fetlock joint.
Stocking: white hair extending from the top of the hoof (coronet) to immediately below the knee in the foreleg, or the hock in the hindleg.
Knee or hock: white hair from the top of the hoof (coronet) up to and including the knee or hock. Arrangements of Hairs Whorls are spiral twists of hair about 1 cm wide. Their position is unique to each horse so are a useful form of identification. There are numerous other natural distinguishing marks, such as flecks, black spots and black stripes which, if present, should be included in the identification description. The horse may also have acquired markings which, apart from brands, may be scars, firing marks and other acquired blemishes.