Appaloosa roaning and pintaloosas


Christine Sutcliffe shared this guy in the comments section of the previous post, and I wanted to post him here where he’ll be more likely to be seen. He carries the tobiano pattern, as did the others, along with varnish roan (leopard complex) and one or more of the overo patterning genes – probably some kind of splash white.

I say that because he has a broad blaze and two blue eyes.



Horses like this one often get misidentified as grey tobianos, especially if the version of their appaloosa pattern lacks spots, or if their tobiano pattern hides the area that would have shown the spots. It is an easy mistake to make, because varnish roans turn whiter over time much like a grey. (I’ve noticed that as my own black near-leopard mare has aged, more people call her a “grey appaloosa”.)

Some greys lose pigment on their faces, which can also confuse the issue. I suspect that is why varnish roan (leopard complex) has remained in some grey breeds (or strains in breeds) even when appaloosa patterns are not considered desirable or are outright banned. If true greys can develop mottled skin with age, then the facial mottling that develops from varnish pattern might not throw up warning flags.

What sets the progressive whitening of varnish roan apart from grey is that it leaves the spots. The dark spots on this fellow’s rump will remain, no matter how much paler his body becomes. It is thought that all appaloosas roan out, sooner or later. That only applies to the body color, though. When grey is added to the mix, it all lightens. The really loud appaloosa Friesian cross Mystic Warrior is a well-known example of this. This link shows his current appearance along with pictures of the loud black leopard he was as a foal.

Because grey eventually erases the spots in a way that varnish roan will not, it is often considered undesirable by appaloosa breeders. Contrast is often the name of the game in breeding for attractive appaloosa patterns, and grey removes it. That’s also why leopards have traditionally been so sought out by breeders; theirs is the pattern that keeps its contrast. Blanket patterns eventually look a lot more like varnish roans over time.

What is interesting about grey and appaloosa, though, is that before it takes the spots away, it tends to skew them. The angled spots on Mystic Warrior show that really well. On appaloosas with dark areas, like those with blanket patterns, it often adds dramatic white spotting that looks like a cross between marbling and dappling. For those that have the most recent edition of the Sponenberg book, there is a part-Arabian with this type of effect. (He is also pictured in the German book Pferde aus Licht und Schatten.)  It seems that not all grey appaloosas get altered in these ways, but it is common enough these are good clues that grey is there.

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6 Responses to Appaloosa roaning and pintaloosas

  1. Christine Sutcliffe August 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Ha, I never considered varnish roan for him but when you cover up the white areas with your hands it suddenly becomes really obvious! There was also this one, I’m guessing varnish roan/tobiano again?

    Up until that show I’d never seen a pintaloosa at all in the flesh then all of a sudden along came two at once! XD

    That Friesian X you linked to is absolutely stunning! 😮

  2. The Equine Tapestry August 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Yes, both are varnish roan + tobiano. But then *all* appaloosas are varnish roans, because that’s the “master switch” that turns on the rest of the patterns. That’s also why they all roan out over time, because varnish is progressive (they get lighter) and they all have it. Some do it slower than others, and appaloosa breeders have largely selected for that, but the assumption is that all of them will roan out on their non-spot areas over time.

    It has seemed to me, though, that the tobiano pintaloosas roan out pretty quickly. Of course there aren’t really a huge number of them, so it could just be a coincidence, but it’s pretty hard to find mature pintaloosas that look like a tobiano + clear, well defined blanket. (Of course, if anyone has them feel free to send links or pictures!)

  3. The Equine Tapestry August 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Oh, and I was going to add that the sort of ticked appearance on the Cob’s chest is really typical of varnish roan. The horse you linked has the classic dark varnish marks, but it seems that a lot of varnish roans get that “dark ticks on a paler ground” look rather than the “white hairs mixed with dark” of a normal roan.

  4. Mirage August 29, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    It seems that I found an older picture of the horse pictured here, I found it on the internet and don’t remember who took it so I don’t know about posting it here or not but anyway the roaning process on the horse is stunning. It could completely be misunderstood as a grey tobi.
    And your remark about varnish roan remaining in grey breeds made me think about a rare breed of horses coming from eastern Europe in which the horses are supposed to be grey but the mottling on a particular mare (looking like a white grey) somehow screamed appaloosa. I have yet to fetch this one in my various refs but if you are interested, I can can find it back.

  5. The Equine Tapestry August 29, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    I would love to see pictures if you have them. You can email them by clicking the link to the right. I won’t post pictures here on the blog unless they are public domain (like Wiki Commons) or I get permission, but sending them to me directly isn’t a problem. In some cases, I might know the horse and can track down permission.

  6. achaffe October 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Thanks for the info in the above Pictures. This is my Boy I have always had his described as piebald or scewbald with Spots. But now Im happy to know I own a Blue Varnished Appaloosa 🙂