Early greys and fading whites


A short time after the posts about Dominant White went out, I was contacted by someone about a family of seemingly white Miniatures. The stallion was advertised as a maximum white sabino, which is often how Dominant White horses are described. The writer wanted to know if I thought the horse was a White or a Sabino. She thought they might be Whites because of this quote from the Wikipedia entry about the color.

Horses with the W3 allele often retain interspersed flecks or regions of pigmented skin and hair, which may fade with time.

That quote was in reference to the third identified family of Dominant Whites, which began with the mutation in the Arabian stallion R Khasper. A few of the other Dominant White families – but not all – have this same tendency. Photos of the Freiberger horses in the original white study (W1, the Cigale family) show this phenomenon really well.

Here is a Cigale descendant as a foal.


Here he is as a mature horse.


(Both photos are from the original journal article by Haas and Brooks.)

The writer wondered if the same thing was happening with the Miniatures. Looking at the pictures, it was clear that whatever else was going on with the stallion, he was a tobiano because he was throwing a lot of tobiano foals from unmarked mares. The fact that some of those tobiano foals turned white really quickly was why Dominant White was suspected. Because the dark areas of their tobiano patterns looked to have uniformly dark skin, my own suspicion was that the foals at least were not White, but early greys.

Andrea Caudill sent the picture at the top of this post, and it is perhaps helpful in this case. The colt is two years old, and almost entirely white grey. His legs are muddy in the photos, but Andrea says they were also white. As a thin-coated race horse in what is probably a wet environment, it’s easy to see his dark skin. In my experience, it can be much harder to tell white greys with extensive markings or facial depigmentation from truly white horses when they are dry and have denser coats.

Some horses, like this colt, do grey really early. Famous white grey breeds like the Lipizzans and Kladrubers have been bred specifically for early and thorough greying. Conversely, breeds like the Percheron have been bred for later greying, so it would appear that greying speed can be manipulated by selective breeding. Perhaps even more interesting, and relevant to the situation with the Miniatures, is that early studies on the silver gene mentioned that pairing silver (Z) with grey (G) produced really rapid greying. I do not believe this was studied in-depth, but it is true that a number of Shetland breeders in the mid-twentieth century were attempting to breed “white” ponies that were in fact early greys. That might be what was happening with the Miniatures in question.

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4 Responses to Early greys and fading whites

  1. Rebecca Turner August 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    wow that is really fascinating to me.. all this is.. thanks again leslie… Im loving all your posts… the thing about silver and grey making a faster grey is really interesting too.. I’d love to hear a post on what you think of the white horses that were bred with bay morgans to get more white hoses way back I think on the 40s.. I forget the name of them now.. started with a c I think? I was reading some posts on all breeds about them..oh I think it was white horse ranch? I think it was called.. I always thought it was cool they were half morgans.. no wonder i liked them.. then theres the whites in California who I hear the guy who started the breed.. o whatever you would call it… after her died his daughter went on to keep it up but started using QH to breed with them and not morgans or whatever he was using to keep the color…and they lost all the white… now I think they have lost it for good.. she totally screwed that up by not having a clue I guess…they were the ones that started with a C.? Im terrible with names especially in the morning before enough coffee…lol… but to me that was so fascinating… I always wondered what happened to them.. and how they were getting white horses from bay morgan mares.. there was a theory on abs forum as to why… was interesting and wondered what you thought. and thought it might be a interesting post on both of them…. Id love to see some photos of them too if you can find or have any!

  2. The Equine Tapestry August 26, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Are you talking about the Camarillo horses? They were part of the second Dominant White study, and are the fourth white family (W4). The originator, a mustang stallion named Sultan, was bred to Morgans.

    The other well-known early whites were the ones at the White Horse Ranch in Nebraska. That was the breeding family that started with Old King, who was said to have been of Morgan breeding. He was also crossed on Morgan mares. This all predated the stock breed registries, so for someone wanting to cross to “pedigreed” stock they would have been a logical choice.

    The old white breeding programs will be in the third volume of the books, since they were all light horses.

  3. Rebecca Turner August 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    yep thats the ones i was talking about.. good Ill have to get the books.. for sure! Id love to read more about them. I remember the white horse ranch ads fomr when was a kid in the early 60’s and saw them in horse magazines and horse books.. I always thought they were very nice looking horses .. this was before I was into morgans.. or nay breed really… but now I know why I liked them so much.. they were morgan crosses! lol I didn’t know about the ones in california until much later.. the 90’s I believe.. so it will be very interesting reading!


  1. Tobiano, the “top dog” pattern « The Equine Tapestry - August 26, 2011

    […] brings me back to the discussion about white Miniatures from a few days ago. I truly did not think the colt in question was a Dominant White, but rather a […]