A different kind of mottling


I took some pictures at a local fun show this past weekend, and several are relevant to the topic of cryptic appaloosas like Thumper.

In the previous post I mentioned that the mottling on Thumper’s lips was what alerted me to the fact that he was not an ordinary roan. I wanted to clarify that it was the mottling paired with other clues (like his striped feet) that convinced me he was a varnish roan. Mottling on the mouth alone is not an absolute sign of the appaloosa gene. This mare has mottling, too, but she’s not an appaloosa.


She’s a fleabitten grey Arabian mare. Obviously her mottling did not come from varnish roan, since Arabians do not have the necessary gene for that.


Her mouth is mottled because she is a grey. It is not an uncommon trait among greys. In some cases, like this mare, it is pretty subtle. In this picture, taken in the shade and with front of her mouth hidden from view, her skin looks uniformly dark.  Often mottling on greys is not visible in pictures. Sometimes it is nothing more than fine pink speckles around the edges of the white markings.  On others it is very pronounced and involves large areas of pink skin.

This is one reason why it would be easy to hide varnish roan in a predominantly grey breed. While mottling on the mouth is usually a red flag that the appaloosa patterns might be involved, it can seem pretty routine to breeders with grey horses.


3 Responses to A different kind of mottling

  1. Sandra September 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Hi Lesli..thank you for writting these wonderful articles!!!! I have two questions….would the mottling on an appaloosas mouth change color or pattern (spread or grow bigger) with age? With mottling on the grey horse muzzle does the mottling apear with age ? Thank you! Sandra

  2. The Equine Tapestry September 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Hi Sandra! Those are good questions.

    Mottling on appaloosas is progressive, so it does tend to spread with age. Not all of them get very mottled, though. Appaloosa breeders have selected for dark skin, especially around the eyes, so a lot of Appaloosas do not get very mottled. My own mare has no visible mottling when I bought her (aged 3-4 years), and even now at 8 does not have a lot. We have another appaloosa in the pasture with her that is older than her and still has no visible skin mottling on the face.

    I have read that homozygous appaloosas (fewspots and snowcaps) are more mottled on the whole than those with just one copy of the gene. That’s been my observation as well.

    As for the greys, their depigmentation is progressive, too. Not all greys do this, at least not that I have seen, but those that do usually lose more with age. It seems more common in breeds that have a lot of greys, and particularly in those breeds where they bred for early and complete greying (Kladrubers, Boulonnais, Lipizzans).

  3. J Ferre September 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Love the articles, I’ve seen this on bay – non gray horses. The article on the pony’s lips has had me paying attention. I noticed a cremello with freckles too, like in that article with the picture of two DDs side by side. Not sure why some horses have this even when non- gray and non- appy.