“Celtic Blue Eye”

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I wanted to share this photo of Gaefa, an Icelandic mare owned by Chantal Jonkergouw. Chantal was kind enough to give permission to use the photos, which really show how the eyes on some splash overos can be rather strikingly blue.

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In Lorna Howlett’s book Complete Book of Ponies (1984), she mentions this tendency in blue-eyed Welsh.

Welshmen contend that this is a true sign of the Welsh Pony, and it is believed to have Celtic origin. This is undoubtedly true. Having seen true blue eyes on ponies in Wales, one cannot confuse them with wall-eyes. True blue eyes are quite lovely – deep forget-me-not blue with no loss of pigmentation.

Unlike the wall-eye – a definite fault in my opinion – blue eyes appear only occasionally, apparently lacking the prepotency of the wall-eye.

Ms. Howlett had previously explained how common those ‘faulty’ wall-eyes were, and offered a theory about the horse responsible for their proliferation. With the modern understanding of the splash overo pattern, it’s pretty clear now that whatever the difference in shade among individual ponies, the blue eyes in that breed are part of that pattern.

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But it is true that the blue eyes on a lot of splashes are unusually vivid in color.


I caught this particular picture of a splash tovero with the eye partially shaded, but even so the blue is quite bright.


Here is a comparison set between the eye of the black splash in the previous picture, and a cremello. Neither picture was color corrected, though to be fair, this particular cremello had eyes that were rather greenish.

It does not seem that all splashes have vividly blue eyes, though observations along those lines are somewhat limited since we don’t have definitive answers on what is and what is not a splash. It’s also not known if splashes are unique in having these bright blue eyes. It is a tendency in the pattern, though, and one that Gaefa certainly has.

(She also has a really cool, naturally wavy mane!)

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6 Responses to “Celtic Blue Eye”

  1. Sue Stewart October 10, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    I very much wish I had a good photo of the cremello mare of unknown breeding (but old-style Morganish type) that some good friends had in their Half-Arabian breeding program back in the 1960s-70s. “Moondove” was the dam of one of my early mares. If she carried any kind of splash, she didn’t seem to pass it along to any of her many foals; but she had what her owner termed “sapphire blue” eyes, at least as colorful as the splash in today’s post, certainly not the very pale blue I’ve seen in other cremellos.

    Of course, we called her an “albino” — I apologized for this to Mike Bowling once, and he said it was okay, since that was what even the most advanced geneticist would have called the color at that time!

  2. Kristin Berkery October 10, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I feel sad that someone cut the eyelashes on that splash tovero. 🙁 The blue eye on the Icelandic mare is beautiful! Icelandics are so cool — I really want to try riding one.

  3. Elaine Lindelef October 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    What a gorgeous icelandic! Can you explain why the Splash pattern can produce the eye and no other white, and yet allow the snip through? (I have a handsome bay QH here with normal face markings – star-stripe-snip – and a lovely blue eye as well.)

  4. The Equine Tapestry October 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    That’s because the classic splash pattern – which is what Icelandics have – is incompletely dominant. The ones with one copy of the gene don’t actually look much like pintos. They might have a star, a snip or maybe both, and might have a blue eye or two (though often they don’t have any). They sometimes have a sock or two, usually on the hind feet, but even those look pretty ordinary. It’s just that in breeds like the Icelandic (and the Gotland, which also has splash), you don’t actually get “ordinary” leg markings. If they are there (and in the case of the Icies, if tobiano is not), then you can be pretty sure you have a carrier. It’s the horses with two splash genes that look like what we think of as “splash”.

    Things do look different when you have breeds that also have sabino (or ordinary leg markings, since we don’t actually know where sabino ends and ordinary markings begin, if in fact they are even something different.) Breeds with sabino get what most people think of as the “minimal” form of splash – big white faces and high white on the legs. That is not typical of splash in breeds without sabino.

    It’s my personal suspicion that splash is currently over-identified, and that there are forms of white patterning that look a lot like it (at least in some regards) but behave differently. In the book, I have them grouped in with the various forms of sabino, but that’s just because they’ve tended to pop up in breeds and bloodlines traditionally thought of as sabino. Right now sabino tends to be a catch-all term for white patterning that hasn’t been otherwise labeled. 🙂

    I should also caveat all of this with the statement that there are those who really, really disagree with this assessment of splash as an incomplete dominant. It tends to be accepted without much question among Icelandic breeders, and one of the first people to offer the theory (Henriette Arriens) was working with Icelandics. I came to the same conclusion around the same time, using unrelated breeds (primarily Gotlands, but also Welsh and various stock breeds). So I certainly subscribe to it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is not a position without some degree of controversy.

  5. Rebecca Turner October 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    I love the eyes like on this pony that are almost a turquoise color not the light blue like the paint… oh and Kristin.. do ride one! make sure its one that does a tolt though.. they don’t all do it.. you will love it! I have ridden lost of breeds of horses including other gated horses ( i had a friend who had a large peruvian farm and I rode them quite a few times) .. and we have gaited morgans here.. but in all my life the most fun I ever had was when I rode an icelandic horse! ( they hate when you call them ponies..lol) I had 13 in my pasture one time when i was boarding them right after they had gotten out of quarantine from coming from iceland! I got to watch them( they fight like feral horses or zebra do!) every day.. all the colors! and then one day I got to ride one.. and wow.. what a blast that was! Id get one if I had a chance.. I never bought id ever say that but really.. what a ride..I can see why people fall in love with them.. they really are so much fun!

  6. Teresa May 9, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    I wish I could post a picture of my mini stud. He is solid palomino out of pinto parents. He has deep sapphire blue eyes. His only markings are a blaze that goes to his bottom lip and a couple of white coronets/socks. Both parents are OLW-. Grandparents are also OLW-. So we have assumed that he is Splashed White. How can I have him tested?