Skin color variations – palominos


Yesterday’s post was about skin color in champagnes and cremellos. Today I wanted to share a few pictures of some palominos, to show how some of them can be mistaken for champagne. The gelding pictured above is clearly a palomino, with the very dark skin visible on his muzzle and around his eyes. Here is another picture taken in slightly different lighting, still showing the uniformly dark skin pigmentation.


His skin is uniformly dark – on his face. But this is a shot taken of the area under his tail.


The skin here has a purple tone. It is not fully pigmented like his face. He is sweaty in this picture, so the skin actually appears somewhat darker than it is. Here is another shot showing his sheath and inner thigh, which have the same incomplete pigmentation.


In my experience, this kind of skin coloring is not uncommon in palominos. This guy is actually on the moderate range. I have seen individuals with much less pigment. The give away that the horses are in fact palominos is the dark face skin, though face markings on some pintos can obscure that clue. Dark skin is visible on the muzzle spots on his guy, as well as around his eyes (just barely visible in the photo I took). It isn’t hard to imagine a Paint with markings that would cover those clues, though.


Here is the underside of that same Paint.


It is not surprising that many find the identification of champagnes difficult, given that pinkish skin can be found on the undersides of many palominos. This can also explain why early palomino breeders believed that loss of pigmentation was a progressive thing brought on by breeding palominos together over generations. They were, in fact, breeding both cream and champagne dilutes. The various combinations of those two dilutions, along with the individual variations, could give the visual impression of varying degrees of diluting all three things – skin, eyes and coat color.

Most modern horsemen are aware that champagne is a separate color, and many are getting better at identifying it thanks to websites with comparison shots like the ICHR site linked yesterday. Still the differences can be pretty subtle. The champagne registry prefers the term freckling when describing the skin tone of their horses, to differentiate it from the mottling associated with the appaloosa patterns. As an artist, I think of the skin color on an older champagne – one that has begun to deepen in color – as looking a great deal like pointillism. That is, the darker color is applied in tiny, overlapping dots on a pinkish base. Abundant freckles seems like a good description. Appaloosa mottling looks more like patches of color (dark or light) placed on top of the other. The lighter skin on the undersides of some palominos tends to look like soft washes of dark color dabbed on, but the artist never finished getting the dark pigment fulling applied. Unlike the champagne, there aren’t distinct freckles, although there are softer-edged spots of darker coloring. Unfortunately there isn’t really a good word for that effect. Another subtle difference between champagne skin and pink skin on palominos is that the extremities in one tend towards pink (champagne) and the other towards dark (palomino). In the linked ICHR article, the example used is mare udders. In champagnes, the teats are pink, whereas with palominos those are dark. This is what helps to give the impression that a champagne is a pink-skinned animal that had dark pigmented added, while a palomino is a dark-skinned animal that had pigment taken away.

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6 Responses to Skin color variations – palominos

  1. Shelbi Forgey January 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    I had a mare that I thought had the champagne gene, but I asked the ICHR about her and sent good pictures and found out she was just a pretty palomino. =]

    • The Equine Tapestry January 4, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

      I think that probably happens a lot, because that skin under the tail can be really misleading.

  2. Barbara January 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    These are very interesting posts on dilute skin color! I had a pony with that purplish-hued skin tone on his undercarriage, the same as the first palomino in this post, but he was a blue roan (unclear whether he was black or seal brown, but he did not carry cream.)

    Fascinating blog! 🙂

    • The Equine Tapestry January 4, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

      I am glad you have enjoyed the blog, and I have to ask if your pony had significant white markings. I’ve noticed that a fair number of sabinos have skin that isn’t completely black, so that had me curious.

      • Barbara January 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

        He was actually a fairly minimally marked frame overo. He had a lot of white on his face, but only one tiny belly spot, one small sock, and one partial sock. He could have had sabino lurking in there, but it wasn’t obvious.

  3. amy May 6, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    I had a palomino filly that was so pale she looked like a cremello but as she got older she had 4 white socks and a star and a beautiful palomino coat