Belton patterned horses

This is “Gump.” He’s a Paint Horse that shows here in the Carolinas, and is the horse that first had me wondering about the possibility of a dark ticking pattern that was separate from any of the white patterning genes. As you can see, he has quite pronounced spotting on his face much like one might expect to see on a leopard. The problem is that were he actually a leopard as well as an overo, those spots would replace his bay areas, not his white areas. (For those just joining the conversation, the two previous posts explain this in much more detail.) I suspect those familiar with leopard patterns would also recognize that there area around his mouth doesn’t look right for the appaloosa pattern, either. It is too “clean”, with the spots and the white very clearly defined. If you cover his face so that just his muzzle shows, he looks like a pinto with “kissy spots” and not a leopard appaloosa.

So he is just a pinto. Here is a side shot to show the rest of his pattern.


As this picture shows, he’s a frame overo. That white on the side of the neck and again on the side of the body are classic placements for that particular pattern. He probably also has one of the sabino patterns, since he has high stockings in the back. Frame does not typically add white to the legs, so frame horses with white legs are usually carrying something else in addition to frame. Since the various sabino patterns are widespread in riding horses, and especially in stock horses, it’s the most likely cause.

What struck me about Gump is that his pattern has a torn, angular look, which is quite different from his extremely round ticks.


There is spotting on his leg white, too, though I did not manage to position myself for the best lighting in this photo. Like the spots on his face, these are round even though the rest of his stocking goes up in ragged angles.


The character of the ticking and his pattern do not match.

That is particularly interesting to me, because most of the pinto patterns interact with one another. They don’t just overlap one pattern on top of the other. The presence of one tends to effect the appearance of the others. That overall influence gives most patterned horses a harmonious look. It also complicates matters for those of us interested in teasing apart and defining the different patterns, when the action of one mutation changes the actions of a second, unrelated mutation. Sheila Archer, of The Appaloosa Project, refers to this as patterns “talking” to one another. I have always liked that way of phrasing it, and would say that much of what I find most interesting about patterns these days revolves around those “conversations” between the patterns. The discordant patterns on Gump say that whatever is causing his ticking, it doesn’t seem to be “talking” to the rest of his patterning. That would at least suggest that it is something separate from whatever is causing his pinto pattern.

Gump sat in my “weird stuff” file for years, until last month, when a Facebook friend linked to this horse. When I first saw the image as a thumbnail, I assumed someone had found Gump. The ticking and even her base color is that similar! But that’s not Gump. That’s an Australian sport pony named Haley’s Comet.

Around the same time, another horse came to my attention. Her image was used on the header of the Paint Horse Connection, a quarterly newsletter that goes out to American Paint Horse Association members, and in an article in the Paint Horse Journal.


Like Gump, she is a frame overo, but without the sabino-type leg white. And like Gump, she has the spots that are very concentrated on her face, compared to the spots on her body. Because her body has broad areas of white patterning, it’s even more striking on her.

That was what made me think of the Belton pattern in English Setters. They sometimes have that same kind of larger, more concentrated spotting on the face compared to the body.


They aren’t all like that. One of the most interesting thing about the ticking (Belton) pattern in dogs is that it does have a lot of variation even within a single breed. But on a horse this kind of concentration on the face is quite unusual. Heavily concentrated dark ticking is odd in horses. Having it more pronounced on the face is stranger still.

You might notice that these horses all have a similar spotting arrangement, but that arrangement is rather different from Vision Morinda, the horse posted previously. Her ticking is more uniform, smaller and denser. It is hard to know, with so few horses like this, if these are variations on the same trait, or different things entirely. But having seen a handful of horses like this now, I know I’ll be looking at ticking more closely in the future. And certainly if any readers find horses with interesting spots inside markings or patterns that don’t fit what might be expected for a tobiano or one of the overos, please pass them along!

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7 Responses to Belton patterned horses

  1. Kristina Pry May 30, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    My (suspected) sabino rabicano gelding has spots in his blaze and stockings. Not as many as your examples, but quite distinct – with no “fading” around the edges.

  2. Annie May 31, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I have been trying to figure out how my border’s mare foaled a blanket colt. She is a Varnish roan on a Bay w/ Dun base. She was bred to an AQHA sorrel halter horse (presumably with no Appaloosa blood). She foaled a bay colt with a blanket (PATN2). How could this happen when she herself does not display a blanket of any kind? I have seen pictures of her as a foal and she is CLEARLY a solid- there was no white on her fanny. Her roan has developed over time and she is quite roan now at 6 years old, but when she foaled this blanket baby all my genetics knowledge went out the window. Does this sound right to you or is there a missing piece of this puzzle? Is that even possible? She is a very neat color, but not a blanket App (although out of 4 breedings of her mother to the same stallion she was the ONLY offspring that did not have a blanket… all the other offspring in the same cross did display the blanket pattern- is it possible for a horse to ‘hide’ a blanket gene?) Thanks for your thoughts in advance… this has been driving me nuts.

    • The Equine Tapestry May 31, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      We are just beginning to understand the patterning genes that work with Leopard Complex to make the more contrasted patterns (blankets, leopards), so there is more unknown than known at this point. But it is thought that some of those patterning genes are not visible without the Leopard Complex to activate them. If that is so, then any number of horses from “solid” breeds might be carrying them hidden. Breeders have been selecting against broken colors for the better part of two centuries now, but before that horses were much more colorful. It makes sense that some of them might carry remnants of that colorful past, if it was not visible.

      Do you have pictures of the two horses? I can probably answer better if I can see them. You can always send images to the email address that comes up from clicking the little sabino face to the right. (It will likely catch in my spam filter, but I try to check and approve so don’t worry if it doesn’t go through immediately.)

  3. Annie May 31, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    It may be worth mentioning that the colt from the previous comment does has a very wide blaze and some blue in his right eye. Not sure if that gives you another clue?

  4. Stephanie August 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    As soon as I saw him I thought of this post, figured I would share.


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