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More flaxen-maned bays


Although silver tails – Gulastra’s Plume from the previous post – are perhaps better known, bay Arabians appear to have a range of flaxen or silver mixtures in their manes or tails. This Arabian mare, Shquesta, has another combination that I have seen in at least one other Arabian. Her mane has a mixture of silver hairs. From the distance in this photo, it might be mistaken for sun-fading. Up close it is more obvious that a small percentage of her mane grows in silver.


Although her tail is normal, the white hairs are not limited to her mane. They are also present on her pasterns. The hairs are more pronounced on the hind feet than the front, though they are present on all four legs. The photo to the left was taken in the late fall, and the one to the right was taken in the summer. She has no other white markings.

Shquesta is in her teens. In the six years I have known her, the portion of white hairs have not changed by any noticeable amount.


The other Arabian I had seen with this same kind of mane silvering was the Courthouse Stud stallion Benjamin (by Champurrado). I had only seen him in old black and white photos, but the silvering was always visible. What I had not noticed, until I met Shquesta and pulled out those old pictures, was that he also appears to have silver pasterns on his unmarked forelegs.

Shquesta and Benjamin are pretty subtle. There have been bay Arabians with silver manes and tails that are far more pronounced. Most recently these have included the mare MP Festival. Her sire Stival has a flaxen mane, though it is less pronounced than here. She is probably the most dramatic of the flaxen bay Arabians.

MP Festival is what most people would call a wild bay. That is, a bay with very reduced black at the points. In the last post the question was raised whether or not the pony with the silver tail was just a wild bay. That is a very good question. Just what is the relationship between these flaxen points and wild bay? Certainly if silver is ruled out, flaxen manes on bays are much more common in breeds where wild bay is seen. Yet some horses like Shquesta do not really look like obvious wild bays. And there are also bays with reduced black on the legs that have a fully black mane and tail. Shquesta does not have deeply pigmented black legs of the kind that some bay horses have, but they are more filled in than what most would call wild bay. But where does the line get drawn?

Is this elderly Arabian, Omi, a wild bay?


Notice that his lower legs turn silvery at the heels in the back, and just above the fetlocks in the front, much like many wild bays do. Yet his mane and tail are completely, deeply black. (All the white hairs on his face and neck are from age – he is in his mid-to-late twenties here.)


Compare the points on Omi to those of the Miniature Horse, Thumper. He is an appaloosa, so the silvering on Thumper is unrelated to his shade of bay, but Thumper is an excellent example of what the points on an unquestionable wild bay look like.


Here is a close-up of his legs that show the limited nature of the black on his legs.


So the question is, “What is the full range of black points on a wild bay? What is the upper limit for the black on the points?” Of course, it would be helpful if there was a test for wild bay, as there is for brown. Being able to rule wild bay in or out would be helpful in assessing the relationship between it and flaxen manes and tails.

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Gulastra’s Plume


Although bay horses with the silver dilution look a lot like a bay horse with a flaxen mane and tail, not all bay horses that have lighter manes and tails are necessarily red silvers. There are other reasons a bay horse may have a lighter mane or tail. The next few posts will show some of these red silver mimics.

The first of these is what Arabian breeders often call a Gulastra Plume. The trait takes its name from the Arabian stallion Gulastra. Gulastra himself was a chestnut with a self-colored tail, but flaxen tails were said it was common on his bay descendants. Like a lot of color variations named for specific horses, the “founder” is not necessarily the horse responsible for the original mutation. It is more accurate to say they brought attention to the trait. So not all horses with a Gulastra Plume are descendants of Gulastra. Some have no known Arabian blood at all, like the stout pony at the top of this post.


In other breeds, it is sometimes called silvertail. Compared to an ordinary bay tail, the tail does look silver, but the lighter hairs often have a warm, flaxen tone rather than a cool, silvery one. Some silver-tailed bays – like this guy – have reduced black points on the legs, and flaxen hairs on the lower parts of the leg are not uncommon. This can make them even more likely to be mistaken for a bay silver, but the dark tones on the points are truly black and not a diluted chocolate. It is also possible to find silver tails on bays that have fully black points, though the reduced black seems to be more common.

Most horses with a Gulastra Plume do not have significantly lighter manes. This guy has a few white hairs interspersed in what is an otherwise fully black mane. From a distance, his mane looked black. Were he a silver (even an older silver), I would expect to see some hint of flaxen at least at the forelock.


Here is a comparison shot of this guy’s tail (to the far right) and two of the previously posted red silvers. Notice how the variegation is a bit different with  the two types of tails. Silver dilute tails shift in tone in a way that reminds me of ombré textiles (and the current human hair trend of the same name), whereas the Gulastra Plume is more of a mixture of the two colors.


That said, there may well be quite a bit of variation in the tails of horses with a Gulastra Plume. To my knowledge, it has not been formally studied, and as the posts over the next few days will show, the situation with flaxen and silver manes and tails on bays is not entirely clear. It is quite possible that there are multiple factors producing similar results. For that reason, it is often the color of the legs (chocolate rather than black) that is often more reliable when trying to identify bay silvers.

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Aging Silvers

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This is probably one of the better-known images of a bay silver horse. It was used to illustrate the color in the paper identifying the silver mutation, and has been widely shared on the internet since that time. His name is Unconventional (“Connor”), and he is a Morgan bred by Laura Behning. Laura was instrumental in identifying and documenting the silver dilution in the Morgan breed. Her website documenting those lines is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in silver, and is particularly notable for the number of images of silver foals.

Here is another image of Connor as an adult. In this image, he still has the strong contrast between his flaxen mane and his body. (This is also another good image for seeing the bay countershading on the face and neck that differentiate bay silvers from chestnuts.)

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When silver dilutes are young adults, this contrast is part of what makes the color so striking. It also makes them relatively easy to identify. That is not necessarily true as they age, however. Most horses with lighter manes and tails lose some of that contrast with age, but that seems to be particularly true of silver dilutes. This next image is pretty typical of how the flaxen mane looks on an older silver.

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Most bay silvers have dark roots, but as the horse ages the dark parts of the mane tend to spread until it is just the ends of the mane that are pale. The forelock tends to stay palest the longest, as the images of this pony show.



It is likely that, had his mane not been cut, he would have somewhat lighter ends. Still it is the forelock that is unusually pale, and that color changes pretty abruptly at the ears, as the image of his forelock parted and tucked behind his ears shows.

Tails darken as well, usually starting with a dark core like the one visible on this Rocky Mountain Horse.


In some cases, older silver dilutes can appear to have completely dark tails, or at least tails that do not look significantly different from a horse that has sun-faded. This Rocky Mountain horse is a seventeen year-old buckskin silver. Her tail is almost completely dark, while she has retained the paler tips on her mane and the flaxen forelock.


This mare does not show a lot of flaxen contrast on her lower legs. They were visibly chocolate – not black – in person, but the kind of mottling seen on some bay silver legs was not present. It seems that the more uniformly dark silvers are more likely to lose the contrast on their manes and tails, though it seems all lose it to some extent with age.

This does complicate the search for silver in historical records. Horses like the Groninger stallion Iregon do not look silver in the handful of images available, even though they are known sources of the silver dilution. Silver is not visible on chestnut horses, because they have no black pigment to dilute.

And if that was not complicated enough, it appears there are other factors unrelated to silver that can turn the mane and tail of a bay horse silver or flaxen. The next post on silvers will be about some of the silver mimics.

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