Tag Archives | comparisons

Bay silver comparisons


I recently had the opportunity to take some good comparison shots of a bay silver pony. Under his silver dilution, the base color on Applejacks (pictured above) is a relatively clear medium shade of bay. He is a good individual to show how bay silvers – sometimes called red silvers – look different from both bay and chestnut horses even without using the flaxen mane and tail as a clue. Most of the pictures in this post were taken in early May, so you can still see some of the remains of his paler winter coat. (A post about seasonal changes in silver dilutes will follow this one.) The darker areas of his legs are a more accurate reflection of his true color.

Applejacks is relatively young, so he still has quite a bit of flaxen in both his mane and his tail. Most silvers lose some of this contrast, starting with the roots of their manes, as they age. Even so, his lower legs give him away as a silver. Compare his legs to his dark bay pasture mate, Newcastle.


The legs on Applejacks are not truly black, but chocolate. This shot of his hindquarters, where the backs of his legs are visible, shows this even more clearly.

What is perhaps more subtle, however, is the difference between the body color of a bay silver and that of an ordinary chestnut. Bay silvers are sometimes said to look like chestnuts with bay legs, but as any artist who paints horses can tell you, there is more to even a clear, medium bay than just black points. Bays have countershaded coats that an ordinary red chestnut lacks. This face shot of Applejacks with his red chestnut friend Rose shows this quite well.


Notice the darker shading along the nasal bone, the underside of the cheek, and most especially on the neck. Even a seemingly monochromatic bay will have darker shading along the top and bottom edges of the neck (when viewed in profile), while the area just behind the ears and down the jugular groove will be more truly red or red-gold. Darker shading is also present on the edge of the ears.

This photo of Applejacks, taken as he began to put on his darker winter coat, shows his bay facial shading quite well. Even if his mane was not visible, so the viewer did not know if it was red or black, most experienced horsemen would assume he was bay, not chestnut.


It is the countershading that gives the visual cues that he is bay. Compare the forehand on Applejacks to the red chestnut Rose.


Here I have taken color samples from the two images to show how bay countershading is still influencing Applejacks’ coat. Picking the color of the high point of the muscle right above the foreleg (A), and then another at the shoulder (B), I have compared the difference between the two horses.

For both horses, the color at (A) is pretty close to one another. There is also not a lot of change from the shade above Rose’s leg to the shade on her neck. For Applejacks, though, the color is quite different from both Rose’s shoulder and the color above his leg. It is that difference in shading that can often provide a clue that a horse is a bay with the silver dilute, rather than a liver chestnut.

These clues are not foolproof, but looking for legs where the darkest areas are not truly black, and bodies that are shaded in a way that suggests the horse is really a bay, are good places to start.

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Appaloosa color shifting


One of the things that used to stump me, when I first began painting horses, was the base color on many of the Appaloosas. Often the horses had an odd pewter brown coloring that did not look quite like chestnut – not even liver chestnut – and was not really black. Many years later, I found myself owning just such a horse. The picture above is my mare, Sprinkles. In that particular picture, she is three years old. If you look closely, you can see that her lower legs are a bronze color. In bright sunlight, that is the best term for her coloring. In lower light, and when she is in her winter coat, she is closer to a dull pewter.

Her previous owners thought she was a grulla, probably because they mistook the split in her blanket for a dorsal stripe. I also wonder if they weren’t subconsciously seeing what seemed pretty clear to me, which was that the tones in her coat were all wrong for even the dullest red-pigmented horse. She looked like a diluted black horse of some kind.

And that is exactly what her tests from UC Davis showed her to be. She is genetically black (Eeaa) without any known dilution gene. Her coloring isn’t the result of sun-fading. Most blacks that sun-fade retain a certain amount of darker pigment on their lower legs. Her lower legs are the palest tones on her body. This photo was taken last summer, when she was eight years old. The lighter area at the top of her leg is appaloosa-related roaning. Although there are a few white spots on her legs (none visible in this shot), there are no roan hairs below her knees. The hair itself is lighter and somewhat iridescent.


When I got her results back in 2008, I posted a series of comparison photos on my studio blog to show how the tones on lower legs differed. This is the sort of thing that artists need to be able to see in order to capture different colors in a believable way. It’s also something that artistically inclined people tend to do well, which is probably why many artists are good at guessing color when tests are not available.

I’ll give the same caveat about these photos that I did when I first posted them. Photographs are not the best way to really see these differences, even for people that are good at noticing them. All the ways we record and transmit images (film, printing, monitors) can distort color, and with something like this what we are dealing with are very subtle differences in tone. These images were taken with the same equipment in close proximity to one another, but still viewing these colors in real life – preferrably side-by-side – is the best way to see. Indeed, the tone in color is really best studied from life because the camera rarely captures what is so obvious in person. But this is as close as we can get over the internet!

These are the legs of a sooty palomino pony. Notice how yellow in tone the lightest areas are. “Yellowness” is one of the best indicators for the presence of the cream gene.

These are the legs of a red silver pony. This horse is genetically bay, and you can see the unaltered red hairs on the upper leg. His black lower leg has been diluted by the silver gene, turning it a bluish chocolate. The overall tone on the lower legs is very cool, especially compared to the yellow of the palomino above.


And these are Sprinkle’s legs. Again, she’s genetically black so like the silver legs above, this is a diluted form of black. The color isn’t cool, however. It isn’t yellow, but it’s not really red either. If I had to call it something, I would say it is a bronze tone.


Here is a side-by-side comparison of the leg color, with an addition of a sooty chestnut to compare against a truly red leg.  (The image links to a much larger version.)


And finally here are bronzed legs beside a flaxen chestnut leg and a truly black leg, showing the contrasting tones.

To my knowledge, no formal studies have been done to determine what causes this. It does not happen to all black appaloosas, but it is not especially rare either. Tomorrow I will post a few more examples.

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Manchado comparisons

I have had a few people ask me what made the Pato horse so different from any other sabino roan. Several people suggested that the horse looked no different from horses like the one pictured to the left of this group. (That photo came from Notorious Stock, and can be seen in its entirety here.) I’ve set the horse from the previous post alongside him with a photo of a leopard appaloosa rump beside it. It is the organization of the spots on the pato horse into clusters, which are reminiscent of a leopard, that made me wonder if he was displaying a manchado pattern along with sabino. The horse caught my eye because he doesn’t look exactly like either a sabino roan or a leopard, but visually falls somewhat in between.

I also had someone say they had not seen a manchado that looked “anything like” a leopard complex horse. Here is another comparison shot.

It is the quantity of round spots set inside the white ground, often concentrated on the hindquarters, that gives the manchado pattern a leopard-like appearance. (Left is a manchado, right is an appaloosa. Photo used with permission.)

That’s not to say that sabinos cannot have round spots set within a white ground.

But it is unusual to see that concentrated on the top of the rump, and spread continuously over the whole horse. We don’t know that it is impossible, but the oddity of it made me suspect something else might be there.

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