Tag Archives | greying

Repigmentation spots

Freckles2008

In the comments section of the last post, some posters noted the similarity of the white areas to fleabitten grey. That is not an uncommon thing with appaloosa patterns. Although it is easiest to think of the action of Leopard Complex (Lp) as a form of progressive roaning, where white hairs gradually replace the colored ones to form what American horsemen call varnish roan, in actual practice the process can go both directions. That is, it can add white hairs to lighten the coat, and it can add concentrated bits of color to speckle the coat. These darker hairs are sometimes called repigmented spots because they typically occur after the coat has already begun to roan out, or in an area that previously had white patterning.

The varnish roan mare at the top of this post is a very good example. I have run photos of Freckles before for the series of posts on appaloosa mottling. I have easy access to her, since she shares a pasture with my own appaloosa pony, Sprinkles. This particular image shows her coloring from four years ago, when the lightest parts of coat were an even mixture of white and color. At that time, had she not had such pronounced varnish markings on her body, and a sprinkling of dark spots on her hips, she might easily have been mistaken for a pale grey. (This particular photo was taken in early May, so she had not fully shed out for the summer and was just a shade or two darker than she would be in summer coat.)

Here is Freckles as she appears now.

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Each year she has gotten more pronounced dark ticking in the roaned areas of her coat, even as she gets lighter in the areas that were colored. This lighter ticking is most noticeable if you compare the right hind leg in the two pictures. The repigmented specks first began to appear on her shoulder, but over time they have spread across most of her body.

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This close-up of her topline shows just how closely this resembles fleabitten grey. In fact, if I use Photoshop to remove the hip spots and what remains of her varnish marks, the resemblance to a true fleabitten grey is quite striking.

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I suspect some type of repigmenting is part of what was going on with the roaned areas on the horse in the previous post. With Freckles, the flecking ties visually with what is already going on with her coat, so it looks less jarring. With the horse from the previous post, the odd transitions between his colored areas and the patterned areas make him look a bit like you pasted together parts of a bay appaloosa and a fleabitten grey.

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A different kind of mottling

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I took some pictures at a local fun show this past weekend, and several are relevant to the topic of cryptic appaloosas like Thumper.

In the previous post I mentioned that the mottling on Thumper’s lips was what alerted me to the fact that he was not an ordinary roan. I wanted to clarify that it was the mottling paired with other clues (like his striped feet) that convinced me he was a varnish roan. Mottling on the mouth alone is not an absolute sign of the appaloosa gene. This mare has mottling, too, but she’s not an appaloosa.

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She’s a fleabitten grey Arabian mare. Obviously her mottling did not come from varnish roan, since Arabians do not have the necessary gene for that.

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Her mouth is mottled because she is a grey. It is not an uncommon trait among greys. In some cases, like this mare, it is pretty subtle. In this picture, taken in the shade and with front of her mouth hidden from view, her skin looks uniformly dark.  Often mottling on greys is not visible in pictures. Sometimes it is nothing more than fine pink speckles around the edges of the white markings.  On others it is very pronounced and involves large areas of pink skin.

This is one reason why it would be easy to hide varnish roan in a predominantly grey breed. While mottling on the mouth is usually a red flag that the appaloosa patterns might be involved, it can seem pretty routine to breeders with grey horses.

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Appaloosa roaning and pintaloosas

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Christine Sutcliffe shared this guy in the comments section of the previous post, and I wanted to post him here where he’ll be more likely to be seen. He carries the tobiano pattern, as did the others, along with varnish roan (leopard complex) and one or more of the overo patterning genes – probably some kind of splash white.

I say that because he has a broad blaze and two blue eyes.

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Horses like this one often get misidentified as grey tobianos, especially if the version of their appaloosa pattern lacks spots, or if their tobiano pattern hides the area that would have shown the spots. It is an easy mistake to make, because varnish roans turn whiter over time much like a grey. (I’ve noticed that as my own black near-leopard mare has aged, more people call her a “grey appaloosa”.)

Some greys lose pigment on their faces, which can also confuse the issue. I suspect that is why varnish roan (leopard complex) has remained in some grey breeds (or strains in breeds) even when appaloosa patterns are not considered desirable or are outright banned. If true greys can develop mottled skin with age, then the facial mottling that develops from varnish pattern might not throw up warning flags.

What sets the progressive whitening of varnish roan apart from grey is that it leaves the spots. The dark spots on this fellow’s rump will remain, no matter how much paler his body becomes. It is thought that all appaloosas roan out, sooner or later. That only applies to the body color, though. When grey is added to the mix, it all lightens. The really loud appaloosa Friesian cross Mystic Warrior is a well-known example of this. This link shows his current appearance along with pictures of the loud black leopard he was as a foal.

Because grey eventually erases the spots in a way that varnish roan will not, it is often considered undesirable by appaloosa breeders. Contrast is often the name of the game in breeding for attractive appaloosa patterns, and grey removes it. That’s also why leopards have traditionally been so sought out by breeders; theirs is the pattern that keeps its contrast. Blanket patterns eventually look a lot more like varnish roans over time.

What is interesting about grey and appaloosa, though, is that before it takes the spots away, it tends to skew them. The angled spots on Mystic Warrior show that really well. On appaloosas with dark areas, like those with blanket patterns, it often adds dramatic white spotting that looks like a cross between marbling and dappling. For those that have the most recent edition of the Sponenberg book, there is a part-Arabian with this type of effect. (He is also pictured in the German book Pferde aus Licht und Schatten.)  It seems that not all grey appaloosas get altered in these ways, but it is common enough these are good clues that grey is there.

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