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Classic splash

I have gotten a number of messages lately that have made me realize that it might be helpful to clarify the term Classic Splash. I began using that term in place of the commonly used “obvious splash” when I realized that if there were differing views about what was and was not splash, the word ‘obvious’ was probably not particularly instructive. If there is one thing modern testing is teaching those of us who love white patterns, it is that very little is truly obvious! I still needed a way to indicate that I was talking about something very specific, so I opted for the word classic because what I had in mind was very much in line with the pattern as it was described in the original paper by Klemola.

That was not my first exposure to the splashed white pattern, though. Credit for that goes to the pony in the picture at the top of this post. Sometime in the early 1980s, his picture was used to illustrate the entry for the Pinto Horse Association in Western Horsemen’s annual all-breed issue. I was fascinated, because I could not figure out which pattern he had. That particular photo was taken of his other side, and was angled such that it appeared that the dark area of his coat did not start until well after his poll, while much of his neck and body were colored. To someone used to looking at ordinary tobianos and overos, he just looked wrong. Very appealing, but very much like an artist who did not know what they were doing made up his pattern. Needless to say, he went into my artist reference files.

I didn’t know what he was until a few years later, when I acquired a copy of Dr. Sponenberg’s book, Horse Color.  He had a small paragraph about Splashed White, and photos of a Welsh Pony foal with the same kind of pattern. The Klemola paper was included in the bibliography, and that provided still more information and a few more pictures. From that point on, I began to collect images and background information on anything with a similar pattern. Like most artists, I have always collected large quantities of reference images, but my interest in horse color – and patterns in particular – had become a hobby unto itself. All the white patterns interested me, but none so much as the elusive Splashed White.


My early reference files are filled with advertisements torn or xeroxed from magazines. This gave me a better idea of the range of expression to the pattern, but still the information was limited. I knew that other patterns, like sabino, could occur in such a minimal fashion that the average person did not realize the horse was a pinto until it produced something more extensively marked. If that was the case with the Splashed Whites, it was often a rather big jump from minimal parents to really loud offspring. With sabinos, I could often pinpoint where the color was likely coming from in the pedigree. With splashes, it was often not especially clear. Here is Gambling Man, one of the better-known of the Splashed White Paint Horses from the early 1990s.


Those are his parents in the inset clipping. So did his color come from his sire, with his blaze and four white feet? Or maybe his dam, with her irregular face marking that covered her nose? My files were full of horses like this, where it was impossible to narrow the source of the color down even to one side of the pedigree. Of course, this was also before the use of the internet was widespread, so there were no online databases or easy access to images, so often the background information was incomplete.

It was actually the format that I used to organize my files that led to the realization that Splashed White was probably incompletely dominant. I always entered horses into my notebooks with as much pedigree information as I could find, because I was usually looking for the color line. That is, I wanted to know where the color came from so that I could more easily rule related horses in (or out) for a given pattern. When color printing became feasible, I began color coding the names to note whether or not the horses in the pedigree were known to have a color or pattern, were suspected of it, or could be ruled out. What made Splashes so maddening was that I couldn’t even rule out one side of the pedigree on any of the entries. It took a while, but eventually I realized that wasn’t the problem; that was the answer. I couldn’t rule either side out because it came from both sides.


After that, the color began to make a lot more sense. The pattern did not occur on a continuum, like sabino appeared to do. It often did not look like much until the horse inherited it from both parents. That was why I sought out that very specific pattern as “proof” that Splashed White was there. Anything less went into my “maybe” files. I did that because over the years of searching for these horses, I found that some things that looked promising often ended up as dead ends. (Conversely, the horses that actually produced classic splash patterns often looked anything but promising!)

As I mentioned in previous posts, I have classified two sorts of “False Splash” patterns. I should caveat that by saying that it wasn’t that horses with these types of patterns could not have splash. In breeds with multiple forms of white patterning, splash carriers might well look like these horses. But they could also prove to be quite disappointing. That caused me to be rather cautious, because I could not be sure that these horses weren’t carrying something entirely different. Here are some clippings from my files of the two types:


These are horses where the bottom part of the pattern – the legs and the underside – look a lot like splash, but the white on the face is more like sabino. That is especially true for the Arabian pictured, Raffon’s Abida. Horses like this don’t usually have blue eyes, nor do they usually produce many blue eyes.

This is the other category of misleading horses:


These guys have the right kind of face and the blue eyes, but they don’t have the body white. Their tails are usually dark, too, whereas Classic Splashes tend towards white tail ends.

Horses marked like these are not always disappointing. Sometimes they do produce Classic Splashes. My personal suspicion is that this second type is what Classic Splash (suspected SW1) looks like in its heterozygous state when paired with a white-boosting mutation like sabino. In breeds like the Paint, where white-boosting genes are consistently found, this is what a lot of horses from splash-producing families look like. In breeds where those kinds of patterns are rare or non-existent, heterozygous horses do not seem to look like this.

So some of these horses probably are splashes. That said, I could never be sure that some other combination of white patterning might not also create this kind of look. That was because horses that looked like these pictured above sometimes occur, but they do not produce the classic pattern like the ones seen on the horses at the beginning of this post. It might be that they just haven’t been bred to another carrier, or that the odds haven’t worked out in their favor. But absent a test, I have reserved judgement, just in case it was something else. While it is possible to say something is associated with this or that pattern, there are enough gaps in our understanding that it is hard to know how exclusive those characteristics might be. It is quite likely that there is overlap between the different patterns. My great hope is that the new tests will begin to clear some of that up, even as they raise new questions.

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Unexpected things

You will never guess what I am!

(Previously posted on June 4, 2010 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

I started getting requests to write a book on horse color shortly after I started writing articles on the subject, but I didn’t take the idea really seriously until after I began doing seminars at BreyerFest in 2001. My husband co-authored a physics textbook a few years later, and I began teasing him that surely my obscure interest (horse color) was more marketable than his (optical physics). I am still not sure about that, but his publishing experience did convince me that I was too used to controlling my images and text to work with a publishing company. The growth in self-publishing options, particularly print-on-demand, and the belief that I probably knew the market for this kind of book better than most publishers, decided it for me.

The book I truly wanted to write didn’t seem feasible at this point. I needed high-quality color printing, and while the prices have come down a great deal in recent years, they aren’t yet down low enough. I thought that producing an in-depth book on color identification at a reasonable price was still a few years off, so I thought perhaps a smaller scale project might be a good way to “learn the ropes” of self-publishing. What I had in mind was a book that expanded on the information provided in my breed color charts. Those charts have always been abbreviated, both in the scope of the breeds and the colors themselves (new colors have not be added over time). They also don’t give any background or clarification on the information. That information has always been in my notes – in my rather infamous “color notebooks”.

These are just a few of the sheets from a few of the notebooks. After almost twenty years, there are thousands of pages – and still they represent only a fraction of the accumulated information.

I thought I could produce a book with a brief outline of the colors and patterns currently known, and then present each breed with a narrative of what colors were present in the gene pool. I envisioned a handy reference book that could fill in what the charts did not tell. Since it was not designed to explain horse color, but merely to tell the story of horse color in the different breeds, it could be printed in black and white.

So that was the plan – a handy reference book that could be written in time for a June deadline (making the first copies available at BreyerFest 2010). Along the way, a lot of unexpected things came up.

The horses’ stories got longer. I’m sure my friends would point out that this is common with the stories I tell! But I am laying some of the blame with technology.

I’m a better-known individual than my pony friend up there, but you might not know what I am either!

When I started work on the book, it was important to me that it be as grounded in fact as possible. I knew that many breed ‘purists’ weren’t going to like some of the information I had, so I wanted to be on solid ground with what I wrote. But more importantly I didn’t want to simply repeat what previous volumes said about a given breed. Having read countless horse books, it is rather striking how most simply reword what some other author said on the topic – and sometimes even the rewording is pretty minimal! I thought the least I could do was confirm information with first sources.

This probably wouldn’t have changed the scope of the book, except that technology meant that I had access to a lot more information. I already have an impressive amount of information right here in my own library, but in the last few years many registries have gone online with their databases. Most of the American and British databases are restricted to members of the various breed societies, or are only available on a subscription basis. Smaller countries, however, have proven to be a lot more open. This, paired with Google Translate, has allowed me to tell the stories of many obscure breeds more fully.

The other important bit of technology were sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive. Projects like these are scanning older texts and offering them as PDF files for downloading. In the case of Google Books, there is a powerful search engine that sifts through not only titles, but the text of books and periodicals. Fortunately for me, the formative years of selective breeding in horses is the time leading up and the time just following the turn of the last century. It coincides almost perfectly with the books aging out of their copyright protections. Having access to so many contemporary texts from that time (and being able to quickly search them for specific subjects) has allowed me to better understand the earliest times for many of these breeds.

The downside has been that the book has become unexpectedly large, and is taking an unexpectedly long time (not to mention eating up an enormous amount of my attention). This stopped being a “quick reference” long ago, but I am even more enthusiastic about telling the tale. I think that here, nearly a century in to selective breeding of animals, is a good time to record these stories and give some idea of the sweep of history involved. It is my hope that by showing how things really were, perhaps those of us who love horses can see more clearly how to proceed in the future. It just won’t be done in time for this year’s BreyerFest.

Oh, and the two horses pictured are some of the unexpected things I have discovered while writing. The black pony is – believe it or not – a Haflinger. He wasn’t just any Haflinger, either. He belonged to the Emperor of Austria, and was pictured as a “typical example” in a nineteenth century treatise on horse breeds. The grey horse is a Hackney. While I knew the color had once been present in Hackneys, I wasn’t aware there were breeders focusing on the color so late into the twentieth century. (It is, as best I can tell, truly lost now.)

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