Tag Archives | skin pigmentation

One more on skin color


Here is one more interesting horse with pale skin, this time an appaloosa. Like the amber champagne mare from a few days ago, her skin is quite consistently pink. Here is a close-up of her face.


She has the small freckles often associated with champagnes, but the area behind her eye has the patchy skin coloring more typical of an appaloosa. Although most appaloosas have patchy skin, rather than freckled pink skin, there are individuals that look like this mare.

It may be that she is also a champagne as well as an appaloosa. She was squinting in almost every shot I took, and I never was able to get a good look at her eye color before she was gone. This poor photo doesn’t give a clear idea. Her body color is in keeping with what might be seen on a champagne, but with the appaloosa gene influencing the appearance of her skin it is hard to be sure. Even if she is a champagne, this kind of skin coloring can be found on appaloosas that are clearly not champagne. It isn’t really common, but it does occur.


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Skin color variations – palominos


Yesterday’s post was about skin color in champagnes and cremellos. Today I wanted to share a few pictures of some palominos, to show how some of them can be mistaken for champagne. The gelding pictured above is clearly a palomino, with the very dark skin visible on his muzzle and around his eyes. Here is another picture taken in slightly different lighting, still showing the uniformly dark skin pigmentation.


His skin is uniformly dark – on his face. But this is a shot taken of the area under his tail.


The skin here has a purple tone. It is not fully pigmented like his face. He is sweaty in this picture, so the skin actually appears somewhat darker than it is. Here is another shot showing his sheath and inner thigh, which have the same incomplete pigmentation.


In my experience, this kind of skin coloring is not uncommon in palominos. This guy is actually on the moderate range. I have seen individuals with much less pigment. The give away that the horses are in fact palominos is the dark face skin, though face markings on some pintos can obscure that clue. Dark skin is visible on the muzzle spots on his guy, as well as around his eyes (just barely visible in the photo I took). It isn’t hard to imagine a Paint with markings that would cover those clues, though.


Here is the underside of that same Paint.


It is not surprising that many find the identification of champagnes difficult, given that pinkish skin can be found on the undersides of many palominos. This can also explain why early palomino breeders believed that loss of pigmentation was a progressive thing brought on by breeding palominos together over generations. They were, in fact, breeding both cream and champagne dilutes. The various combinations of those two dilutions, along with the individual variations, could give the visual impression of varying degrees of diluting all three things – skin, eyes and coat color.

Most modern horsemen are aware that champagne is a separate color, and many are getting better at identifying it thanks to websites with comparison shots like the ICHR site linked yesterday. Still the differences can be pretty subtle. The champagne registry prefers the term freckling when describing the skin tone of their horses, to differentiate it from the mottling associated with the appaloosa patterns. As an artist, I think of the skin color on an older champagne – one that has begun to deepen in color – as looking a great deal like pointillism. That is, the darker color is applied in tiny, overlapping dots on a pinkish base. Abundant freckles seems like a good description. Appaloosa mottling looks more like patches of color (dark or light) placed on top of the other. The lighter skin on the undersides of some palominos tends to look like soft washes of dark color dabbed on, but the artist never finished getting the dark pigment fulling applied. Unlike the champagne, there aren’t distinct freckles, although there are softer-edged spots of darker coloring. Unfortunately there isn’t really a good word for that effect. Another subtle difference between champagne skin and pink skin on palominos is that the extremities in one tend towards pink (champagne) and the other towards dark (palomino). In the linked ICHR article, the example used is mare udders. In champagnes, the teats are pink, whereas with palominos those are dark. This is what helps to give the impression that a champagne is a pink-skinned animal that had dark pigmented added, while a palomino is a dark-skinned animal that had pigment taken away.

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Skin color variations


In the last few years, a few cremellos have been noted as having darker skin than might be expected. One of the first to gain widespread attention was the Morgan stallion Amberfields Desperado. Although many observers insisted that he could not possibly be a cremello with such dark skin and green eyes, his breeding record said that was exactly what he was. Another was the Quarter Horse stallion Peptocremzemal. When his dark skin caused some to question the validity of his tests, his owner took the step of having a test done by a second lab to prove that he really was a cremello. Cases like these have made it clear that while general rules about skin color are helpful for identifying most horses, there are individuals that deviate from the norm.

The horse in the top picture is another with somewhat atypical skin coloring. She is an amber champagne (bay with the champagne dilution) tobiano Paint. Here is a full-body shot of her.

And here is a shot that shows her reversed dappling. She had the metallic sheen seen on a lot of champagnes, so the dapples were hard to capture on film. In person they were even more pronounced.

The photos were taken back when champagne was only just beginning to be understood, so it didn’t register with me at the time that her skin – particularly her muzzle – was unusually pink for an older champagne. She was thirteen, which is long enough that most horses would have developed the “abundant dark freckles” associated with champagne. (For some great comparison shots of typical champagnes and other dilutions, this guide published by the International Champagne Horse Registry is an excellent resource.) For some reason, her skin was still pretty pale and free of extensive freckling.

Horses like this that do not follow the rules do make identification difficult, especially when the differences between the dilutions are already subtle, as least to the average horseman. After all, how different are these two noses?


That second nose belongs to this cremello filly.


Here is another shot that better shows the freckling on her skin.


It is even more pronounced under her tail.


It was surprising to me that she was so darkly freckled under her tail when she was mostly pink on her face and around her eyes. In the past I might have suspected that she was an ivory champagne (chestnut with both the cream and the champagne dilution), since they are more prone to freckling like this. In the United States, most crosses that might be used to produce a cremello (Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, Walking Horses) also open the door to the possibility of champagne, too. Yet her eyes were genuinely blue, not hazel or green, and her owners said her parents were dark-skinned palominos. (I should also mention that these pictures were taken when she was very, very dirty so some of the darker tones in the folds of her skin might be misleading.)

Here she is with her very pale palomino half-brother.


Before there were tests for cream and champagne (and for the more recently identified pearl), the only real way to be sure with horses like these was to look at the colors of the relatives and – if the horse had been used for breeding – offspring. The champagne mare at the top does have champagne siblings, including a younger sister that is officially registered as a gold champagne. Now tests can clear up questions about what a given horse carries, which may help those interested in color identification define the full range of what is possible within each color.

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