If you’ve ever read a book set in the West, or a book about horses anywhere, you’ve probably come across some of these terms. You might know what they mean. You might not. You might be curious about it. You might not give a hoot.
As a writer of western fiction, I care because I generally always have a horse or two in my books. Most of the time, I don’t put names on them unless they have a major role in the story; i.e., Flicka or Trigger. But if you give your horses a color, like buckskin, strawberry roan, or bay, it will make that animal unique and memorable, no matter how minor his role.
That said, I’ve compiled a run-down on a few of the terms used for the color of horses. These are by no means inclusive. There are many combinations.
Sorrel or Chestnut: Reddish brown, sometimes with a coppery hue. A wide range of shades. Mane, tail, and legs the same color as the body, but can be lighter. There can be some white markings toward the hooves. Variations: Liver chestnut (darkest shade); dusty chestnut (light, dusty appearance).
Appaloosa: Spotted. Usually dark, round, or egg-shaped spots on a white “blanket” over the loin and hips. They can have black spots all over. Hooves striped vertically black and white. Eyes encircled by white. (This is a breed, not just a color.)
Grulla: Mouse-colored, blue or soft gray. Black mane, tail, and legs.
Gray: Grays are born with dark skin but the color changes. They can be various shades from dark to nearly white, dappled, or flea-bitten (tiny flecks of black or brown).
Bay: Deep rich brown with black mane, tail, and legs.
Palomino: Golden colored with white mane and tail. Can range from light to dark golden.
Dun: Varying drab shades, slightly brownish-dray or grayish-yellow coat with black mane and tail. A black dorsal stripe (down the middle of the back). Variation: copper dun.
Roan: A mixture of white hair and one other color. Mane and tails are usually the base color but can also have white interspersed. Variations: strawberry or red roan (red/white hair); blue roan (black/white hair)
Claybank: A diluted copper dun.
Buckskin: The body is similar to tanned deerhide, yellowish-brown. Black mane, tail, lower legs. Dorsal stripe.
Paint: White with large patches of brown, black, chestnut, or any other color. Legs are usually white. Manes will follow the color pattern on the neck.
"Black Horse" Image Courtesy of Tina Phillips (FreeDigitalPhotos.Net)