May 2011


(Previously posted on November 8, 2008 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

In the comments on this post, I mentioned getting updated pictures of Prince, the palomino with all the Bend Or spots. I thought that he was more heavily spotted than last year, and after comparing earlier pictures I believe he is. These aren’t the best pictures since I didn’t have time to take him out of his shady pasture. He’s also a bit of a love sponge, so getting far enough away from him to get his whole body is always a trick. (I have almost as many fuzzy close-ups of his nose as I do of Sprinkles.)

In those comments, Sarah mentioned that the Bend Or spot on her Arabian, Dar, had the same three-dimensional quality that Sprinkle’s appaloosa spots have. I had a theory that perhaps the black hair grew at a different rate. But Prince’s spots seem to disprove this idea because they are flush with the rest of his coat. Here are some close-ups.

a spot on his shoulder

a large spot on his right hip

another large one, this time inside his thigh

So perhaps it isn’t about the color of the hair, but rather the density of the pigment. Appaloosa spots are densely pigmented. This is particularly obvious when an appaloosa has self-colored spots on a dark background. Many Bend Or spots have that same appearance, and those might appear three-dimensional in the winter. Prince’s spots are, however, clusters of black hairs mixed in with his normal color. Some of the spots have a higher percentage of black hairs than others, but they are all something a of a mix. If I had to guess, I would think that Prince was genetically a sooty palomino but that something was directing the black hairs to form spots rather than more usual patterns (dappling or all-over dispersion).

Rebecca Turner sent me some pictures of another odd expression of sooty palomino, and I’ll see if I can’t get permission to post those, too. He was another really unusual horse!

[Update:  The  pattern of spots on Prince remained pretty stable from the time these pictures were taken.  Sadly, he passed away earlier this year from colic.]


If there is a pattern that has fascinated me more than the others, it would have to be splash overo.  I first saw the pattern on a crop-out Welsh Pony (The Hot Spot) shown with the Pinto Horse Association in the late 1970s, and was intrigued since his pattern did not fit the commonly accepted rules for dividing horses into tobianos and overos.  I encountered it again in both the original Sponenberg book Horse Color (1983) and the paper on “recessive spotting” in Finnhorses, written by V. Klemola in 1933.

I began collecting information on anything that had what I considered the “classic” splash pattern. Those were horses that didn’t look like anything else but splash, with fully white faces, four white legs, two blue eyes, a white belly (not just belly spotting) that extended up the chest and neck, usually a white tail end, and clean edging to the pattern.  Most often the horses were at least 50% white, so they were pretty hard to miss as being pintos.

I keep my notes in a particular format, with pictures and extended pedigrees.  Here are typical sheets from my notes:

Over the years, these notebooks have grown to hundreds of pages with literally thousands of horses.  (I am sorry to admit that they have not even kept close to the pace at which I have accumulated photos and information!)  Among those are a large collection of these classic splashes from a variety of breeds.  It was through a quirk of how I arrange the information that I came to believe that splash was not actually recessive, as many early writers surmised, nor was it a simple dominant as later studies proposed.  I believe it is an incomplete dominant, and that the classic splash expression is what the pattern looks like when there are two copies present.  That is because to help pin down the color line in my notes, horses in a pedigree known to carry a trait are printed in blue.  Horses that have characteristics of the color or pattern are printed in green.  So in the case of splashes, the names of obvious pintos are blue, whereas horses with blue eyes, or that have a history of producing a lot of blue eyes, or the right kind of face and leg markings, have names in green.

My first task with any color was to at least rule the male or female side of the pedigree in or out.  What I found maddening about the splashes was that I couldn’t even get that far.  The trait just couldn’t be ruled out of either.  It wasn’t until I had amassed a large number of these entries, spread across widely divergent breeds (including those thought not to have any other kind of white marking genes) that it dawned on me that this was my clue.  The inclusion of both sides of the pedigree was the point.  It probably came from both sides, just I I had come to see that the sabino whites were getting their coloring from both a sabino sire and dam.

I later found that another researcher, Henriette Smit-Arriens, had already proposed just such a theory.  (Henriette’s book, Farben und Farbvererbung beim Pferd, is probably one of the most comprehensive currently available on the topic of horse color, though sadly it is only in German.)  What was interesting to me was that Henriette had been studying the one breed that I did not have access to records for at the time, which was the Icelandic.  So we had come to the same conclusion using separate data groups.

Since then I have seen it become popular to declare anything with blue eyes to be a splash.  I remain skeptical, since I have encountered both sabino whites and Dominant Whites with blue eyes.  I suspect that while blue eyes are uncommon in both sabino and Dominant White, I do not think that the trait can be completely excluded.  (I do not think that the evidence supports the theory that all sabinos and all whites with blue eyes are also splash.)  For that reason, it takes the appearance of a classic splash pattern to convince me that the original splash gene described in the early literature is actually present.  Of course, that is a tall order since – if it is truly an incomplete dominant – the proof would require two separate lines of a presumably rare color to meet, or for one line to be inbred.

That is why I was thrilled when Jo-Ann Ferre shared the video linked above.  That is exactly what I am looking for to rule the pattern in for a given breed.  In this case, it is the Paso Fino.  Some of the foal’s relatives can be seen here:
Escudero del Quijote
(her sire)
Mi Dulce Sueno

(matneral half-brother to the sire)
Bailarina del Quijote
(maternal half-sister to the sire)

The markings on these horses are pretty typical of what heterozygous splash looks like in other breeds.  In many cases, the heterzygotes aren’t actually that loudly marked, and often do not even have blue eyes, though if you look at the family as a group many times there will be a tendency for blue eyes or blue segments in the eyes.

I also greatly indebted to people like Jo-Ann who are intimately familiar with the colors in their breed.  Their willingness to share this kind of information helps make the breed color charts, and the upcoming books, more complete and accurate.

These were given as handouts at the BOYCC presentation, and are now up on the studio website as PDF files.  The first one is a complete overhaul of the old “color chart” that I have published annually for some years now.  The second one is a previously unpublished set of charts using the same format, but with less common (to most American horsemen at least) breeds.

What is Possible?

Further Possibilities

(Previously posted on November 9, 2008 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

This Morgan gelding, Sky, is the oddly marked sooty palomino I mentioned in the previous post. In this picture where he is darker, it is easy to see that his dark hairs form a pretty typical sooty pattern with the dark knees, dappling and ear rims. He even has the dark ridge along the leading edge of his cheek. If you look closer, though, you can see some slightly darker areas on his barrel and hip.

Those same areas are much more visible when Sky turns lighter. (Having been around a number of palominos in the last few years, I have found it interesting how dramatically their color changes with the seasons.)


The pattern of the dark hairs is very reminiscent of those seen on blood-marked fleabitten grey horses. It’s also interesting that whatever is concentrating these dark hairs into patches, it hasn’t disrupted the dappling pattern. That’s also true on Prince (the horse posted yesterday), though he is much paler so his dappling – which is obvious in person – doesn’t tend to show up in pictures.

Here is the other side of Sky, showing that his odd markings are not evenly distributed. That kind of asymmetry is typical in blood-marked greys, too.

Although it isn’t really related to his odd coloring, Rebecca said that Sky had another unusual quality. He’s a gaited Morgan. What a really cool horse!

(Previously posted on January 15, 2009 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

I’ve been busy catching up on neglected tasks and cleaning out the studio, hoping that clearing out the clutter (both the literal and mental sort) will improve productivity. So I don’t yet have a glazed Imp, but I thought I would share pictures of Jag. He’s the new horse at the barn where I keep my mare, Sprinkles. He has a really fun personality

He’s also most likely carrying the splash overo gene. It might be hard to see in this photo, but this right eye is partially blue. His muzzle is interesting, too, because that isn’t mottled skin. It’s actually white hair on dark skin, and it only appears on this one side. The other side is dark.

My camera had a hard time capturing them, but he also has really pronounced reverse dappling.

Jag has had me thinking about how much the horse world has changed in recent years. He brings the number of appaloosas at our barn up to five. We also have four pintos and six palominos, but only three bays. For years the common complaint in the model horse community has been that we have a disproportionate number of “odd” colors, unlike the real world where most horses are bay or chestnut. It does seem that this has been changing somewhat.

(Previously posted on August 12, 2009 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been working on an article on how appaloosa patterns interact with the different base coat colors. In discussing the color black and how it can suppress white markings and patterns, I thought it would be fun to show how this suppression can effectively “shrink” the leopard pattern down to blanket-size. Digital images are fun that way, because I could take the pattern from the top horse and literally shrink it down and place it on the bottom one. Aside from the difference in hair growth direction (that part doesn’t shrink so my spot directions don’t quite match anymore), the effect is actually pretty accurate.

Here is my real black appaloosa with her “shrunken” leopard pattern.

The article has reminded me that I have a terribly outdated set of color charts. In the past I’ve just updated the existing charts with newly found colors or registry rule changes, but they really need a complete overhall at this point. There are new colors like pearl and dominant white to add, as well as older colors that need more detailed breakdowns.

I will be doing a presentation on horse breed mythology and the history of horse color at the BOYC Convention on Saturday, May 21.  Hopefully I won’t scandalize too many people when I talk about tobiano Friesians.

As part of this, I completely restructured and updated the old “What is Possible?” charts.  I also updated a second set of charts dealing with less common breeds that were never published.  After I return from the convention, I will post both to the studio website.  The new charts include some of the more recent dilution genes (like pearl and mushroom), and break appaloosa patterning down by its component parts, since not all breeds have all the components.  The charts still don’t cover all the breeds or even all the known color oddities, but they are much closer to it than they were.

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