June 2011

That’s the print test that arrived late last night. It came with some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that I will not be able to get books printed in time for BreyerFest, which was my original goal. I knew that was probably a long shot because it was unlikely that everything would turn out perfectly on the first try. Technology has changed a lot since I was last involved in printing, but I was pretty sure that part of it was still the same. Things always go wrong at the printers. Always.

I knew I was looking at a lot of different quality issues, which is why I sent off a sample section to be printed. That’s what I am holding in the picture. (That’s why it is a small, saddle-stitched booklet, rather than a perfect-bound 430+ page book.) I did not know what to expect from the newer Print-On-Demand (POD) technology. I wasn’t even sure I would go that route, because some of the issues I had been told to expect gave me pause. Ideally I would prefer to go that route because I would love to hand off the fulfillment aspect over to another entity so I can return to the studio. Places that do that (companies like Lulu and Createspace) all use the same print-on-demand technology.

What I had heard was that that the color printing, which is used on the covers, leaves something to be desired. That one issue, paired with the still-high costs involved, is why this particular set of books are being designed in black and white. An expensive book with questionable color was a non-starter. I must admit that while it is not the same as offset printing, and I suspect their press wasn’t calibrated well (too much magenta), it wasn’t as awful as I had been lead to expect. It is the kind of compromise I expected with Print-On-Demand.  (And yes, I know… a book about color in black and white? I’ll talk more about that later in the post.)

But it was the black and white interior where I found the problems.

Oh, that won't do at all!

Despite meticulously following the instructions for “best results”, many of the photos and illustrations came out too dark. I don’t need color to show how unusual the patterning is on the Hackney in that first photo, but I do need people to be able to see the pattern!

The same image using a wide range of level and curve adjustments

The remedy is to go in and tweak the problem images in Photoshop and print another test to determine which settings will work best. It still amazes me that this is actually economically feasible for a printing company, but it is apparently how it is done.

There was some good news that came out of my test, though. As I mentioned, these books are being printed in black and white. Part of that is the economics, but part is also the subject matter. As I have said before, these are not “how to identify you horse’s color” books. Until color printing becomes more accessible, that kind of information is far better suited to a place like this blog. Instead, these books are about the history of horse color in different breeds. In many ways, they are as much about the history of the different breeds as they are about color specifically. As a result, a large portion of the photos are already black and white because they are old. For some all we have are engravings (like the horse in the image above).

Those images are really important to properly tell these stories, but in many cases the image quality is really poor. Often the sole remaining image of a historical animal is the one that was printed in a stud book. Stud books were often printed fairly cheaply on paper little better than newsprint. For others, the pictures come from old periodicals or bulletins issued by agricultural departments. Those were the images that motivated me to print a test section, because I needed to know if they could be included. With modern pictures I have the option of contacting owners and photographers for an alternate, but for the historic horses often there is only one (bad!) image. If that one image didn’t work, I might need to formulate another plan. But ironically, the bad photos printed well. In some cases, far better than they should have! So while the fix for the dark photos is going to be time consuming, at least there is a fix.

The other great irony?

This was easier to do. When I first announced that there would be books, I had a lot of people ask if they would be offered as e-books or downloads. I said I would try, but I really wasn’t sure that I was up for a great technical challenge like that.

Oddly enough, getting the manuscript into Kindle format was really simple. In fact the biggest challenge wasn’t technical, but one of layout. How could I break down the charts and diagrams (like the one those sample homozygous splash overos came from) so that they worked with that kind of format? That is actually a lot more fun than figuring out levels and curves and file formats! And since I own a Kindle, it is easy to see exactly what my readers will get. I am also told that if I use color images, those devices that can do color will show them in color. That might be the answer for color publishing in the future. So yes, there will be an electronic version eventually. After I figure out how to make the less high-tech version work for me!


The full horse from the previous post, showing a rather impressive variety of pattern edges all on one horse.

"My face doesn't look like it belongs with my butt!"

The recent discussion of the possible sabino-manchado horse has had me thinking about the topic that has consumed much of my attention for the last few years, which is pattern interaction. That was the subject that I began to explore in a series of articles for the magazine published for the (now sadly gone) Realistic Equine Sculpture Society. I had touched upon it before in presentations, but only in the most superficial way, because exploring the ways that the different patterns interact is speculative. We cannot test for most of these patterns, and to make matters worse we already know that some of what we call a pattern (like sabino) is actually a catch-all phrase for a group of patterns that may in fact prove to be quite different from one another. When teaching about horse color, it seemed less confusing to stick with what was actually known.

But just as my friend Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig pointed out in a recent blog post about the difference between anatomical charts and living, breathing animals, and how important that is for anyone wishing to convey life in their sculpture, so too is there a difference between the rules and categories of coat color genetics and the living animals we encounter. Much of what is said about horse color is simplified. It has to be; that is the first step to understanding it. But once those concepts are clear – once a person understands that this is a frame and that a tobiano and that a sabino – then the next step is exploring the far more complicated way that color presents on individual horses.

And one of the biggest influences on that is the way that the different patterns interact. Someone questioned the use of “portions” of the photos in the previous post, but that is exactly what pattern interaction is about. When there are two (or more) patterns, which portions remain? Which are lost? Which get changed so that they look different from either of the original pattern?

In the next few days I am going to try to reformat some of the information that appeared in the RESS articles, and hopefully from there start exploring the topic further.

I have had a few people ask me what made the Pato horse so different from any other sabino roan. Several people suggested that the horse looked no different from horses like the one pictured to the left of this group. (That photo came from Notorious Stock, and can be seen in its entirety here.) I’ve set the horse from the previous post alongside him with a photo of a leopard appaloosa rump beside it. It is the organization of the spots on the pato horse into clusters, which are reminiscent of a leopard, that made me wonder if he was displaying a manchado pattern along with sabino. The horse caught my eye because he doesn’t look exactly like either a sabino roan or a leopard, but visually falls somewhat in between.

I also had someone say they had not seen a manchado that looked “anything like” a leopard complex horse. Here is another comparison shot.

It is the quantity of round spots set inside the white ground, often concentrated on the hindquarters, that gives the manchado pattern a leopard-like appearance. (Left is a manchado, right is an appaloosa. Photo used with permission.)

That’s not to say that sabinos cannot have round spots set within a white ground.

But it is unusual to see that concentrated on the top of the rump, and spread continuously over the whole horse. We don’t know that it is impossible, but the oddity of it made me suspect something else might be there.

I encountered this roan Saddlebred at a local show this past winter. Roan Saddlebreds are extremely rare, and the few modern examples I have seen have all been bay roans. Classic, dark-headed roan is frequently linked to the gene that makes horses bay or black, so chestnut roan is less common in many breeds.

This gal was odd even for a roan. Perhaps most striking was her mane, which went from red at the roots to white in the middle to red at the bottom againt. The owner allowed me to pull some hairs, and they were all banded in this fashion. She said the mare (who obviously had some age on her) had always been this way. She also said that she was much lighter in the summer, which is pretty typical of roans.

The hairs in her tail were also banded, though not as consistently so the effect was not as dramatic.

She was also faintly dappled. I tried without much success to capture them in a few pictures, but the show grounds there are set up terribly from a photographers standpoint!

In many ways she reminded me of the odd sabino roans that Laura Behning found in Morgans, perhaps because of the white dappling.

Her owner also said that the mare came as a surprise to her breeders because both the sire and dam were ordinary chestnuts, and there was no history of roans in her family. I haven’t taken the time to track down her pedigree to confirm that, but if that is true that would make her all the more unusual.

I made the mistake of calling the horse in the most recent post a polo pony, but Martina pointed out that he is actually a pato horse. I linked to this video in the comments, but I thought I would put it here so it gets seen. (I am not sure the comments come through for those that are subscribed to the blog, especially if they are made later.)

It is certain a sport for the brave… and the young! I fear I have hit the age where a peaceful trail ride without stirrups is about as daring as I get.

Martina has more pictures of the sport here.

As I mentioned in the comments of my previous post, Martina Vannelli sent me photos of an oddly patterned Argentinian Polo Pony. I suspected at the time that he was another manchado. His spotting pattern is smaller and denser than that of the others I have seen, but I suspect that may be the effect of one of the sabino genes. Often sabino interacts with other patterning genes by breaking down the original pattern into smaller pieces.

His leg raps make it hard to see his markings but it appears that he has stockings on at least some of his legs. And of course his blazed face is typical of sabino.

We honestly don’t have enough pictures of manchado from enough angles to know exactly what it does, but given that it is primarily a top-down dorsal pattern (unlike sabino which is a bottom-up ventral pattern) I think that sabino might be redirecting the pattern somewhat on this horse. The markings here on the chest are a good example. It is a location that I would expect on a sabino, but the character of the patterning is a little different.

This is the angle that, to me at least, looks most like the manchado pattern. The round appaloosa-like spots is typical – just there are more of them, and each spot is smaller – as is the white tail. White tails seem to be a pretty consistent feature of the pattern.

I want to thank Martina for allowing me to share her photographs. And for those that just like to see pretty horse imagery, I highly recommend her Flickr account. She does beautiful work documenting the horses in Argentina.

Manchado is an extremely rare pinto pattern that has – to date at least – been found only in Argentina. Ever since I first began talking about the manchado pattern, that fact has caused many people to ask if I think there is essentially “something in the water” down there in Argentina that makes that strange color. Some assume that since the pattern is constrained to just that one country, it must be environmental. I am skeptical that there is something unique to any one country that can create such a dramatic pattern. Countries are, after all, human constructs. Why in Argentina, and not Brazil? Or Chile?

To me, it seems more likely that geographic constraints on a color are about founder effect, and not something strange in the Argentinian atmosphere. To put the founder effect in layman’s terms, it simply means that when you start a new group with a small set of animals, the quirky aspects of that specific set of individuals skew what happens later when the population gets bigger. The Argentinian love for odd coloring, for instance, meant that what was brought there was louder on average than the founders used in other countries. (Late nineteenth century literature is full of references to colored horses being bred for the Argentinian market.)

And the breeds where it has occurred aren’t as disparate as one might think. Breeds are more distinct from one another now, but they really were not as recently as 100 years ago. With the possible exception of the Arabian (and even that is open for debate), almost every Argentinian breed on record as having a manchado cannot rule out the use of local mares. At the turn of the last century, top-crossing – that is, the use of males to determine the “breed” designation – was the way things were done almost everywhere, and most certainly where horses of a specific type had to be imported. If a color was in the local mare population, and was not intentionally bred out, then it could spread pretty wide. That would be doubly so if the pattern was recessive.

And the individual horses we know of are not all unrelated. The  Hackney stallion that the pattern in the above illustration is based on is the grandson of one of the known manchado mares. Both have multiple lines to uniquely Argentinian horses. It would not be impossible to have a recessive pattern there in the native, pre-studbook population (perhaps already of Hackney descent) which then spread.

I think that is a more plausible explanation than something is making the horses odd-colored after conception. Here is the section on the color from Dr. Sponenberg’s Equine Color Genetics (Third Edition):

“The repeatability of the manchado pattern suggests a genetic cause, though the range of breeds in which it occurs is awkward because they are not related nor are they commonly crossed one with the other to produce breeding stock. Paintings of Hackney horses from the 1800s suggest that the pattern has been around at least since then, if only rarely. The sporadic occurrence of manchado suggests that it might be due to a recessive mechanism, and moreover that the allele is rare.”

That pretty much sums up my suspicions on the color as well.

For those that might like to see more examples of the pattern, pictures of a manchado Polo Pony are here, and of course the famous Arabian Trabag can be seen here and here.

(I should clarify that when I say the horses can be traced to Argentinian horses, that is not to imply that the bloodlines used were somehow questionable in nature. Many of the breeds have a long history in the country and have separate founder lines from other countries.)

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