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Horse markings

Horse markings

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Note: This article is about individualized markings on any breed, type, or color of horse and does not discuss coat colors generally. For information on coat colors that produce genetically distinctive markings, see equine coat color
Equine coat color
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.While most horses remain the same color throughout life, a few, over the course of several years, will develop a different coat color from that with which they were born...

.


Markings on horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s usually are distinctive white areas on an otherwise dark base coat color
Equine coat color
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.While most horses remain the same color throughout life, a few, over the course of several years, will develop a different coat color from that with which they were born...

. Most horses have some markings, and they help to identify the horse as a unique individual. Markings are present at birth and do not change over the course of the horse's life. Most markings have pink skin underneath most of the white hairs, though a few faint markings may occasionally have white hair with no underlying pink skin. Markings may appear to change slightly when a horse grows or sheds its winter coat, however the difference is simply a factor of hair coat length, the underlying design does not change.

On a gray horse
Gray (horse)
Gray or grey is a coat color of horses characterized by progressive silvering of the colored hairs of the coat. Most gray horses have black skin and dark eyes; unlike many depigmentation genes, gray does not affect skin or eye color Their adult hair coat is white, dappled, or white intermingled...

, markings visible at birth may become hidden as the horse turns white with age, but markings can still be determined by trimming the horse's hair closely, then wetting down the coat to see where there is pink skin and black skin under the hair.

Facial markings



Facial markings are usually described by shape and location. There may be more than one distinct facial marking and if so, will be named separately. Occasionally, when a white marking extends over an eye, that eye may be blue instead of brown, though this is not consistently seen in all cases.

Common facial markings are:
  • Blaze: a wide white stripe down the middle of the face.
  • Strip, stripe, or race: a narrow white stripe down the middle of the face.
  • Bald Face: a very wide blaze, extending to or past the eyes. Some, but not all, bald faced horses also have blue eyes.
  • Star: a white marking between or above the eyes. If a stripe or blaze is present, a star must be significantly wider than the vertical marking to be designated separately.
  • Snip: a white marking on the muzzle, between the nostrils.


Additional terms used to describe facial markings include the following:
  • Faint: A small, yet permanent marking that usually consists of white hairs without any underlying pink skin.
  • Interrupted: A marking, usually a strip or blaze, that is broken and not solid for the entire length of the face.
  • Connected: Occasionally used to describe distinctively different markings that happen to be joined to one another
  • Irregular or crooked: A marking, usually a strip or blaze, that does not have a more or less straight path.
  • Lip markings: have no specialized names, usually are described by location, such as "lower lip," "chin", etc. Lip markings may indicate presence of the sabino
    Sabino horse
    Sabino is a group of white spotting patterns in horses that affect the skin and hair. A wide variety of irregular color patterns are accepted as sabino. In the strictest sense, "sabino" refers to the white patterns produced by the Sabino 1 gene, for which there is a DNA test...

     color pattern.


Leg markings


Leg markings are usually described by the highest point of the horse's leg that is covered by white. As a general rule, the horse's hoof
Horse hoof
A horse hoof is a structure surrounding the distal phalanx of the 3rd digit of each of the four limbs of Equus species, which is covered by complex soft tissue and keratinised structures...

 beneath a white marking at the coronary line will also be light-colored ("white"). If a horse has a partial marking or ermine spots at the coronary band, the hoof may be both dark and light, corresponding with the hair coat immediately above. Where the Leopard gene
Leopard complex
The leopard complex is a group of genetically-related coat patterns in horses. These patterns range from progressive increases in interspersed white hair similar to graying or roan to distinctive, Dalmatian-like leopard spots on a white coat. Secondary characteristics associated with the leopard...

 is present, the hoof may be striped even if markings are not visible at the coronary band.

From tallest to shortest, common leg markings are:
  • Stocking: white marking that extends at least to the bottom of the knee or hock, sometimes higher.
  • Sock: white marking that extends higher than the fetlock but not as high as the knee
    Carpus
    In tetrapods, the carpus is the sole cluster of bones in the wrist between the radius and ulna and the metacarpus. The bones of the carpus do not belong to individual fingers , whereas those of the metacarpus do. The corresponding part of the foot is the tarsus...

     or hock
    Hock (zoology)
    The hock, or gambrel, is the joint between the tarsal bones and tibia of a digitigrade or unguligrade quadrupedal mammal, such as a horse, cat, or dog...

    . This marking is sometimes called a "boot."
  • Fetlock or Sock: white marking that extends over the fetlock
    Fetlock
    Fetlock is the common name for the metacarpophalangeal and metatarsophalangeal joints of horses, large animals, and sometimes dogs. It is formed by the junction of the third metacarpal or metatarsal bones proximad and the proximal phalanx distad...

    , occasionally called a "boot."
  • Pastern: white marking that extends above the top of the hoof
    Horse hoof
    A horse hoof is a structure surrounding the distal phalanx of the 3rd digit of each of the four limbs of Equus species, which is covered by complex soft tissue and keratinised structures...

    , but stops below the fetlock.
  • Coronet: white just above the hoof, around coronary band, usually no more than 1 inch (2.5cm) above the hoof.

Additional terms used to describe white leg markings include:
  • Irregular: A marking within the broad confines of a given height, but with significantly uneven edges. Indicated by the highest point of the white. Most often used to describe certain types of stockings.
  • Partial: An irregular marking that only extends up part of the leg to the height indicated, sometimes with the other side of the leg dark. Usually used to describe socks and other short markings.
  • "High White:" White stockings that extend above the knee or hock, sometimes extending past the stifle
    Horse anatomy
    Equine anatomy refers to the gross and microscopic anatomy of horses and other equids, including donkeys, and zebras. While all anatomical features of equids are described in the same terms as for other animals by the International Committee on Veterinary Gross Anatomical Nomenclature in the book...

     onto the flank or belly, considered characteristic of the sabino
    Sabino horse
    Sabino is a group of white spotting patterns in horses that affect the skin and hair. A wide variety of irregular color patterns are accepted as sabino. In the strictest sense, "sabino" refers to the white patterns produced by the Sabino 1 gene, for which there is a DNA test...

     color pattern.

Non-white markings



  • Bend-Or spots
    Bend-Or spots
    Bend-Or spots are a type of spotted marking found on horses. They are fairly rare and range in color from slightly darker than the horse's coat to an almost-black shade. These random spots are most commonly seen on palominos, chestnuts, and darker horses, and may not appear until the horse is...

    : Dark faint spotting, usually seen on horses with a Chestnut
    Chestnut (coat)
    Chestnut is a hair coat color of horses consisting of a reddish-to-brown coat with a mane and tail the same or lighter in color than the coat. Genetically and visually, chestnut is characterized by the absolute absence of true black hairs...

     or Palomino
    Palomino
    Palomino is a coat color in horses, consisting of a gold coat and white mane and tail. Genetically, the palomino color is created by a single allele of a dilution gene called the cream gene working on a "red" base coat...

     coat color.
  • Ermine marks: The occurrence of black marks on a white marking, most often seen on leg markings just above the hoof.
  • "Medicine hat": An unusual type of Pinto or Paint
    Pinto horse
    A pinto horse has a coat color that consists of large patches of white and any other color. The distinction between "pinto" and "solid" can be tenuous, as so-called "solid" horses frequently have areas of white hair. Various cultures throughout history appear to have selectively bred for pinto...

     coloring where the horse has dark ears and poll (like a hat on the head), but surrounded on all sides of the head and neck by white.
  • Shield: A dark Pinto marking where the horse has a dark colored chest, surrounded completely by white on the shoulders, legs, belly and neck. Occasionally used to describe the rarer example of a horse with a totally dark head surrounded completely by white.

Other markings



Horses may have isolated body spots that are not large or numerous enough to qualify them as an Appaloosa
Appaloosa
The Appaloosa is a horse breed best known for its colorful leopard-spotted coat pattern. There is a wide range of body types within the breed, stemming from the influence of multiple breeds of horses throughout its history. Each horse's color pattern is genetically the result of various spotting...

, Pinto
Pinto horse
A pinto horse has a coat color that consists of large patches of white and any other color. The distinction between "pinto" and "solid" can be tenuous, as so-called "solid" horses frequently have areas of white hair. Various cultures throughout history appear to have selectively bred for pinto...

 or Paint
American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse is a breed of horse that combines both the conformational characteristics of a western stock horse with a pinto spotting pattern of white and dark coat colors. Developed from a base of spotted horses with Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred bloodlines, the American Paint Horse...

. Such markings are usually simply called "body spots," sometimes identified by location, i.e. "belly spot," "flank spot," etc. When this type of isolated spotting occurs, it is usually the action of the sabino
Sabino horse
Sabino is a group of white spotting patterns in horses that affect the skin and hair. A wide variety of irregular color patterns are accepted as sabino. In the strictest sense, "sabino" refers to the white patterns produced by the Sabino 1 gene, for which there is a DNA test...

 gene.

Horses may develop white markings over areas where there was an injury to the animal, either to cover scar tissue from a cut or abrasion, or to reflect harm to the underlying skin or nerves. One common type of scarring that produces patches of white hairs are "saddle marks," which are round or oval marks on either side of the withers
Withers
The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a four-legged animal. In many species it is the tallest point of the body, and in horses and dogs it is the standard place to measure the animal's height .-Horses:The withers in horses are formed by the dorsal spinal processes of roughly the...

, produced by a pinching saddle
Saddle
A saddle is a supportive structure for a rider or other load, fastened to an animal's back by a girth. The most common type is the equestrian saddle designed for a horse, but specialized saddles have been created for camels and other creatures...

 that had been worn over a long period of time.

Natural markings


Birdcatcher spots are small white spots, usually between 1 mm and 1 inch (25.4 mm) in diameter. It is not yet known what controls their expression, although it is believed that they are not genetic. Birdcatcher spots occur in many breeds. These spots may occur late in a horse's life, or may occur and then disappear.

Ticking or Birdcatcher ticks are markings that involves white flecks of hair at the flank, and white hairs at the base of the tail, called a "skunk tail". These patterns are permanent and probably genetic. It is thought that this roaning
Roan (horse)
Roan is a horse coat color pattern characterized by an even mixture of colored and white hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower legs, mane and tail—are more solid-colored. The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found in many horse breeds...

 effect might be linked to the rabicano
Rabicano
Rabicano, also called white ticking, is a horse coat color characterized by limited roaning in a specific pattern: interspersed white hairs most dense and originating from the flank and the tailhead...

 gene. The name comes from a Thoroughbred
Thoroughbred
The Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. Although the word thoroughbred is sometimes used to refer to any breed of purebred horse, it technically refers only to the Thoroughbred breed...

 horse named Birdcatcher, who had white hairs throughout his flank and tail

Scarring, skin disease and injury

  • Rainscald
    Rainscald
    Rainscald is a common skin disease in horses that is caused by Dermatophilus congolensis. This is the same organism that causes Mud fever in horses. This disease is very common in cows, sheep and goats and is also found occasionally in cats, dogs, and humans. D...

     or Dermatophilus congolensis
    Dermatophilus congolensis
    Dermatophilus congolensis is a gram positive bacterium and is the etiologic agent of a disease called Dermatophilosis in animals and humans, a dermatologic condition that manifests itself with the formation of crusty scabs that contain the microorganism. Some people erroneously call it mycotic...

     can leave a horse with small white spots, especially along his top line.

  • Roan
    Roan (horse)
    Roan is a horse coat color pattern characterized by an even mixture of colored and white hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower legs, mane and tail—are more solid-colored. The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found in many horse breeds...

     horses often develop patches of solid (dark) hair on the roan sections of their bodies wherever there has been any scratch or damage to underlying skin, even if only slight. These are sometimes called "corn marks" or "corn spots."


Scarring on a horse usually results in white hairs growing in over the injured area, though occasionally there may be no hair growth over the scar at all.
  • Saddle marks may be seen on the back or withers as a patch of white hairs, usually a result of wearing an improperly-fitted saddle for long periods, but also could be related to straightforward long-term saddle wear, unclean saddle blankets and other causes. White marks just forward of the withers may be the result of an ill-fitting horse blanket
    Horse blanket
    A horse blanket or rug is a blanket or animal coat intended for keeping a horse or other equine warm or otherwise protected from wind or other elements. They are tailored to fit around a horse's body from chest to rump, with straps crossing underneath the belly to secure the blanket yet allowing...

     worn for a long period of time.


  • A type of deliberate human-created scarring that results in white hair is freeze branding
    Livestock branding
    Livestock branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding...

    , a method of permanently marking a horse for identification purposes. Some forms of hot branding
    Livestock branding
    Livestock branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding...

     may also scar lightly enough to leave white hairs rather than bare skin.

  • Leg scars left from pin firing or bar firing, in which an injury is blistered with hot iron, can leave dots or lines of white hair in a very distinct pattern. This is usually seen on Thoroughbred
    Thoroughbred
    The Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. Although the word thoroughbred is sometimes used to refer to any breed of purebred horse, it technically refers only to the Thoroughbred breed...

    s that have raced. This treatment is not commonly practiced, but such markings are still occasionally seen.

  • Scars from accidents, as well as old injury sites (such as bowed tendon
    Bowed tendon
    Tendinitis/tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon. Many times, the tendon tissue is torn. A bowed tendon is a horseman's term for a tendon after a horse has sustained an injury that caused the tendon fibers to be torn, and then healed with "bowed" appearance.-Description of a Tendinitis in...

    s), can also be used to identify a horse.

Other identifying features



Horses can be uniquely identified by more than just markings or brands. A few other physical characteristics sometimes used to distinguish a horse from another are:
  • Whorls, colloquially known as "cowlicks": divergent or convergent patches of hair found anywhere on the body but mostly on the head, neck, chest, belly, or just in front of the stifles.
  • "Glass" eye, "Moon" eye, "China" eye, "Wall" eye or "Night" eye: A blue eye. Horses with blue eyes are less common than horses with brown eyes, but can see equally well.
  • Chestnuts
    Chestnut (horse anatomy)
    The chestnut, also known as a night eye, is a callousity on the body of a horse or other equine, found on the inner side of the leg above the knee on the foreleg and, if present, below the hock on the hind leg....

    : A callous-like area on the inside of the horse's leg that has a subtle pattern, but one unique to each horse. It has been proposed that chestnuts could be used as a type of "fingerprint" to identify a horse, but the idea has failed to become widespread in practice, probably in part because the chestnut continually grows and sheds, making precise measurement a challenge.
  • "Prophet's thumbs," or muscle dimples, are small indentations in the muscle, usually found on the horse's neck.

Coat Colors with distinctive patterns



Some horse coat colors are distinguished by unique patterns. However, even for horses with coat colors that are arranged in a manner unique to each individual horse, these patterns are not called "markings." Some coat colors partially distinguished by unique patterning include:
  • Appaloosa
    Appaloosa
    The Appaloosa is a horse breed best known for its colorful leopard-spotted coat pattern. There is a wide range of body types within the breed, stemming from the influence of multiple breeds of horses throughout its history. Each horse's color pattern is genetically the result of various spotting...

     or "Leopard
    Leopard complex
    The leopard complex is a group of genetically-related coat patterns in horses. These patterns range from progressive increases in interspersed white hair similar to graying or roan to distinctive, Dalmatian-like leopard spots on a white coat. Secondary characteristics associated with the leopard...

    ": A breed and a horse coat color pattern of small leopard-type spotting.
  • Bay
    Bay (color)
    Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish brown body color with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds....

    : A horse coat color that features "black points" on a red base coat. All bay
    Bay (color)
    Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish brown body color with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds....

     horses have a black mane, tail and legs (except where overlain by white markings), caused by the presence of the Agouti
    Equine coat color genetics
    Equine coat color genetics determine a horse's coat color. There are many different coat colors possible, but all colors are produced by the action of only a few different genes. The simplest genetic default color of all domesticated horses can be described as either "red" or "non-red", depending...

     gene
    Gene
    A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

    . Most have black hairs along the edges of their ears and on their muzzles, and occasionally will have a slight darkening of the hairs along their backbone.
  • Brindle
    Brindle
    Brindle is a coat coloring pattern in animals, particularly dogs, cats, cattle, guinea pigs, crested geckos and, rarely, horses. It is sometimes described as "tiger striped", although the brindle pattern is more subtle than that of a tiger's coat...

    : An extremely rare horse coat color, it features faint vertical striping in a shade slightly diluted from the base coat color. (Not to be confused with the zebra
    Zebra
    Zebras are several species of African equids united by their distinctive black and white stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds...

    , which is an entirely different species.) Brindling may be associated with chimerism
    Chimera (genetics)
    A chimera or chimaera is a single organism that is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes involved in sexual reproduction. If the different cells have emerged from the same zygote, the organism is called a mosaic...

    .
  • Dun: A horse coat color that features primitive markings
    Primitive markings
    Primitive markings among domestic horses are a group of hair coat markings and qualities associated with primitive breeds, and the dun coat color family in particular. All dun horses possess at least the dorsal stripe but the presence of the other primitive markings varies...

    : a slightly darker hair shade from the base coat located in a dorsal stripe along the horse's backbone, horizontal striping on the upper legs and sometimes transverse striping across the shoulders. These markings identify a horse as a dun as opposed to a buckskin
    Buckskin
    Buckskin may refer to:*Buckskin , leather made of buck hide*Buckskins, an outfit of buckskin leather*Buckskin , a color of horses similar to buckskin leather...

     or a bay
    Bay (color)
    Bay is a hair coat color of horses, characterized by a reddish brown body color with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds....

    .
  • Pinto
    Pinto horse
    A pinto horse has a coat color that consists of large patches of white and any other color. The distinction between "pinto" and "solid" can be tenuous, as so-called "solid" horses frequently have areas of white hair. Various cultures throughout history appear to have selectively bred for pinto...

    : A horse coat color that is distinguished by one of several possible broad spotting patterns, as opposed to the smaller spots typical of the Appaloosa. Variations include Piebald
    Piebald
    A piebald or pied animal is one that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented, usually white, areas of hair, feathers, or scales and normally pigmented patches, generally black. The colour of the animal's skin underneath its coat is also pigmented under the dark patches and unpigmented under...

    , Skewbald
    Skewbald
    Skewbald is a color pattern of horses. A skewbald horse has a coat made up of white patches on a non-black base coat, such as chestnut, bay, or any color besides black coat. Skewbald horses which are bay and white are sometimes called tricoloured...

    , Overo
    Overo
    Overo refers to several genetically unrelated pinto coloration patterns of white-over-dark body markings in horses, and is a term used by the American Paint Horse Association to classify a set of pinto patterns that are not Tobiano...

    , Tobiano
    Tobiano
    Tobiano is a spotted color pattern commonly seen in Pinto horses, produced by a dominant gene. The tobiano gene produces white-haired, pink-skinned patches on a base coat color. The coloration is present from birth and does not change throughout the horse's lifetime, unless the horse also carries...

    , Tovero
    Tovero
    The Tovero coloration is a mix of tobiano and overo colorations in Pinto horses and American Paint Horses. The genetics of pinto coloration are not always fully understood, and some horses have a combination of patterns that does not fit cleanly in either category.Some characteristics of a Tovero...

     and Sabino
    Sabino
    Sabino is a municipality in the state of São Paulo in Brazil. The population in 2004 was 5,146 and the area is 312.57 km². The elevation is 412 m....

    .
  • Roan
    Roan (horse)
    Roan is a horse coat color pattern characterized by an even mixture of colored and white hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower legs, mane and tail—are more solid-colored. The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found in many horse breeds...

    : A horse coat color that features white and dark hairs intermingled together, but the horse has head and legs of the base color with very little white. Roans sometimes have dark areas on their coats similar to Bend-Or spots
    Bend-Or spots
    Bend-Or spots are a type of spotted marking found on horses. They are fairly rare and range in color from slightly darker than the horse's coat to an almost-black shade. These random spots are most commonly seen on palominos, chestnuts, and darker horses, and may not appear until the horse is...

    , called "corn marks".