Category Archives: color genetics

Silver Horses

If you asked me, I’d tell you grey horses aren’t my favorite. I like solid blacks, bay tobianos and buckskins. But if you asked me to point out my favorites in a show ring or herd or website or auction sale, and nine times out of ten, it’s grey …. or better yet, a silver dapple. Clearly, I lie, though it wasn’t intentional, I swear.

The silver gene is a unique little dilution, that tends to confuse the heck out of horse people everywhere, especially in my breed, the Miniature Horse, where it’s very prevalent.

The following information is courtesy of

The silver gene is dominant. When present it dilutes the black pigmentation on the body and points of the horse. The dilution can vary greatly within a breed and quite differently from breed to breed. The body color can range from a light silver in color to a dark chocolate brown color. The silver gene also dilutes the points of the horse. These points can also vary greatly from a very light flaxen looking mane and tail to a mane and tail that are the same color as the horse’s body color.

The gene was originally thought to be in just the Rocky Mountain Horses, the American Shetland and the Miniature Horse breeds. However, in 2002 it was discovered in the Morgan and Quarter Horse breed. In 2007, it was discovered and confirmed in the Paint Horse and Welsh Pony. It has also been found to be in Saddlebred and Gypsy horses. In 2008, several more Welsh ponies were tested and confirmed to be silvers.

Silver Black (also commonly referred to as Silver Dapple). Black + Silver

Since the silver gene dilutes only black pigment, it shows the most dramatic colour changes on a black based horse. Body colour on a silver black can range from a dark charcoal or brown to a pale silvery grey with white dapples. Mane and tail can be steel grey to white. This is my favorite colour – well, not officially, but it’s the one I choose all the time!  It can have a huge range of shades, from my “dirt coloured” horse Hawk, with his steel grey in the winter and chocolate brown in the summer coat with a grey mane and tail, to Image (best horse in the whole world, in case you were wondering who held that title) who we always called “taupe”, a pale grey with brown undertones and a snowy white mane and tail.

Silver Bay. Black + Agouti (Bay) + Silver

In a bay horse, the black pigment is confined by the agouti gene to the mane, tail and points (legs, ears, muzzle), so these are the areas most affected by the silver dilution. Just as there is a great range of shades of bay horses, silver bay also shows a wide variety. From a snowy white mane and tail and pale copper body colour that can mimic a palomino, to a rich chocolate with a mane and tail just a shade lighter and every combination in between, silver bays are usually most easily identified by their grey, or sooty colored legs. There are some gorgeous silver bays out there, and even more that are incorrectly advertised as sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail, or palomino, or dun, or inexplicably, buckskin or roan.

Silver Buckskin.  Black + Agouti + Cream + SilverJust as with a silver bay, the silver dilute affects the black points on a buckskin, usually diluting the mane, tail and legs to brown. While I’ve seen some pretty silver buckskins, they always seem a shame to me, but that’s just because I love the contrast of the black legs and mane on an undiluted buckskin!

Silver Chestnut (Red + Silver) & Silver Palomino (Red + Cream + Silver)As chestnuts/sorrel’s and palominos do not have any black pigment, the silver gene does not express visually. Though you may not see the silver, these horses can carry the gene and pass it on to their offspring.

Our beautiful broodmare, Robin is a sorrel – or chestnut if you prefer – pinto, and carries the silver gene; she’s the dam of Hawk (silver black) and Max (silver bay) pictured above, among many others. Some people will insist that they can tell by looking if a sorrel horse carries the silver gene, but I sure can’t.  A flaxen mane and tail doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on whether or not a sorrel carries silver.

Anyone else have a particular fondness (concious or otherwise) for the silver horses?

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Posted by on October 7, 2010 in color genetics, horses


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