Last Updated on April 18, 2023
Have you ever heard someone talk about a flea-bitten horse and wondered what they mean? Let’s find out everything you need to know about the flea bitten horse color!
What Does Flea Bitten Mean in Horses?
The termflea-bittenn does sound very odd, but many words in horse terminology are quite unusual! Flea bitten does not mean that a horse has been bitten by fleas. A flea-bitten horse is one with a very distinctive coat color and markings.
When a horse is described asflea-bittenn, it has tiny flecks of colored hair all over its body. From a distance, they can look like a rash, or like the horse has been bitten many times by fleas!
The flea-bitten horse is not born this color but will develop these flecks of colored hair over a long period. For this to occur, the horse needs to inherit a very specific set of color-modifying genes from its parents.
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Flea Bitten Horse Color Explained
Aflea-bitten horses will have a grey coat color, with tiny flecks of colored hair.
The grey coloring must be a true grey – this means that the hair has lost its pigmentation over time, rather than a horse that was born with light-colored hair. A grey horse will have dark skin underneath the grey hair.
Aflea-bitten horses will gradually develop flecks of darker hair on their grey base coat. Sometimes, these will appear as the horse’s color fades to grey, in others the marks will not appear until the greying process is complete.
These flecks will be a different color depending on the base coat color of the horse. All grey horses are born with colored hair, which loses pigmentation as the horse ages. So, if the horse was born as chestnut or bay, the speckles that develop will be chestnut colored. A black foal will develop darker brown or blackflea-bittenn spots.
It is important not to getflea-bittenn horses mixed up with other spotted horses. The flecks on a flea-bitten grey are tiny, and their size and shape can change over time. Other spotted horse coat markings are present at birth and never change, whereasflea-bittenn spots develop over time.
How to Do Flea Bitten Horses Get Their Coloring?
To get grey coat coloring, a horse must inherit the grey coat color modifier gene from one or both of its parents. This gene is always dominant, so the horse will turn grey whether it has one or two copies of the gene.
However, the depth of the color change will alter according to whether the horse has one or two copies of the gene. In a horse with one grey gene, some colored hairs may be retained for longer. Flea-bitten markings normally occur in horses that have only inherited one copy of the grey gene. In this situation, the horse will turn grey over time, as the genetic modifier causes depigmentation of the hair.
So, a grey horse will be born with a colored coat, and gradually fade to grey over 6-8 years. During this time, the coat will go through several stages of coloring.
The first stage is when the coat contains a few grey hairs, which lightens the overall color of the coat. A dark-colored horse will be called steel grey. Lighter base coat colors produce rose grey coloring.
Next, the horse will develop circles of white hair surrounded by darker hair. This is called a dappled grey. Gradually the darker hairs also fade, and the horse will become completely grey.
Very occasionally, you will get a horse that develops tiny groups of colored hairs. This can happen during the final stage of color change, or even after the coat is completely grey. This is called a flea-bitten grey and is relatively rare in grey horses.
It is not entirely clear why this coloring occurs. Scientists think that part of the grey coat color modifier gene may be ‘switched off’, allowing the hair to regrow in its base coat color. Whatever the reason, this odd twist of genetics produces a distinctive and very beautiful coat color in horses!
Dapple Grey vs Flea Bitten Horse Color – What is the Difference?
Many people struggle to tell the difference between a dapple grey horse and a flea-bitten horse to color. Both of these colors feature subtle spots on a grey coat, so what is the difference?
So, as we’ve already discovered, flea-bitten grey horses have flecks of darker hair on a grey base coat. The color of this darker hair will reflect the base coat color of the horse, ranging from deep black to pale palomino. The intensity of these flecks will develop over time, as the horse gets older. Not all grey horses will developflea-bittenn flecks.
Dapple grey is another stage in the aging process of grey horses, but it normally happens before the theflea-bittenn phase, when the horse is younger. Dappling is the opposite effect of the flea-bitten horse color – the base coat will be dark grey, but it will contain areas of lighter grey hair. These are normally in the form of small circles rather than flecks and can look like spots on the coat of the horse.
It is impossible to tell if a young grey horse will become dappled, flea-bitten, or simply stay a basic grey color! All grey horses become lighter in color as they age, but the way this happens varies from horse to horse.
Other names for dapple grey horses include ‘bloom’ dapples – these are when a distinctive dappled pattern appears on the coat of horses that are in peak condition. These coat color changes are not permanent, and will normally disappear when the horse molts in the spring or fall.
Which Horse Breeds Are Grey?
Grey, or gray, coloring can occur in many different horse breeds, but is more prevalent in some than others. The gene that causes grey coloring is dominant over all other color genes, so if a horse inherits it, it will undoubtedly turn grey.
Common gray horse breeds include the Andalusian, an elegant and beautiful breed originating from Spain. Also from Europe, the French Boulonnais draft horse is famous for its glorious white coat, mane, and tail. The Lippizan horse from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna boasts a large number of grey horses amongst its population.
While the vast majority of horse breeds can feature equines with a grey coat, there are some which will never have grey coloring. These tend to be horse breeds that are famous for their coat color, reducing the likelihood of them being bred with other grey horses.
Horses that never have grey coats include the Fjord horse, which has dun coloring, and the Haflinger, which is a flaxen chestnut. Friesian horses are nearly always black, while Suffolk Punch draft horses are chestnut and Cleveland Bay draft horses are bay. The grey color gene is also very rare in Appaloosa horses, which have distinctive spotted markings.
Summary – Flea Bitten Horse Color
So, as we have learned, the theflea-bittenn horse color is one with a grey coat color and tiny speckles of colored hair. The color of these speckles will match the base coat color the horse was born with before it turned grey. Flea-bitten horse color develops slowly over time, and the horse will go through several other shades of grey first.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the theflea-bittenn horse color in horses! Have you ever owned a grey horse that developed colored speckles on its coat? Or maybe you’re not quite sure how to tell if your horse is going to turn out flea-bitten or not. Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Is A Flea Bitten Horse?
The term flea bitten might sound like a horse has been bitten by fleas, but this is not the case! Horses do not commonly get fleas, and the name flea bitten is used to describe a particular color of horse. These horses have colored speckles on a grey base coat, also known as blood marks.
Do All Grey Horses Turn Flea Bitten?
Not all grey horses will turn flea bitten. In order for this coloring to appear, a certain set of genetic circumstances needs to occur.
What Breed Is A Flea Bitten Grey Horse?
A flea bitten grey horse is not any particular breed, but is caused by the color genes inherited by the horse. There is one breed of horse which is more likely to have fleabitten grey coloring, and this is the elegant and refined Arabian horse.
What Are The Requirements To Determine If You Have A Flea Bitten Grey Horse?
A flea bitten grey horse will have gone through several stages of color changes before it develops the colored specks on a grey base coat. These specks will be the same color as the base coat the horse was born with before it turned grey.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE