Last Updated on March 23, 2023
If you are breeding a foal, it is likely that you carefully chose the parents to pass on certain desirable traits to your new equine. But what if you want a certain coat color – is it possible to tell what color your foal will be? Yes, it is, by using a foal color calculator!
Choosing a dam and sire for your new foal is a tricky process, and it is unlikely that you would pick them based on coat color alone. But if you are hoping to breed a foal that is a certain color, predicting foal color is not as hard as you might think.
What Determines the Coat Color of a Foal?
The color of a foal’s coat is part of its genetic makeup, passed on from its parents. The sire will pass on his coat color genes, and the dam will do the same.
So, you might assume that if you bred two horses of the same color together, the foal would turn out the same color as its parents. However, this is not always the case!
The reason for this is that each horse has a pair of color genes, passed on from its parents. So a horse might have two of the same color genes or two different ones!
And when it comes to genes, they are not all as potent as each other. Genes are classed as either dominant or recessive. Each parent can pass on either a dominant or a recessive coat color gene to the foal. The dominant gene will always be exhibited unless the parents both pass on a recessive gene.
So, if the parents of your foal are both black and each has a pair of black color genes, it is guaranteed that your foal will be black. However, if they are both black but each has one black and one chestnut color gene, then your foal may turn out to be chestnut.
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What Are The Different Horse Coat Colors?
If you walk into any horse barn you will see a huge range of different coat colors and markings! Around sixty horse coat colors have been identified, as well as many different markings on the body. To understand how to tell what color your foal will be, we must first learn how all these wonderful colors are created.
There are actually only two basic coat color genes in horses – black and red. This will give you the color of the base coat of the horse. However, there are other genetic influences at play, which will give a myriad of variations on these basic colors.
The black gene gives us a horse with a black base coat color. The horse could be entirely black or have black points such as the mane, tail, and legs. The extent of the black coloring is determined by a secondary gene called the agouti gene.
Another genetic influence comes from genes that dilute the coat color. This gives us a huge range of different colors, that are all initially based on the black or red gene. For example, the beautiful Palamino coloring is actually a diluted variation of the red gene.
The final complicating factor we have is the grey color gene! This is very dominant and will override other color genes. You will often find that a grey horse is born black, bay, or chestnut, and will turn grey as it ages.
What is a Horse Color Cross Chart?
A simple way to figure out the possible coat colors of your foal is to use a horse color cross chart. This method takes the color of the sire and the dam and predicts the possible colors that the foal could be.
Whilst this method can give you a vague idea, it does not tell you the likelihood of each color occurring. It also does not take into account factors such as the grey gene. The chart does not allow for distinctive markings such as spots or white patches.
Find more information about How Do Horses Get Their Color? Horse Color Genetics
How to use a color cross chart for horses
To use a color cross chart to predict the color of your foal, you first need to know the color of the parents. The color cross chart only allows for a certain range of colors. You may need to pick the closest to your sire or dam if it is not listed.
You find the color of your dam on one axis of the chart, and the sire on the other. These are then cross-referenced to give you a range of color options for your foal.
For example, if you have a bay stallion and chestnut mare, the chart tells us that the foal could be chestnut, bay, or black.
What is a Foal Color Calculator?
A foal color calculator is a system used to determine the likelihood of a foal turning out a specific color. At a very basic level, it can give the probability of a foal having several different coat colors. However, when more is known about the coloring and genetic makeup of the parents, the calculator becomes far more sophisticated and can provide a much more accurate prediction.
For example, if you were to breed two black horses together, the foal color calculator will tell you that there is a 70.31% likelihood that the foal will be bay – not black, as you might expect! This is because black is not a dominant coat color gene, and can be overridden by the red coat color gene to create a bay foal.
However, if the dam and sire have been genetically tested, the foal color calculator can give us a much more accurate prediction, which can be particularly useful if you’ve got your heart set on a black foal. If both parents carry double copies of the black coat color gene, there is a 100% certainty that their offspring will also be black. This is how some breeds of horses such as the Friesian are almost exclusively black, as there is only a minuscule chance of the red color gene occurring and those that do carry this gene are not commonly used for breeding.
If on the other hand, the two black parents are carrying both the black and red coat color gene, the chances of a black foal reduces to 75%, and the likelihood of a chestnut foal increase to 25%.
Can you use a foal color calculator to tell what color your foal will be?
An advanced way to predict what color your foal will be is to use a foal color calculator. To get the best results from this method it helps if you know as much as possible about the coloring and genetic makeup of the parents.
Above, we have tried to predict the color of the offspring of two black horses. How accurate the calculator is will depend on how much genetic information is available to the parents, but we can get a fairly accurate guess. This is a fairly simple and easy-to-predict calculation, but life is not normally this straightforward!
If, for example, one of the parents was a bay horse, and the other a Palamino, there are a lot of possibilities! The foal is most likely to be either bay or buckskin. There is also a chance that it could be chestnut, Palamino, or black.
To improve the accuracy of this calculator, it allows you to add genetic information about the sire and dam. For the above example, we might know that both parents have dominant genes. We can then calculate that there is a 50/50 chance that the foal will be either silver bay or silver buckskin.
So, just for fun, let’s try and figure out the color of a foal depending on some less common color combinations! If we know nothing about their genetic makeup, the calculator tells us that the offspring of a Palamino with appaloosa spots and a blue roan gives us over 24 different color possibilities, ranging from simple buckskin through to smokey blue roan appaloosa!
However, if we update the calculator with the genetic makeup of the dam and the sire, we get a much more accurate prediction. If we assume that both parents each carry two copies of the color genes in their DNA, we can predict that the foal will be either a silver bay roan appaloosa or a silver buckskin roan appaloosa, with an equal chance of both. What a fabulous color combination!
To help potential horse breeders predict the color of their foals, many stallion owners now have their stallions DNA tested to determine which coat color genes they carry. This enables mare owners to gain a far more accurate prediction of what color their foal could be, even if the mare has not been DNA tested. So, if you want a particular color of the foal from your mare, try and find a stallion with the right combination of coat color genes!
When Do Foals Change Color?
If you’ve got a new foal, you’ll no doubt be anxious and excited to see what color it is going to be! But while your newborn foal may be fluffy and adorable, you might still have to wait a little while to find out exactly what color it is going to be.
The reason for this is that not all foals are born with the same coloring they will have as adults. So, your newborn foal may look very different from how it will appear when it is an adult. This can occur with a variety of coat colors, but the most striking example is with adult grey horses, who are nearly always born with much darker coat colors.
The coat of a foal will start to change color when it molts its fur for the first time, at around three or four months of age. During these first few months of the foal’s life, the fur is very susceptible to sun damage, so it may become much lighter in color. However, when it starts to shed its foal coat, the hairs will be replaced and the color will change.
One key difference in the appearance of a foal vs the adult coat is in the leg hairs. Foals tend to have light, silvery hairs on their legs, which often make it hard to visualize any leg markings. They also sometimes have primitive markings, such as zebra stripes on the rear of the legs.
If you have a new foal, it can be fun to take photographs of them at certain points during the year to see how the coat changes as they grow older. When your horse is an adult it can be fascinating to compare how much they have changed during the first few years of life!
What Color are Grulla Foals Born?
The term grulla is used to describe a specific set of color genes that results in a distinctive coloring of the adult horse. However, when a foal is born it may not be possible to tell exactly what color it is going to be!
The grulla coloring occurs when a horse has a black base coat color and inherits the dun coat color dilution gene. This lightens the base coat color to give the horse a beautiful silvery-grey color, with a black mane, tail, and legs. This combination of genes is quite rare, with less than 1% of quarter horses registered each year identified as grulla.
It can be quite hard to tell if a foal is going to be grulla, as it will be born with slightly different coloring. These foals are normally silvery-grey but with a brown tint to the coat, and a black mane and tail. Like most foals, the legs of a grulla will be lighter until the first molt, when they will turn black.
Dun markings are not always apparent at birth, making it even harder to tell if your foal is a Grulla. The dorsal stripe and leg barring may not be visible until after the first molt. Many dun foals have cute ‘eyebrow’ markings which set them apart from foals with similar colorings, such as buckskin.
So, as we have learned, it is possible to work out the probability of your foal turning out a certain color! However, unless you are 100% sure of the genetic makeup of the parents, it is unlikely that you will be able to be sure of the color until the foal is born. A foal color calculator is a great way to give an educated guess as to what color your foal might be, and also rule out any coat colors that are impossible based on the coloring of the parents.
We’d love to hear what you think – have you seen a foal that is a completely different color from its parents? Maybe your horse has very unusual coat markings? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
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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