Last Updated on January 26, 2022
Horses come in a huge variety of colors, with many different features and markings. The color roan is very striking, and there are several types of roan horses. But how is this unusual color created, and how many types of roan horse are there?
The world of equine coat color genetics is very complicated, which is why we have such a huge range of horse colors. Let’s find out why some horses are roan, and what different types of roan horses look like!
What Is The Color Roan?
The color roan occurs when a horse has a mix of colored and white hairs in its coat. These are very finely mixed, so you would need to look closely to be able to identify individual hairs of each color. This normally occurs over the whole body of the horse, with the head and legs left unchanged.
This scattering of white hair results in an overall lightening of the coat. From a distance, the horse will look paler than its original coat color. A closer inspection will reveal that the colored hairs are interspersed with white hairs, creating this unusual coloring effect.
When describing a roan horse, it is normal to use the base color plus the word roan. For example, a bay horse that has roan coloring is called a bay roan, and a red roan is a chestnut with roan genes.
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Why Are Some Types Of Horses Roan Colored?
The color of a horse depends on several genetic influences. There are actually only two basic coat color genes in horses – red (chestnut) and black. A combination of the two creates a bay horse; this is why chestnut, bay, and black are the most common coat colors in horses.
So, how do we get all the weird and wonderful colors in horses? Amazingly, every horse is based on chestnut, black, or bay. It is the effect of other genes that creates many variations in coat color.
For example, some horses have a type of dilution gene which will lighten the overall coat color. The effect that happens depends on the original base coat color. For example, a bay horse with one copy of the cream dilution gene will be a buckskin.
Then we have the grey gene, that overrules all other color genes. This causes the hair to lose pigmentation over time, resulting in a white coat. The grey gene is dominant over all other coat color genes.
But what about the roan color – how is that created? The truth is that we don’t really know! The exact gene that creates the roan coloring has not yet been identified. What we do know is that this is a dominant gene, and there are tests available to identify the likelihood of a horse carrying this gene.
The fun thing is that the roan gene can occur alongside other color genes. For example, you can have a black horse with the dun dilution gene as well as the roan gene. The result is a horse with a beautiful steel-grey speckled body, and a black mane and tail.
You can also get the roan gene in horses that have patterns of white hair. These include colors such as Appaloosa and paint horses. So, you can have a paint horse that has patches of white hair and patches of roan hair too!
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Which Horse Breeds Are Most Likely To Be Roan?
The gene that creates a roan coat color is much more prevalent in some breeds of horses. The most famous of these is the Quarter Horse, which has a large number of roan horses amongst its population.
Other breeds that boast a high number of roans amongst their number are the Belgian Draught horse and the Welsh Mountain pony. It is also a common coat color in Paint horses, the Peruvian Paso, the Paso Fino, and miniature horse breeds.
However, there are some types of horses where is highly unlikely to find a roan horse! Thoroughbreds and Arabians do not carry the roan gene, so this color would not occur in purebred examples of these breeds.
Summary: Types Of Roan Horses
So, as we have learned, all types of roan horses have a coat that contains a mix of white and color hairs. This creates a lightened effect to the coat like the horse has been sprinkled with flour! The gene that creates the roan color in horses has not been identified, but scientists can test to predict whether horses will produce roan offspring.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the types of roan horses! Do you think this is one of the most beautiful horse colors? Or maybe you own an unusual roan-colored horse? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
How Many Types Of Roan Horses Are There?
The color roan is created when the horse has a mixture of white and colored hairs in the coat. This can happen in any color of horse, so there are many different types of roan horses! However, some are much more than common than others, and there are three main roan colors in horses.
These are based on the three basic coat colors of the horse - black, chestnut, and bay. A black horse with the roan gene will become a blue roan. A red roan is a chestnut with the roan gene, and a bay roan is obviously a bay with a roan gene!
What Is The Rarest Color Of Horse?
Without doing a survey of all the horses in the world, it would be impossible to know for sure what the rarest color is. However, some colors are much less common for others, for a variety of reasons. This might be because the gene that causes this color is not dominant, or that horses with this color are more prone to particular diseases.
Some of the rarest colors of horses are those that need to inherit the color gene from both parents to create their coat color. For example, the cremello and perlino need two copies of the cream dilution gene to create their unusual coloring. Other rare colors include the chocolate palamino - a cross between a liver chestnut and a palamino - and horses with the champagne color gene.
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