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Horse Breeds
First Posted: July 14, 2009
Sep 26, 2010

Palomino Horse

Palomino Horse

Photo by Reg Corkum.

Left to right: two chestnuts with flaxen manes, a palomino, and a gray.

Palominos come in a variety of varying colors. Some registries will accept a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail as a "palomino." A palomino at the lighter end of the acceptable range of color, coat is still a golden shade, but eyes and skin is dark, therefore, the horse is not a cremello. 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 (chestnut) base coat. However, most color breed registries that record palomino horses were founded before equine coat color genetics were understood as well as they are today, and, therefore, the standard definition of a palomino is based on the coat color visible to the eye, not the underlying presence of the dilution gene.

While the breed standard states the ideal color is that of a "newly minted gold coin" (sometimes mistakenly claimed to be a penny), some palomino registries allow a coat color that may range from cremello, an almost-white color, to a deep, dark, chocolate color ("chocolate palomino"). Skin and eyes are usually dark, though some foals carrying the champagne gene are born with light-colored eyes that darken as the horse ages. White markings are permitted on the legs, but must not extend beyond the knees or hocks. White markings are also permitted on the face, but must not extend past the eyes.

Colors That Are Not True Palomino

Many non-palominos may also have a gold coat or a light mane, or both. Many reddish-colored "palominos" with a light cream mane and tail are chestnut horses that carry a flaxen gene. Cremellos have a light mane and tail but also a cream-colored hair coat and blue eyes. The Champagne gene also causes a golden-colored coat on some horses, but the presence of pink skin, amber or hazel eyes in adulthood, and mottled skin suggest the presence of the champagne gene, not the cream gene. The pearl gene, or "Barlink factor," may also create blue-eyed palominos.

Horses that have a gold body but a black mane and tail are Buckskins. Those that have a dull gold or tan body with a dark mane and tail plus "primitive" dark markings such as a dorsal stripe down the spine and zebra markings on the back of the forearms are called duns. Horses with a chocolate-colored coat with a light mane and tail may actually be black horses expressing the rare silver dapple gene.

Color Breed

The palomino is considered a color breed. Unlike the Appaloosa, which is a distinct breed that also happens to have a unique color preference, any breed or type of horse usually may be registered as palomino if they are properly golden-colored (though, for some registries, horses may also meet a conformation or type standard). The palomino cannot be a true breed, however, because palomino color is an incomplete dominant gene and does not breed "true;" A palomino crossed with a palomino may result in a palomino about 50% of the time, but could also produce a chestnut (25% probability) or a cremello (25% probability). Thus, palomino is simply a partially expressed color allele and not a set of characteristics that make up a "breed."

Because registration is based solely on coat color, horses from many breeds or combination of breeds may qualify. Some breeds that have palomino representatives are the American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, Morgan and Quarter Horse. The color is fairly rare in the Thoroughbred, but does in fact occur and is recognized by The Jockey Club. Some breeds, such as the Haflinger and Arabian, may appear to be palomino, but are genetically chestnuts with flaxen manes and tails, as neither breed carries the cream dilution. However, in spite of their lack of correct DNA, some palomino color registries have registered such horses if their coat color falls within the acceptable range of shades.

Due to their unusual color, palominos stand out in a show ring, and are much sought after as parade horses. They were particularly popular in movies and television during the 1940s and 1950s. One of the most famous palomino horses was Trigger, known as "the smartest horse in movies," the faithful mount of the Hollywood Cowboy star Roy Rogers. Another famous palomino was Mr. Ed (real name Bamboo Harvester) who starred on his own TV show in the 1960's. Horse Equine Actors

For More Information:

University of California, Davis - Vet Genetics Lab
"Horse Coat Color Tests" University of California, Davis
Palomino Horse Association
Palomino Horse Breeders of America
Oklahoma State University - Breeds of Livestock
Palominos Horses - Horsemen Magazine

Horse Breeds