Why Color Your Horse?


Part 7 – Special Edition


The MFTHBA Color Panel

In the last 50 years, Missouri Fox Trotters have come a long way. They have become internationally well known through  extensive promotion by our Association, marketing by breeders and owners proving over and over they are a solidly built, well dipositioned, comfortable trail riding horse, working ranch horse and/or captivating show horse wrapped up in our naturally gaited breed. Buyers from others breeds are being converted to Foxtrotters after just one smooth foxtrotting demonstration ride. As our Registry continues to grow and improves its database, the expansion and accuracy of our color database is an integral part of our continued growth as a ranking breed of horse; something many buyers from other breeds have come to expect.


Have you said, or heard someone else make the statement that the color of a Missouri Fox Trotting Horse doesn’t matter? Or that "I ride the horse, not its color". This article is a special in our series to reiterate gait is important - first and foremost in our breed, but accuracy of color identification is also important for several reasons.

Specifically, not knowing what color a filly or stallion/stallion prospect is can be detrimental financially and emotionally to the seller and the buyer alike and problematic to the breeder. A seller may risk their valuable reputation and future sale referrals by advertising stallion services and/or selling horses that are genetically grey but represented as Black, Roan, Palomino or Chestnut. Other common misidentified colors are Smoky Blacks identified as Black, Sabinos represented as Roans; Greys represented as Silver Dapples; or, Palominos represented as Champagnes. You can refer back to Part 1 and Part 5 in the series "What Color is Your Horse" for specific tools for Palomino and Grey, Roan and Sabino identification. Champagne identification can be found in Part 6. An article on Spotted colors will be available in the near future and in it, readers will find up-to-date information to help identify horses that might produce lethal white foals, a color related intestinal tract abnormality. Part 4, Silver Dapples, along with providing good identification tools, includes a note there is a genetic eye defect called ASD that appears related to the Silver Dapple gene in the Rocky Mountain horse, evidently from breeding multiple generations of silver dapple to silver dapple. Articles previously written by the Color Panel can be found on the MFTHBA website at www.mfthba.com under "Color Panel" and have also been printed in the Journal.

Can you pick out which of these two horses is a Silver Dapple? Answer at the end of the Article.


Thinking positively, some colors are more highly regarded for either personal reasons or a particular breeding program much the same, as are size, pedigree and foxtrot gait preferences; every color has its value. There is no such thing as a bad color on a good foxtrotter. While there are no absolutes in breeding horses, the more knowledge we gain to tailor to the needs of an expanding market base, the more profitable sales should become. The Color Panel is committed to providing as much information as possible to interested readers/owners and breeders so foals colors are registered accurately and/or correcting inaccurately identified color on older horses. If our Registry can provide the same color pedigree accuracy as other larger breed registries do, it can be a win-win situation for all involved and avoid potential pitfalls down the road.


Let’s talk a bit about some colors along with observations collected by the Color Panel. Homozygous Black, Part 2 in our series, is rare in most breeds except for Friesians. There are varying "shades" of black in our breed but few homozygous Blacks. Up until the year 2002 and the MFTHBA recognition of the Smoky Blacks, they were simply registered as Black. Imagine the surprise when the former is bred to a palomino and the resulting foal is a Cremello! Some breeders highly prize a true Smoky Black in their breeding program genetically, since they have at least one cream gene and they will reproduce as palominos without the cleanup maintenance associated with palominos. Some have referred to them as "Black Gold" or "Black Palominos", not a bad way to think about them.

Up until a few years ago, there were not very many Cremellos in our breed. Originally thought to be albinos, our conjecture is colts were gelded early on and fillies were put down because it was thought they were genetic misfits, couldn’t see because of their blue eyes, or were just too ugly to look at. We are unable to document any scientific research to support the theory of weak blue eyes. Does their pink skin burn more than dark skin? Some do and some do not; it appears to be related to the individual horse. Are they genetic misfits? Hardly! A cremello with an Agouti gene is the backbone of prized Buckskin production.


The first recorded Champagne colored horse was a Classic Champagne Tennessee Walking Horse mare named Champagne Lady, foaled in1969. It took nearly fifteen years before breeder, Bea Kinkade, purchased a Champagne son of this mare and enlisted the help of genetics expert Dr. Ann Bowling of UCDavis to document the fact that a new color gene was a reality. Champagne Lady’s champagne gene was passed from her dam, Mack’s Golden Girl. About this same time, Dr. Sponenberg was tinkering with his thoughts on a mustang mare he had that was also a Champagne. Dr. Sponenberg has been credited with "discovering" Champagne; however, if it were not for Bea Kinkade and Dr. Bowling perseverance, we might not have recognized Champagnes in our Missouri Fox Trotters today since many of our foundation Foxtrotters share the same pedigree lines as the TWH. We are now seeing more standing Champagne stallions in our breed, but they share the same dominant champagne gene originating through the same five maternal lines of many years ago. The first recognized Champagne Missouri Fox Trotter Stallion was confirmed in 1998. If one follows the thinking above on Cremellos and why there are so few in the foxtrotter breed, then the theory most likely applies here too. Champagne foals have to be one of the strangest looking colored foals born, especially the Amber and Classics; their shocking pink skin and bright light blue, red rimmed eyes staring out from a dark red chestnut or grayish black colored body is at first glance very alarming. The light blue eyes do start changing to amber or green within a few weeks of birth. Most likely the reason we see more Gold Champagne Foxtrotters, especially in the lighter shades, is because they were thought to be light skinned palominos and therefore kept in breeding programs. It is hoped that today’s breeders will not destroy or geld good quality bred Champagne foals and can recognize the uniqueness of their color and an added asset to good conformation, rhythmic gait and sound dispositions. More information on Champagnes can be found in The MFTHBA Color Panel’s last Article, Part 6. It details how to distinguish Champagnes from similar appearing Palominos, Blacks, Buckskins, Bays and Cremellos.



When the gene for Sabino is present (see Article 5, Grey, Roan, Sabino), highly marked flashy horses are possible much like Merry Boy Sensation. The Sabino gene is very common in the Foxtrotter breed. The photo marked "A" illustrates a Sabino expression common in our breed. Note how the blaze extends through the nostril, lip and chin. Many buyers and breeders alike treasure the four high white socks, blazes and sabino white hair flecking associated with Sabinos. When the gene is minimally expressed, the only expression might be one sock or even a small star and stripe.The photo on the right marked "B" is a good example of a Sabino expressed with white hairs evenly distributed throughout the hair coat. Visually, these horses can be easily mistaken for Roans.

A maximum expressed Sabino, as illustrated in Example "C" appears White and clearly shows that you can’t always tell the genetic color make up of a horse by looking; and why color testing can be useful to identify a base color. As with Cremellos, many maximum Sabinos in the past were put down at birth, either because the owner or veterinarian mistakenly thought that they were lethal white foals, or because they were thought to be albino or defective. DNA color testing can be very helpful in these horses, as it is the only way to know for sure what their base color is. The horse shown here was DNA color tested and much to the surprise of the owner, tested homozygous black. It has been observed by members of the color panel that tea leaf markings or black skin spots may be common on maximum sabinos whereas dominant whites do not have them. Maximum expressed sabinos have very dark eyes, black by anyone’s standards, as you cannot see through the eye color whatsoever. Unless combined with another spotting gene such as Splashed White or Frame, Sabinos will usually have brown eyes. If other spotting genes are present, both eyes can be blue, or have one blue and one brown eye, strong indicators to test for Lethal White.

Preparing for this article, Dr. Phil Sponenberg was consulted about distinguishing the difference between dominant White horses and maximum expressed Sabinos. He said: "I do think some true dominant Whites have been documented. However, most Whites are indeed Sabinos, so that these are much more common. It would be impossible to tell all of these from one another except by knowing parents or progeny." A dominant White horse will produce white offspring 50% of the time when bred to horses of color. A maximum Sabino may occasionally produce a white maximum Sabino foal, but most of its offspring will just have the flashy Sabino markings.


Much has been written about Roans; some apparent myths and some factual by documentation. Current accepted theory is that there are no homozygous Roans. Breeding Roan to Roan will often result in lethal foal abortions early in the pregnancy 25% of the time. The early loss of pregnancy may go unnoticed or attributed to something else. To this day, some believe this theory and some do not. Within the Fox Trotter breed, some breeders have been breeding Roan to Roan with good results, leading us to think the roan gene may be linked to a particular color base making it non-lethal. With the passing of Dr. Bowling of UCDavis a few years ago, formal research seems to have come to a standstill in this area.



Does all this sound interesting but yet confusing? Help is available through two sources: the MFTHBA Color Panel and DNA testing. UCDavis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory now has five coat color DNA tests available. By pulling 30-50 mane or tail hairs (including the roots) they have DNA diagnostic tests for the following:

RED FACTOR TEST to identify if a horse is genetically homozygous black, heterozygous black (carrying one chestnut gene) or Chestnut. This test can help to determine whether a horse is a liver chestnut with flaxen mane and tail or a Silver Dapple, since the Silver Dapple gene only works on a black base.

AGOUTI (Bay/Black)TEST the gene which controls the distribution of black pigmentation, restricting it to the points of the horse (mane, tail, lower legs and ear rims) seen in bays and buckskins. This gene can "hide" on Palominos, Cremellos, Perlinos and Chestnuts so the only way to confirm it is by this testing or by breeding results.

CREAM DILUTION. This test confirms the presence of the cream gene producing Palominos, Smoky Blacks, Buckskins, Cremellos, Smoky Creams and Perlinos. Test results proving the absence of a cream gene is very helpful to confirm Champagne when there is doubt as to whether the horse is Palomino or Champagne. The test can be utilized to distinguish between Ivory Champagne and double cream dilutes. Overall, the test is most useful for identifying Smoky Blacks and Champagnes.

LETHAL WHITE OVERO TEST This tests for the presence of the "frame" overo gene, which in a double dose causes lethal white foals. A single copy of the frame gene can produce very flashy paint markings, often with blue eyes, a pattern that is very popular with buyers. A known "carrier" should then NOT be bred to another known "carrier" to reduce the possibility of lethal white. Frame can be so minimal that it can go unnoticed, but is more likely to be present in certain known bloodlines and we highly recommend testing these horses.

TOBIANO TEST to identify the presence or absence of the Tobiano gene and whether it is heterozygous (one copy of the gene) or homozygous (two copies of the gene). Homozygous Tobianos are very valuable for a color breeding program because all of their foals will be Tobiano as well.


Though color tests are available through various labs, only tests conducted by Stormont Laboratories will be entered into the MFTHBA books.


Two colors we have not addressed here are Dun and dominant White. The fascinating Dun color will be covered in a forthcoming article. The MFTHBA Color Panel is very interested in researching and documenting Duns and Dominant Whites and would invite your photo and pedigree submission for further research.

In closing, let’s not overlook the more standard colors found in our breed; lovely dappled Greys, beautiful Bays, rich glistening Chestnuts, Sorrels with flaxen mane and tails, and spotted horses of many color combinations. Buyers and breeders do have their color preferences, from the standard to the unusual. A good Missouri Fox Trotter is a good horse regardless of its color because of its gait, but color can be the icing on the total package to clinch a profitable sale.

Thank you for your time and interest in our series of articles. If you have any questions, or pictures that you would like an opinion on, they may be sent by e-mail to the Colorpanel@mfthba.com, or mailed directly to the Color Panel, at P. O. Box 1027, Ava, Missouri, 65608 . There is no cost for this opinion and you are not required to abide by it, it is for information purposes only. Any color changes that anyone may wish to make to their horses registration papers after receiving the Color Panel’s opinion would be a the expense of the owner. Happy Fox-Trotting!!

Photo Quiz Answer: The horse on the left is a Chocolate Palomino; the Silver Dapple is on the right!