Gray, roan, varnish roan

By Patty Wilber

These colors can be a bit confusing and for some reason have been on my mind, so this is what came out of my keyboard this week!

Gray vs. Roan.  Here are some quick tips to tell them apart.

  • Grays have lighter faces and white comes in early in the tail and mane. Over time, grays turn white or “flea bitten” gray.
  • Roans have dark faces and their manes and tails do not gain white. Roans do not get progressively whiter with age.
  • Varnish Roans are a color that is common in Appaloosas and they get lighter over time like grays, but tend to have darker face especially on the cheek bones and noses. As they lighten, the do retain more color on their faces, legs, ears, flanks, shoulders and hip points, whereas a standard gray gets lighter all over and a roan does not fade over time. Also varnish roans often have mottled skin and white sclera (white around the eyes) characteristic of Appaloosa color.

All three colors are due to different modifying genes.

Test yourself!

Top picture from this site.  Blue roan. Has the dark face, no white in tail. Blue roans are the roan modifier over a black base coat.

Middle picture: Sombra, gray. Light face, white in the tail.  He is just 3 and he will be white eventually! Sombra is a such a dark gray and he seems to be lacking any red hair, so I think he is a black base coat, modified by the gray gene.

Lower pictures: Lucy, varnish roan. Dark on face, legs, ears, hip points, shoulder. She is a red base coat modified by a double dose (one copy from mom and one copy from dad) of the gene that produced the varnish pattern.  Her foal coat was not roany at all!

Happy Thursday night!

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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6 Responses to Gray, roan, varnish roan

  1. Virginia S Boawn says:

    very interesting, Patty. Thank you, Ginny

  2. Doranna Durgin says:

    Oh, that was fun! I love the little quiz, hee hee!

  3. Elizabeth Moon says:

    Thank you for the lesson…with pictures. Easier to remember w/ a specific horse example!

  4. Patty says:

    Glad you liked it!

Comments are closed.