This post first appeared on August 28, 2011
Christine Sutcliffe shared this guy in the comments section of the previous post, and I wanted to post him here where he’ll be more likely to be seen. He carries the tobiano pattern, as did the others, along with varnish roan (leopard complex) and one or more of the overo patterning genes – probably some kind of splash white.
I say that because he has a broad blaze and two blue eyes.
Horses like this one often get misidentified as grey tobianos, especially if the version of their appaloosa pattern lacks spots, or if their tobiano pattern hides the area that would have shown the spots. It is an easy mistake to make, because varnish roans turn whiter over time much like a grey.
Some greys lose pigment on their faces, which can also confuse the issue. I suspect that is why varnish roan (leopard complex) has remained in some grey breeds (or strains in breeds) even when appaloosa patterns are not considered desirable or are outright banned. If true greys can develop mottled skin with age, then the facial mottling that develops from varnish pattern might not throw up warning flags.
What sets the progressive whitening of varnish roan apart from grey is that it leaves the spots. The dark spots on this fellow’s rump will remain, no matter how much paler his body becomes. It is thought that all appaloosas roan out, sooner or later. That only applies to the body color, though. When grey is added to the mix, it all lightens. The really loud appaloosa Friesian cross Mystic Warrior is a well-known example of this. This link shows his current appearance along with pictures of the loud black leopard he was as a foal.
Because grey eventually erases the spots in a way that varnish roan will not, it is often considered undesirable by appaloosa breeders. Contrast is often the name of the game in breeding for attractive appaloosa patterns, and grey removes it. That’s also why leopards have traditionally been so sought out by breeders; theirs is the pattern that keeps its contrast. Blanket patterns eventually look a lot more like varnish roans over time.
What is interesting about grey and appaloosa, though, is that before it takes the spots away, it tends to skew them. The angled spots on Mystic Warrior show that really well. On appaloosas with dark areas, like those with blanket patterns, it often adds dramatic white spotting that looks like a cross between marbling and dappling. For those that have the most recent edition of the Sponenberg book, there is a part-Arabian with this type of effect. (He is also pictured in the German book Pferde aus Licht und Schatten.) It seems that not all grey appaloosas get altered in these ways, but it is common enough these are good clues that grey is there.