This post first appeared on November 1, 2012
I recently had the opportunity to take some good comparison shots of a bay silver pony. Under his silver dilution, the base color on Applejacks (pictured above) is a relatively clear medium shade of bay. He is a good individual to show how bay silvers – sometimes called red silvers – look different from both bay and chestnut horses even without using the flaxen mane and tail as a clue. Most of the pictures in this post were taken in early May, so you can still see some of the remains of his paler winter coat. (A post about seasonal changes in silver dilutes will follow this one.) The darker areas of his legs are a more accurate reflection of his true color.
Applejacks is relatively young, so he still has quite a bit of flaxen in both his mane and his tail. Most silvers lose some of this contrast, starting with the roots of their manes, as they age. Even so, his lower legs give him away as a silver. Compare his legs to his dark bay pasture mate, Newcastle.
The legs on Applejacks are not truly black, but chocolate. This shot of his hindquarters, where the backs of his legs are visible, shows this even more clearly.
What is perhaps more subtle, however, is the difference between the body color of a bay silver and that of an ordinary chestnut. Bay silvers are sometimes said to look like chestnuts with bay legs, but as any artist who paints horses can tell you, there is more to even a clear, medium bay than just black points. Bays have countershaded coats that an ordinary red chestnut lacks. This face shot of Applejacks with his red chestnut friend Rose shows this quite well.
Notice the darker shading along the nasal bone, the underside of the cheek, and most especially on the neck. Even a seemingly monochromatic bay will have darker shading along the top and bottom edges of the neck (when viewed in profile), while the area just behind the ears and down the jugular groove will be more truly red or red-gold. Darker shading is also present on the edge of the ears.
This photo of Applejacks, taken as he began to put on his darker winter coat, shows his bay facial shading quite well. Even if his mane was not visible, so the viewer did not know if it was red or black, most experienced horsemen would assume he was bay, not chestnut.
It is the countershading that gives the visual cues that he is bay. Compare the forehand on Applejacks to the red chestnut Rose.
Here I have taken color samples from the two images to show how bay countershading is still influencing Applejacks’ coat. Picking the color of the high point of the muscle right above the foreleg (A), and then another at the shoulder (B), I have compared the difference between the two horses.
For both horses, the color at (A) is pretty close to one another. There is also not a lot of change from the shade above Rose’s leg to the shade on her neck. For Applejacks, though, the color is quite different from both Rose’s shoulder and the color above his leg. It is that difference in shading that can often provide a clue that a horse is a bay with the silver dilute, rather than a liver chestnut.
These clues are not foolproof, but looking for legs where the darkest areas are not truly black, and bodies that are shaded in a way that suggests the horse is really a bay, are good places to start.