This post first appeared on the studio blog on August 22, 2008
In a post last week, I mentioned that I was sending a hair sample from my appaloosa mare to UC Davis, in order to find out what color she truly was. Underneath her white pattern, the base color was an odd brown shade. I found over time that most horse people were inclined to call her black, but her lower legs were tan. Typically when black horses fade in the sun, their lower legs retain color in the same area that is black on a bay horse. This Percheron is a good example. He looks bay, but genetic tests show him to be black. That is why the hair above the hoof is often a good indicator for determining if the horse is faded black or a liver chestnut.
The hair on my horse’s lower legs was most definitely not black. If anything, it has always been the palest area of color on her, as this winter picture of the back of her leg shows.
So it would be reasonable to believe she was chestnut. Still, to someone who looks at color a lot, there was something “off” in the tone for her to be chestnut. Certainly some chestnuts are a rather dull color, but the tone was enough for me to suspect she was some kind of dilute. Recent studies on the appaloosa patterns had shown that many black appaloosas had their color altered, and I had long noted that many appaloosas had base colors that were just hard to pin down as any specific thing. I suspected that this was what was going on with Sprinkles, but without a test I couldn’t really be sure.
Yesterday I received her test results, and my guess was right. She is “aa” – genetically black. She carries the chestnut gene (e) but is not herself chestnut.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to post a group of photos showing some lower legs and the difference in tone between some of the colors. This is the kind of thing that artists need to keep in mind when painting different colors, because getting the tone right makes all the difference in portraying a given color.
One caveat though. Photographs are not the best way to really see these differences. All the ways we record and transmit images (film, printing, monitors) can distort color, and with something like this what we are dealing with are very subtle differences in tone. These are my own images, taken with the same equipment in close proximity to one another, but still viewing these colors in real life (preferrably side-by-side) is the best way to see. Indeed, the tone in color is really best studied from life because the camera rarely captures what is so obvious in person. But we will do the best we can with what is possible over the internet!
These are the legs of a sooty palomino pony. Notice how yellow in tone the lightest areas are. “Yellowness” is one of the best indicators for the presence of the cream gene.
These are the legs of a red silver pony. This horse is genetically bay, and you can see the unaltered red hairs on the upper leg. His black lower leg has been diluted by the silver gene, turning it a bluish chocolate. The overall tone on the lower legs is very cool, especially compared to the yellow of the palomino above.
And these are Sprinkle’s legs. Again, she’s genetically black so like the silver legs above, this is a diluted form of black. The color isn’t cool, however. It isn’t yellow, but it’s not really red either. If I had to call it something, I would say it is a bronze tone. I would also add that she does not really fade to this color; it’s pretty constant through the seasons.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the leg color, with an addition of a sooty chestnut to compare against a truly red leg. (With all these images, you can click to get a larger version.)
And finally here is Sprinkles’ legs beside a flaxen chestnut leg and a truly black leg, showing the contrasting tones.
No one really knows at this point why the pattern dilutes the black on some appaloosas, and of course some aren’t diluted at all. But it does happen with some frequency, and it offers a neat variation for artists painting appaloosas.