This post first appeared on February 9, 2012
I have gotten a number of messages lately that have made me realize that it might be helpful to clarify the term Classic Splash. I began using that term in place of the commonly used “obvious splash” when I realized that if there were differing views about what was and was not splash, the word ‘obvious’ was probably not particularly instructive. If there is one thing modern testing is teaching those of us who love white patterns, it is that very little is truly obvious! I still needed a way to indicate that I was talking about something very specific, so I opted for the word classic because what I had in mind was very much in line with the pattern as it was described in the original paper by Klemola.
That was not my first exposure to the splashed white pattern, though. Credit for that goes to the pony in the picture at the top of this post. Sometime in the early 1980s, his picture was used to illustrate the entry for the Pinto Horse Association in Western Horsemen’s annual all-breed issue. I was fascinated, because I could not figure out which pattern he had. That particular photo was taken of his other side and was angled such that it appeared that the dark area of his coat did not start until well after his poll, while much of his neck and body were colored. To someone used to looking at ordinary tobianos and overos, he just looked wrong. Very appealing, but very much like an artist who did not know what they were doing made up his pattern. Needless to say, he went into my artist reference files.
I didn’t know what he was until a few years later, when I acquired a copy of Dr. Sponenberg’s book, Horse Color. He had a small paragraph about Splashed White, and photos of a Welsh Pony foal with the same kind of pattern. The Klemola paper was included in the bibliography, and that provided still more information and a few more pictures. From that point on, I began to collect images and background information on anything with a similar pattern. Like most artists, I have always collected large quantities of reference images, but my interest in horse color – and patterns in particular – had become a hobby unto itself. All the white patterns interested me, but none so much as the elusive Splashed White.
My early reference files are filled with advertisements torn or xeroxed from magazines. This gave me a better idea of the range of expression to the pattern, but still the information was limited. I knew that other patterns, like sabino, could occur in such a minimal fashion that the average person did not realize the horse was a pinto until it produced something more extensively marked. If that was the case with the Splashed Whites, it was often a rather big jump from minimal parents to really loud offspring. With sabinos, I could often pinpoint where the color was likely coming from in the pedigree. With splashes, it was often not especially clear. Here is Gambling Man, one of the better-known of the Splashed White Paint Horses from the early 1990s.
Those are his parents in the inset clipping. So did his color come from his sire, with his blaze and four white feet? Or maybe his dam, with her irregular face marking that covered her nose? My files were full of horses like this, where it was impossible to narrow the source of the color down even to one side of the pedigree. Of course, this was also before the use of the internet was widespread, so there were no online databases or easy access to images, so often the background information was incomplete.
It was actually the format that I used to organize my files that led to the realization that Splashed White was probably incompletely dominant. I always entered horses into my notebooks with as much pedigree information as I could find, because I was usually looking for the color line. That is, I wanted to know where the color came from so that I could more easily rule related horses in (or out) for a given pattern. When color printing became feasible, I began color coding the names to note whether or not the horses in the pedigree were known to have a color or pattern, were suspected of it, or could be ruled out. What made Splashes so maddening was that I couldn’t even rule out one side of the pedigree on any of the entries. It took a while, but eventually I realized that wasn’t the problem; that was the answer. I couldn’t rule either side out because it came from both sides.
After that, the color began to make a lot more sense. The pattern did not occur on a continuum, like sabino appeared to do. It often did not look like much until the horse inherited it from both parents. That was why I sought out that very specific pattern as “proof” that Splashed White was there. Anything less went into my “maybe” files. I did that because over the years of searching for these horses, I found that some things that looked promising often ended up as dead ends. (Conversely, the horses that actually produced classic splash patterns often looked anything but promising!)
As I mentioned in previous posts, I have classified two sorts of “False Splash” patterns. I should caveat that by saying that it wasn’t that horses with these types of patterns could not have splash. In breeds with multiple forms of white patterning, splash carriers might well look like these horses. But they could also prove to be quite disappointing. That caused me to be rather cautious, because I could not be sure that these horses weren’t carrying something entirely different. Here are some clippings from my files of the two types:
These are horses where the bottom part of the pattern – the legs and the underside – look a lot like splash, but the white on the face is more like sabino. That is especially true for the Arabian pictured, Raffon’s Abida. Horses like this don’t usually have blue eyes, nor do they usually produce many blue eyes.
This is the other category of misleading horses:
These guys have the right kind of face and the blue eyes, but they don’t have the body white. Their tails are usually dark, too, whereas Classic Splashes tend towards white tail ends.
Horses marked like these are not always disappointing. Sometimes they do produce Classic Splashes. My personal suspicion is that this second type is what Classic Splash (suspected SW1) looks like in its heterozygous state when paired with a white-boosting mutation like sabino. In breeds like the Paint, where white-boosting genes are consistently found, this is what a lot of horses from splash-producing families look like. In breeds where those kinds of patterns are rare or non-existent, heterozygous horses do not seem to look like this.
So some of these horses probably are splashes. That said, I could never be sure that some other combination of white patterning might not also create this kind of look. That was because horses that looked like these pictured above sometimes occur, but they do not produce the classic pattern like the ones seen on the horses at the beginning of this post. It might be that they just haven’t been bred to another carrier, or that the odds haven’t worked out in their favor. But absent a test, I have reserved judgement, just in case it was something else. While it is possible to say something is associated with this or that pattern, there are enough gaps in our understanding that it is hard to know how exclusive those characteristics might be. It is quite likely that there is overlap between the different patterns. My great hope is that the new tests will begin to clear some of that up, even as they raise new questions.