This post first appeared on October 18, 2011
Cindy Evans shared this picture of one of the Knabstruppers at the Kentucky Horse Park. She’s a good horse for illustrating the term “nose-to-toes” when speaking of leopards. A nose-to-toes leopard has permanent spots over their entire body, including their face and lower legs. Those two places are important because when the leopard pattern is suppressed, those are the areas that end up dark.
Over time, though, horses with suppressed patterns like this one can roan back out into something that looks like a leopard. Here is a side shot of the mare Dottie that I have used in a number of previous posts.
Most horsemen would call Dottie a leopard, but notice how faint and roany the spots on her forehand and face are compared to those on her hindquarters. Her legs still have large areas of dark pigment, and of course she has the small, closely spaced spots that are typical of a suppressed leopard. When she was younger, Dottie probably looked a lot more like Sprinkles (the mare pictured above.)
Compare the soft, indistinct outlines of her spots to the crisp, more defined outlines on the Knabstrupper.
Chances are this mare was born looking much like she does today, and her pattern is unlikely to change as she ages. Her whole pattern is made up of the kind of spots that do not change.
Dottie, on the other hand, only has non-changing spots on her hindquarters. The rest of her – especially her nose (face) and toes (lower legs) – changed over time to reveal a spot-like pattern. Here is a comparison shot of the spots on her hips and those on her shoulder.
Nose-to-toes leopards like the Knabstrupper are particularly desirable because they don’t change. They have clear contrast between the ground color and the spots, which most breeders (and buyers) find desirable. Horses like Dottie and Sprinkles often end up looking like leopards, but even then they don’t tend to have the same level of contrast. That said, whatever suppresses the leopard pattern is pretty common among most breeds with appaloosa patterning.