This post first appeared on January 3, 2012
In the last few years, a few cremellos have been noted as having darker skin than might be expected. One of the first to gain widespread attention was the Morgan stallion Amberfields Desperado. Although many observers insisted that he could not possibly be a cremello with such dark skin and green eyes, his breeding record said that was exactly what he was. Another was the Quarter Horse stallion Peptocremzemal. When his dark skin caused some to question the validity of his tests, his owner took the step of having a test done by a second lab to prove that he really was a cremello. Cases like these have made it clear that while general rules about skin color are helpful for identifying most horses, there are individuals that deviate from the norm.
The horse in the top picture is another with somewhat atypical skin coloring. She is an amber champagne (bay with the champagne dilution) tobiano Paint. Here is a full-body shot of her.
And here is a shot that shows her reversed dappling. She had the metallic sheen seen on a lot of champagnes, so the dapples were hard to capture on film. In person they were even more pronounced.
The photos were taken back when champagne was only just beginning to be understood, so it didn’t register with me at the time that her skin – particularly her muzzle – was unusually pink for an older champagne. She was thirteen, which is long enough that most horses would have developed the “abundant dark freckles” associated with champagne. (For some great comparison shots of typical champagnes and other dilutions, this guide published by the International Champagne Horse Registry is an excellent resource.) For some reason, her skin was still pretty pale and free of extensive freckling.
Horses like this that do not follow the rules do make identification difficult, especially when the differences between the dilutions are already subtle, as least to the average horseman. After all, how different are these two noses?
That second nose belongs to this cremello filly.
Here is another shot that better shows the freckling on her skin.
It is even more pronounced under her tail.
It was surprising to me that she was so darkly freckled under her tail when she was mostly pink on her face and around her eyes. In the past I might have suspected that she was an ivory champagne (chestnut with both the cream and the champagne dilution), since they are more prone to freckling like this. In the United States, most crosses that might be used to produce a cremello (Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, Walking Horses) also open the door to the possibility of champagne, too. Yet her eyes were genuinely blue, not hazel or green, and her owners said her parents were dark-skinned palominos. (I should also mention that these pictures were taken when she was very, very dirty so some of the darker tones in the folds of her skin might be misleading.)
Here she is with her very pale palomino half-brother.
Before there were tests for cream and champagne (and for the more recently identified pearl), the only real way to be sure with horses like these was to look at the colors of the relatives and – if the horse had been used for breeding – offspring. The champagne mare at the top does have champagne siblings, including a younger sister that is officially registered as a gold champagne. Now tests can clear up questions about what a given horse carries, which may help those interested in color identification define the full range of what is possible within each color.