In most books, “horse encyclopedias” and websites, Arabian horse colors will be listed as the common “bay, chestnut, gray, roan and black”. Actually, Arabians come in more colors than that, even though they are rare or lumped together in with the common colors. Here is a look at some of the more unusual colors that purebred Arabians can appear in.
This is a pinto pattern, also seen in Clydesdales. This is where the white socks extend up over the knees and often there is a splash of white on the belly or a predominately white face. Often, these sabinos are just registered as their predominant color, usually chestnut or bay. The rarest is a black sabino. There is even a Sabino Arabian Horse registry to promote this rare color.
This is a variation of the sabino coat color, taken to the extreme. The horse is white – except for solid colored ears and sometimes part of the mane. Unlike the “medicine hat” pattern, there usually aren’t any other spots. One of the most famous maximum sabinos in recent years was the racing Thoroughbred mare Patchen Beauty. Her sabino was so extreme that she only had chestnut hairs scattered throughout her body.
Odd white or even black spots seem to pop up out of nowhere in purebred Arabians. They are usually very undramatic, such as one spot on a leg, at the base of the tail, or a white chin (“milky chin”). Some have coloring that look a lot like what you would find on Appaloosas, but they are not Appaloosas, nor can they be registered in the Appaloosa stud book.
This is thought to be one of the original color variations horses came in. Many Arabian foals are born looking like they are duns and then change color by the time they are yearlings, or even weanlings. Occasionally, one keeps the color throughout his or her whole life. Duns come in many shades, but usually they have a dark dorsal stripe down the spine (although this is not necessary). They usually don’t have any white markings.
Unfortunately, the dun gene has not been found in the genes of pureblood Arabians, according to the Univeristy of California Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Although perhaps a horse is sold or even registered as a “dun Arabian”, it is not a pureblood Arabian.
There is debate whether the shades that crop up in purebred Arabians are proper palominos, but bright champaignes or even very light chestnuts. The mane and tail are a lot lighter than the body. Even palomino color-only horse registries will allow any earth-toned horse in that has a lighter mane and tail that is at least 25% white or cream. Palominos have very complicated genetic structures, but are caused by a varaition of the red factor gene, which is found in Arabians.
Although all of these colors are rare, they can appear to be found in purebred Arabians. All purebred Arabians have black skin (easy to see) and one less vertebra than other breeds of horses (not so easy to see). There are now genetics tests available to determine whether an odd-looking Arabian is a purebred. But no matter if the horse is a purebred or not, a good horse is never a bad color.
Univeristy of California Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. “Horse Coat Color.” http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/coatcolorhorse.php
The Ultimate Horse Site. “Dun Horse Color.” http://www.ultimatehorsesite.com/colors/dun.html