Horse Colors

Secretariat’s First Foal Had Spots!

An Appaloosa mare named Leola helped Secretariat launch his breeding career.


The Secretariat statue at Kentucky Horse Park

by Kristin Berkery



The legendary Secretariat brings to mind many things, but not necessarily spots. Still, an Appaloosa mare played an important role in Secretariat‘s life.

 

In early 1974 after the big red horse had made his mark in racing history, there was a question about his fertility. Several semen analyses revealed that his sperm appeared immature, so the next test was to breed him and see if a foal resulted. The Appaloosa mare Leola was chosen as Secretariat’s first lady-in-waiting, and in November 1974, she foaled a chestnut colt with a blanket pattern. He was named First Secretary.

 
Before First Secretary’s birth, there was a bidding war between Appaloosa enthusiasts who badly wanted Leola and the special foal she carried. Jack Nankivil of Minnesota prevailed after taking out a mortgage on his home. To recoup some of his investment, Nankivil immediately sold 15 lifetime breeding rights to the foal before anyone knew whether it was a colt or a filly.

 

Understandably, Nankivil was thrilled when Leola delivered a colt who looked like his sire, but with a blanket.

First Secretary, Secretariat's first foal.
Photo from the Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada


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First Secretary

Leola delivered a colt who looked like his sire, but with a blanket.

Once the colt arrived though, the American Appaloosa registry refused to identify Secretariat as the sire because no breeding certificate had been issued for the cross. The Canadian Appaloosa registry had no problem with listing Secretariat as the sire, even without a breeding certificate, so Nankivil had First Secretary registered in Canada. When the Canadian and American registries later agreed to recognize each other’s stud books, First Secretary’s foals became eligible for American registration.

 

First Secretary sired 247 foals in his lifetime, of which many were successful in the show ring or the racetrack. He was not shown or raced himself. He died in 1993 after a bout with colic.

 

Read many more of the interesting details around First Secretary’s birth on equiery.com.

 

What is a dunalino?

by Kristin Berkery

Major Hearts Desire, a dunalino Quarter Horse stallion. Photo courtesy of Circle P Ranch

At first glance, the stallion pictured here looks like a palomino. But click on the photo to view a larger version and you start to see more characteristics than you’d find on a palomino.

First, he has some dark coloration on his legs, especially around his knees and hocks, and darker shading on his withers. Palominos sometimes have darker shading, which is described as “sooty” and may be accompanied by lots of dapples, but it generally originates at the spine and goes down the sides of the horse in a uniform way. Sooty areas also tend to be larger than the shaded parts on the stallion pictured here.

Major Hearts Desire. Photo courtesy of Circle P Ranch

When you take a look at the second picture of Major Hearts Desire, you can see that he has a distinct dorsal stripe. Palominos don’t have dorsal stripes, but duns do.

So what exactly is Major Hearts Desire’s color? He’s a “dunalino,” or a horse that carries the dun gene and the palomino gene on a basecoat of chestnut. His lovely golden color is the result of the cream modifier, palomino, on chestnut, and the dun gene gives him very faint leg barring (the darker coloring on his legs), a dorsal stripe, and shoulder bars (the shading on his withers).

Now…if Major Hearts Desire had the darker areas on his knees, hocks, and withers only with no dorsal stripe, you’d have to rule out dun. A distinct dorsal stripe is a dead giveaway for the dun gene.

Dunalino can also be modified by other genes. Stallions Now has a listing of dunalino stallions at stud, many of which have additional color genes like tobiano, overo, and Appaloosa. To be sure they are dunalino, look for a distinct dorsal stripe.

Major Hearts Desire stands at Circle P Ranch in Washington.

What is a Pintabian?

by Kristin Berkery

Spirit Flair, a registered Pintabian stallion. Photo courtesy of Flair Park

The word Pintabian comes from the combining of the words “pinto” and “Arabian.” Founded in 1992, the Pintabian Horse Registry was created to register horses that qualify as Pintabians.

Fittingly, Pintabians are horses with Arabian type and pinto coloring. But there are two important requirements of a registered Pintabian:

  • Only tobiano pintos are registerable as Pintabians.
  • A registered Pintabian must have more than 99% Arabian blood.

What’s the difference between a tobiano and other types of pinto coloring? A tobiano is a horse with large, rounded colored spots on a white background and it almost always has four white legs. (Very rarely, you can find a tobiano that has one dark leg — but those are usually in miniature horses or Shetland ponies. See a photo of a rare Pintabian with a dark leg below.) Unlike other types of pinto coloring, white commonly crosses over the back of a tobiano. In Pintabians, the ideal tobiano pattern is 50% color and 50% white.

It takes a total of eight generations to breed a horse with more than 99% Arabian blood. First, a purebred Arabian is bred to a tobiano of another breed, and if the resulting foal is also tobiano, that foal is bred to a purebred Arabian in the hopes of producing another tobiano. Each successive tobiano part-bred Arabian foal is crossed with a purebred Arabian for seven generations until a tobiano foal that is 127/128ths Arabian is produced. This means that 127 of the 128 ancestors in that horse’s pedigree were purebred Arabian.


Trademark Flair, a Pintabian stallion. Photo courtesy of Flair Park

Fancy Lady Flair, a Pintabian mare owned by Flair Park. Photo courtesy of Flair Park

The key is to maintain the tobiano coloring throughout all those generations. That can be hard to do, and any “crop-outs” (in this case, solid-colored horses that don’t inherit the tobiano coloring) have less value in Pintabian breeding because they can’t pass on tobiano coloring to their offspring and they aren’t eligible for Half-Arabian registration if they were the result of breeding two Pintabians to each other. (The official Half-Arabian registry won’t accept horses that don’t have a purebred Arabian parent.) However, a solid-colored horse from a Pintabian breeding program that has one purebred Arabian parent can most likely be registered and shown as a Half-Arabian and enjoyed as a riding horse.


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Other challenges with breeding Pintabians is maintaining quality conformation. Sometimes a beautiful part-Arabian tobiano will have undesirable conformation faults, but it may still be used for breeding Pintabians because of its attractive coat color. As a result, it can be an elusive goal to breed horses that have tobiano coloring and ideal riding conformation and temperament in addition to satisfying the Pintabian Horse Registry’s standards of minimum Arabian blood.

Trademark Flair, a Pintabian colt with "cat tracks." He was DNA-tested and shown to be homozygous tobiano. He's also extremely unusual because he has one dark leg. Photo courtesy of Flair Park

Is there a fool-proof way to breed a tobiano Pintabian foal? Yes, as long as one of the parents is a homozygous tobiano. That means the horse carries two tobiano genes, so it always passes one to its offspring. Every foal produced or sired by a homozygous tobiano will be tobiano itself because the gene is dominant.

DNA testing can predict that a horse is probably homozygous tobiano, but there are also characteristics that indicate a horse may be homozygous:

  • The horse has “cat tracks” – small, round colored spots that look like cat pawprints on the horse’s body.
  • If the horse is of breeding age and has only produced or sired at least 10 tobiano foals (and no solid-colored foals) out of solid mates, the horse is probably a homozygous tobiano.
  • The horse is a product of two tobianos bred to one another. In Pintabians, this means both parents are at least 99% Arabian blood. Each parent could contribute a tobiano gene to the foal, making it homozygous for tobiano.

To learn more about Pintabian registration, visit the Pintabian Horse Registry. In addition, Flair Park has very nice photos of Pintabians from their breeding program.

What is that????

by Kristin Berkery

A few years ago, a uniquely-colored filly named Eclyse (pronounced “uh-KLEE-suh”) made a splash when she appeared at a German safari park.

Eclyse, a zebra/horse hybrid foaled in Germany.

Eclyse’s dam, Eclipse, was given a vacation in Italy where she lived in a herd of horses and zebras. One of the zebras, a stallion named Ulysses, had a special relationship with Eclipse during her stay. When the mare returned to the Zoosafari Park in Schloss Holte Stukenbrock, Germany, near the Holland border, she delivered a surprise foal – a “zorse”!

Just like the name sounds, a zorse is a hybrid zebra/horse. Like mules and hinnies, they are generally sterile and exhibit traits of both parents. In Eclyse’s case, she inherited a tobiano gene from her horse dam and zebra markings from her sire.

Eclyse's unique pinto markings on her head and neck.

Eclyse is a good example of how dominant the tobiano gene is. Any time a horse (or horse hybrid) inherits at least one tobiano gene, tobiano is always expressed and it determines where the colored patches appear.

I wasn’t able to find a picture of Eclyse’s dam on the web, but we can make a couple of assumptions about her:

  • She’s a tobiano
  • She may be a bay tobiano

We know for sure that Eclyse’s dam is tobiano because zebras don’t carry the tobiano gene, and tobianos must always have at least one tobiano parent. My guess is that Eclyse’s dam is a bay tobiano because Eclyse inherited her father’s stripes on top of a brown coat color. If you look up zorse on Google, you’ll find a lot of different photos of zorses and many of them seem to retain the base coat color of their horse parent. If you know what Eclyse’s dam looks like, please leave a comment.

The public can see Eclyse in person at the Zoosafari Park in Germany. Below is a video with some good close-up footage of this unusually marked hybrid filly.