Appaloosa

Basic Rules of Coat Color Genetics

Horse colors and patterns can be confusing — here are some guidelines to get you started.

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Photo of overo Mustangs by Sandysphotos2009

by Kristin Berkery

orses come in all kinds of colors and patterns, and even the most experienced horse enthusiasts will occasionally come across something so unusual that it stumps them. (Thank goodness for DNA testing.) But there are some basic rules of coat color genetics that you can always count on. If you have additional ones to share, please comment at the bottom of the article.

*Aramus, Wayne Newton's homozygous grey Arabian stallion. Note the porcelain white color that's common to mature homozygous greys. Photo by Johnny Johnston

Grey: A dominant gene, grey will always express itself over other color genes if a horse inherits the grey gene. It’s not possible for a horse to carry a recessive (and therefore unexpressed) grey gene, so all grey horses have at least one grey parent.

Some horses are homozygous grey, meaning they carry two grey genes and can only pass grey on to their offspring. Since grey is dominant over other colors, a homozygous grey will always produce or sire grey offspring. Homozygous greys can be found in Lipizzans and Arabians, among other breeds.

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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.