Horse Colors

What is a dunalino?

by Kristin Berkery

A dunalino Quarter Horse

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.

A dunalino Quarter Horse

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, Pintabian horse

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.

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.

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.

Champagnes: Horses of a Different Color

by Kristin Berkery

When I was a kid and my family would go on road trips across the U.S., I remember my parents playing the song “The Tennessee Stud” performed by Johnny Cash. I can still clearly remember the lyrics:

The Tennessee stud was long and lean

The color of the sun and his eyes were green

>He had the nerve and he had the blood

There never was a horse like the Tennessee stud

At the time, I was completely puzzled by this description. I’d never seen a horse with green eyes in my life, and I couldn’t imagine what a yellow horse with green eyes would look like. It actually sounded a little scary.

Champagne Spritzer, a classic champagne tobiano Missouri Foxtrotter filly owned by Myrna Warfel of Ridin' High Ranch LLC and photographed by Linda Vishino of Zorro Farms. Champagne foals often have bright blue eyes.

Fast-forward to a few years ago… When I heard the song again in the Quentin Tarantino movie Jackie Brown, I had a flashback to my childhood. But this time, the meaning of the song suddenly hit me. The Tennessee Stud was probably a gold champagne Tennessee Walker with hazel eyes. Now it made sense!

I first learned about champagne horses by accident when I read about Khalvin Khlein KPM, an amber champagne three-quarter Arabian grandson of Khemosabi. Khalvin’s dam was a champagne Half-Arabian mare who probably got her color from the Saddlebred side of her pedigree. (She also had Quarter Horse breeding.) I became interested in equine color genetics around that time, so I did more research into this unique gene.

Cita Champagne, a gold champagne AQHA mare owned and photographed by Audra Pennebaker of Snakewater Farms. She's considered a "self-gold" champagne because her mane and tail are the same color as her body. Many other gold champagnes will have a lighter mane and tail than the body color.

Champagne is a dominant modifier gene like cream or dun, which means that when a horse inherits it, the gene affects or dilutes the basecoat color. For example, when the cream gene is applied to chestnut, a palomino results. When champagne is applied to chestnut, a gold champagne is produced, which can look deceptively like palomino but has some distinct differences. A gold champagne is a horse with a yellow-gold or orange-gold body color (often with a pronounced metallic sheen), blond or white mane and tail, light-colored eyes, and purplish-pink skin. (There are some gold champagnes with manes and tails the same color as their bodies – they’re referred to as “self-gold” champagnes.) Throughout history, gold champagne horses were often called “pumpkin-skinned” or “light-skinned” palominos.

An amber champagne horse results from the champagne gene applied to bay. The horse may appear to be buckskin at first glance, but then you’ll notice the mane, tail, and legs are actually a chocolate color, the gold body color has a metallic sheen, the eyes are light, and the skin is a purplish-pink.

Perfections Champagne Callalily, a classic champagne Missouri Foxtrotter mare owned and photographed by Cathy Hill of Five Hills Farm. Even though she's in her winter coat, you can still see the metallic sheen and some reverse dappling. She also illustrates the monochrome color of classic champagnes (black + champagne).

Classic champagne is produced when champagne is applied to black. Some people describe it as “Weimaraner-like” because it’s a monochrome color, others have called it “lilac dun,” and still others confuse it with grulla (dun + black). The horse has a muted brownish body color with a metallic sheen, and the legs may be a darker shade of the body color. The eyes are light and the skin is a purplish-pink.

Some other newly discovered shades of champagne include grey champagne and sable champagne. When grey and champagne combine, the genes are considered co-dominant so the horse never completely greys out. At a distance, grey champagnes’ coats appear white or very light cream with a metallic sheen (sometimes accompanied by a brown-tinted mane and tail), but upon closer inspection you see a large amount of champagne-colored fleabites. They also tend to have very heavy, almost black, mottling or freckling on their pink skin.

Sable champagnes are brown horses with the champagne gene applied. The color may be mistaken for classic champagne until genetic testing shows a horse is positive for agouti. (The presence of agouti indicates the horse is not black, so it could not be classic champagne.)

There are even more shades of champagne created when the champagne gene and cream gene are applied to a basecoat color. For instance, gold cream champagne results when a champagne gene and a cream gene combine on a chestnut basecoat. Amber cream champagne is produced when champagne and cream are applied to bay. Classic cream champagne results from champagne and cream applied to black. As you can imagine, horses with these two different dilution genes are generally very light in color, but they can have brown-tinted manes, tails, and legs. As with all horses that carry the champagne gene, cream champagnes have light eyes and purplish-pink skin.

Peponita Poco Lass, a grey champagne AQHA mare owned and photographed by Shari Beymer of Beymer Paints.

As if this gene wasn’t complicated enough, champagnes may undergo color changes as they age. Their pinkish skin may darken to a purple color and become very mottled or freckled. Their eyes, which could be bright blue at birth, could change to hazel or amber in adulthood, and sometimes go through all three colors during the horse’s lifetime.

Coincidentally, not long after I started researching champagne horses, I discovered a well-known classic champagne Tennessee Walker stallion named Champagne Look in the town where I live. His dam, Champagne Lady Diane (foaled in 1969), made the color famous. She was given her name because her classic champagne color was reminiscent of sparkling wine, and the few people familiar with the unique color called it “champagne” in honor of the mare. However, it would take many years before geneticists and breed registries would acknowledge the color.

A closeup photo of the champagne flecks in Peponita Poco Lass' coat. Photo by Shari Beymer.

When Champagne Lady Diane was a young mare, her owner, Diane Green, wondered what color her horse could be, so she sent hair samples to the University of Tennessee and Auburn University for testing. The laboratories were stumped. They knew the mare wasn’t dun, grey, roan, and didn’t have the cream gene. But what was she? The labs described her as “a genetic color accident.”

Today, geneticists don’t believe that Champagne Lady Diane was the first champagne horse, considering that stories have been passed down for many years about “buckskin” and “palomino” horses with pink skin and light eyes. (In addition, “The Tennessee Stud” hit the music charts ten years before Champagne Lady Diane was foaled.) It’s believed that Champagne Lady Diane owes her color to her dam Mack’s Golden Girl H, probably a gold champagne mare, and there are other lines in Tennessee Walkers that carry the champagne gene as well.

Champagne is found in a number of American breeds, including Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walkers and related breeds, Quarter Horses and related breeds, and American Cream Drafts, among others. There are documented part-Arabians with as much as 7/8 Arabian blood that express the champagne gene.

A couple of years ago, my grandmother in Kansas purchased a 20-year-old Missouri Foxtrotter mare as a companion for her retired Arabian gelding. Over the phone I asked my mother what color the mare was, and she hesitated for a moment. “She looks buckskin, but she’s kind of a funny color.” My ears perked when I heard this because I knew champagne was found in Foxtrotters, and “funny color” is a good way to describe champagne when you’re not familiar with it. So I began asking the probing questions: What color is her skin? Purple with freckles. What color are her eyes? A funny light color. Eureka! She had to be a champagne-colored horse. I was able to verify it in person, and was amazed to see even her winter coat had a metallic sheen.

Champagne horses are out there, but we may not always know it when we find them. If you ever came across a horse that had a color you just couldn’t describe, or it didn’t quite look like the buckskins, palominos, and duns you’d known before, maybe that horse was a champagne.

Years ago I saw Michael Crichton’s first movie Westworld but never noticed anything memorable about the horses…until I watched the movie again in 2002. As I admired the beautiful horse Yul Brynner’s robot character was riding, I noticed something different about it – he was amber champagne! He looked like a buckskin, but he had light eyes and light skin. I tried to find information on the web about the horse but never discovered what breed he was or where he came from.

There are a few sites on the web that explain the champagne gene and provide many reference photos of champagne horses. My favorites include the International Champagne Horse Registry at and the Champagne Horses Website at

Originally featured in the January/February 2005 issue of Horsing Around magazine.

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