For identification and registration, it is necessary to be able to describe horses by their colour and their facial and leg markings. There is a widely understood and accepted system for describing such characteristics.
Bay – This colour can range from very light tan through all shades of brown to dark mahogany, but the ‘points’ (muzzle, mane, tail and extremities of the legs) must be black.
Brown – Distinctly brown, including the points.Black Distinctly black all over.
Chestnut – Can vary from a light golden colour to dark liver chestnut. The points are a similar chestnut.
Grey – This can mean any shade from pure white to dark iron grey. The dapple grey has a very attractive dark and light-mottled appearance. A ‘flea-bitten’ grey is white with small darker grey flecks giving a rather flea-bitten appearance. Grey horses tend to get whiter as they age and flea-bitten greys are usually older.
Roan – There are two classes: the ‘red’ or ‘strawberry’, and `blue’; the appearance of the coat is produced by the intermingling of red, white and yellow, or black, white and yellow hairs respectively. The red roan is sometimes called ‘sorrel’ and occasionally a chestnut roan may be met.
Piebald – White and black in large random patches.
Skewbald – White and any other colour or colours, usually in large, random patches.
Dun – A fawn, biscuit colour, usually with black points.
Colour is sometimes an indication of a horse’s temperament. The question is however surrounded by legend and old wives’ tales. Bright chestnuts, for instance, have a reputation for being fiery and dark bays are said to be sensible and reliable, but many exceptions could be found to refute these theories. A strong colour is often the sign of a strong horse whether it is a good rich hay or brown or a deep liver chestnut. Weak colours, a washy chestnut or pale hay with mealy-coloured legs, may well be a sign of a weak horse.
Other markings are sometimes found on the horse’s body. The black stripe that runs along the back of some horses from the mane to the tail, often found on the dun horse or pony, is known as the ‘dorsal stripe’, the ‘list’ or the ‘ray’. The horizontal stripes sometimes found on the legs are known as ‘zebra marks’.
The horse’s eyes are usually black but where the eye is blue or greyish-white it is known as a wall eye.
Horses are sometimes identified by ‘freeze-marking’, which is a type of branding where the horse’s coat is permanently marked with a white registered number. This is a particularly useful form of identification as it will, in most cases, deter a thief.
See more: Horse Lice