Grey horses are born colored, but over time they go through hair depigmentation. Most white horses were born grey, but as they age, their coats turn fully white.
Young horses start shedding their hair after birth and this continues through various grey shades until the horse turns white around eight. However, you should note that the time of greying depends on the breed. Some horses are born with the greying process in place, while others begin at eight years.
Our guide covers everything you need to know about the different grey horse breeds, including the types and genes behind grey horses.
Grey horses have a grey gene that acts on the melanocytes found in the hair follicle. The cells, or melanocytes, are what contribute to the pigment that gives the horses their grey color.
The gene increases the number of melanocytes. That’s what causes the birth coat to be dark grey. After a few years, the gene reduces the number of melanocytes in hair growth cycles, until the grey coat disappears and the horse retains a pure white color.
When it comes to grey genes inheritance, you should note that two non-grey horses can never produce a grey foal. A grey foal needs to have at least one grey parent.
The Veterinary Clinics of North America conducted a study where they discovered that gene mutation can also lead to vitiligo and melanomas.
Melanomas were found to be common in older grey horses that were 15 years or older.
While it’s possible to get a grey horse by owning a horse with a grey gene, most people prefer breeding two grey horses together.
Alternatively, you can breed two horses of a breed where most horses of the breed are grey. That means breeding Percherons and Lipizzaners.
Breeders can tell that a newborn horse is likely to turn grey when they check the fur around the horse’s eye.
Young ones with a grey gene have a ring of grey or white fur around each eye, which helps them predict that a foal will turn grey. Most grey horses turn white by eight years.
Color Names of Grey Horse Breeds
Some of the common colors of grey horse breeds include:
1. Steel Grey
A steel grey horse is also known as iron grey. It has a bluish tint and gets its shade at an early age.
These horses have a black coat with grey and white hairs mixed in together. That makes the black hair lighter. As the horse ages, its coat becomes lighter. That gives them an even, light grey color.
2. Dapple Grey
Dapple grey horses have rings of dark hair that highlight the new white hairs springing through their coat. That creates a dappled effect.
Some dappling changes throughout the year based on a particular season. That’s known as bloom dappling.
However, it’s possible to have a dappling effect influenced by genetics, which creates true dapples. Dappling that’s caused by the deactivation of the dominant grey gene creates a speckled effect in some places on the coat.
Although most of these horses have a dapple grey color that appears fixed, in some cases, the dappling happens as the horse ages. The coat turns from a dark base coat color to a uniform white or grey.
As a grey horse ages, the encircled grey marking eventually fades out and the dappling effect fades. Dapples start to fade when the horse is about four years, while some retain their dapple grey for life.
Most dappled grey horses see their dapple effect disappear by the age of six, which makes way for a pure white coat.
Some horses may still retain markings and speckles over time.
3. Light Grey
Although most people think light grey horses are pure white horses, they are different. A pure white horse is born white and remains that way throughout, but a light grey horse is born with a grey pigment that fades to white with age.
A light grey hose has dark spots around the eyes and nose. These horses get this color once they mature.
4. Flea-Bitten Grey
A flea-bitten grey horse breed has freckles on a white coat. They appear like pigmented spots of the original color that are scattered through a light coat.
The horse breed gets these speckles in the final stage of the greying process. That process occurs due to re-pigmentation.
Flea-bitten breeds can either have large but dense speckles on their coat or a few barely noticeable speckles. The re-pigmentation happens in grey horses that are more than ten years old.
Although the cause of the speckles is not known, some people believe that it’s due to another different gene that is different from a grey gene.
Grey roan is a term that describes colors that are different genetically but have the same appearance.
A grey roan horse breed has a white fur coat color and a colored fur intermix. That’s attributed to a genetic color modifier. These horses will not fade to white but will retain the color throughout.
Roan horses retain their color on their mane, tail, legs, and face. However, some may have grey or white fur on large parts of the body.
You should note that some horses can have both the gene for grey and roan. Getting a genetic color test can help determine the horse’s accurate color
White or pure white grey is a breed that has a pure white coat on its body and mane.
These horses are born grey, but as they age, their body, mane, and tail hair become depigmented.
6. Blood Marked Grey
Blood marked grey horse breed has large patches of pigmented red hair. These hairs appear as blood marks.
Most horses develop these blood marks over their shoulders. As the horse ages, the patches become enlarged. A few horses can have blood marks on most parts of their body.
7. Rose Grey
Rose grey horses have a medium-grey shade with a tinted red color. That gives the horse breed a rosy glow color, which is unique.
Additionally, the horse has some dark parts than the rest of its body.
10 Horse Breeds That Are Predominantly Grey
1. Spanish Norman
The Spanish Norman combines the Percheron and Andalusian horse breeds.
The breed was created as a way to recreate Ancient Europe warhorses. The Spanish Norman is mostly used for training, competitions, and shows.
The Araboulonnais is a newer grey breed created by the French. It was created by crossing Arabians with Boulonnais.
This breed has an average height of 15.5 and is mostly used for agricultural purposes.
The Andalusian is a breed with a history that dates back to the Carthusian Monastery. It’s believed that the ancient people during the war kept a herd of horses secret to replenish the remaining horses.
Being a strong horse, the Andalusian is mostly used for general riding. Some people may use it for competitions and shows.
The Unmol horse is an Indian horse breed that can be traced back to Alexander the Great’s era.
Although the breed was grey, the modern Unmol is more white as it includes Arabian genetics. The breed is 15 hands high. It’s often used for pleasure riding and transport.
The Lusitano and Andalusian breeds share similar ancestry.
However, the Lusitano was often used for bullfighting as they are agile. It’s also brave and intelligent, measuring 15 hands high.
The Lipizzan breed is named after an Italian village, but it’s originally from Austria.
Considered an athletic horse breed, the Lipizzan can participate in competitions and different shows. It measures 15 hands and most people consider it a kind type of horse.
The Kladruby is a close relative to the Lipizzan breed and it dates back to the 16th century. It measures 17 hands high and is considered one of the tallest grey horse breeds.
Due to its low numbers, Kladburys are only used in sports driving.
The Dilbaz is a mix of Turkish and Arabian breeds. It was originally from Azerbaijan before a breed cooperative was formed to ensure the breed survived.
The grey horse breed measures 14.5 hands and is mainly used for riding and improving specific horse breeds. Some people also use it as a packhorse.
The Camargue is originally from France and measures 14 hands high. Having been left to roam around back in the day, the Camargue is considered a hardy animal that can survive anywhere.
Boulonnais boasts of a white coat with a long tail and mane. It’s one of the grey horse breeds that is used to create the Araboulonnais breed.
The breed measures 16 hands and is muscular. While a few people raise it for meat, the Boulonnais is used for riding and as a carthorse.
There are different grey horse breeds in the world. It’s possible to tell a grey horse’s age based on the receding grey coat that becomes lighter over time. The coat turns white as the horse becomes older.