Rose Grey


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Grey is an ongoing process of depigmentation of the colored hairs. It is sometimes referred to as a pattern, which is incorrect. Grey is a modifier, which would be more accurate. Grey slowly removes the pigment from the base color, other modifiers (such as Mealy & Sooty) and dilution genes (such as Cream & Dun) that make up the original color of the horse. Grey has the unique ability to mask everything including any Pinto or Appaloosa patterns. No color is safe when Grey is present, as all horses that carry the Greying gene will end up a shade of grey or white. For this reason some breeders do not like to have mares or stallions in their breeding herd.

Grey is dominant, meaning, the horse must have at least one Grey parent to be Grey and if a horse has Grey it will be shown physically. Homozygous Greys do occur, the offspring of such horses will always go Grey.

Many think that Grey is the most dominant color or it is the strongest dominant gene. This is incorrect, Grey is not more dominant than any other dominant color or pattern gene - all dominant genes are equally dominant. Grey seems to be a "very strong" gene, only because it removes all physical affects of other color factors. This does not however mean that it removes the genes that causes colors and patterns. It also doesn't mean that a horse is going to be more likely to pass along the Grey gene than the dominant gene for Bay, Silver or Cream, etc.

At times, Grey is also incorrectly referred to as a color. While somewhat correct, it can be confusing because all Grey horses have a base pigment of either red or black and depending on what other genes are present all Grey horses were another color at birth. Figuring out the base color of a Grey horse can be very time consuming and some very surprising foal colors can be seen from Grey parents. Some think that all Grey horses start out being Black. This is a myth. Any colored or patterned horse can go Grey, from Black to Cremello.

Some Grey horses also undergo a progressive depigmentation of the skin. When in the early stages of depigmentation this causes a mottling that is similar to the mottling associated with the Appaloosa patterns.

There are several different stages to the greying process and each individual horse is different when it comes to the speed of this process. Some Arabians tend to go grey very quickly, while some Percherons usually grey at a more leisurely pace. The greying can even start in the womb so a horse can be born "Grey".

Foals that will grey out are usually born the "adult" version of the color or a very deep, rich color. For example: Bay foals that will not grey usually have light legs that shed out black with the first foal coat shedding. But a Bay foal that will grey usually has black legs at birth.

In most cases the first signs of greying are usually "goggles" around the eyes and on the face but sometimes the greying starts at the other end of the foal. White hairs may start showing up very early in the foals life, even a few days or weeks after birth.

Grey occurs in almost every breed, those that it does not occur in are those that have been selectively bred to a narrow or specific color range, such as the Friesian, Cleveland Bay, Suffolk Punch and Haflinger. In other breeds such as the Andalusian, Grey is very common. In some breeds Grey occurs, but is very rare, with only a few individuals existing in the world, such as the Morgan.


Betica - Spanish Andalusian
Courtesy of Patsy Van Etten

Steel or Iron Grey

This term is used to describe horses that are just starting the greying process. The mare to the left was born in 2000, the photo shows her as a yearling. As you can see her face is what's showing the most lightening from the greying gene.

Some Steel Grey horses have almost a bluish tint to their body and are sometimes called Grullo. The light head and lack of primitive markings are just a couple of factors that prove that this is not a case of a horse with the Dunning gene.


Irish Draft
Early Dappling Stage
©Encyclopedia of the Horse

Dapple Grey

This the second stage in the greying process and probably the most common term used when describing Grey.

The ages of the horses in the photos are unknown but usually a horse starts to dapple early on, in the late Steel Grey stage and progressively gets lighter and the dapples get more pronounced as the horse ages.

Mid Dappling Stage
©Encyclopedia of the Horse

Dappling usually occurs very heavily from the ages of four to 12, but of course the ages would depend on the speed at which a particular horse is greying.

Late Dappling Stage
©Encyclopedia of the Horse


HAAP Mistique
Purebred Arabian
Courtesty of Hugus Alfalfa & Arab Pintos
©Equine Color

Fleabitten Grey

This term describes horses that have small red or black (or both) dots on their body. Sometimes these dots occur only in certain areas and other times they cover the entire horse.

On some horses fleabites occur as the horse progressively fades and on others they begin to show up after the horse has faded to the point of loosing all pigment.

Some believe that these spots are a sign of what the base color is, while others disagree with this. Sufficient evidence has not been documented to determine whether this is a reliable way to determine base color or not.

©Encyclopedia of the Horse

White Grey

This term describes horses who have completed the greying process. All pigment in the hair, including that in his mane, tail and legs has been removed. The darkness of the muzzle is just the skin.

Royal Destinie MLW - Hanoverian

Rose Grey

Also called "Arabian Grey", Rose Grey is a term used for horses that have a Bay or Chestnut base coat. This shade is not limited to the Arabian breed, any breed that has the Greying gene has the ability to have Rose Grey horses. The genetic control is also the same as a "regular" Grey horse, it's just the base color that differs, causing a "Rose" colored tint to the body.

The filly to the left was born in April 2001 and is a weanling in the photo. She was born Chestnut.

Unusual Markings and Spots
The Tetrarch

Tetrarch Spots

There is no formal name for these unusual spots that appear on Grey horses. Most people associate them with the Thoroughbred stallion, The Tetrarch. It's unknown exactly what causes this spotting, whether it is a separate genetic factor or if it's something that is unique to Greying horses. As of this date this unique spotting has been seen in Thoroughbreds and Akhal-Tekes.

Courtesy of Cindy Dalton



Desert Victory
Crabbet Bred Arabian
Courtesy of WBockman

Blood Marks or Bloody Shoulder

This is a rare effect that usually happens in the Arabian breed, but can occur in any breed that has the greying gene in it's gene pool.

Blood marks are basically a very large concentration of fleabites in a particular area of the horse, that can enlarge as the horse ages. These horses are sometimes referred to as a "Bloody Shouldered Grey".

The painting on the bottom left is John Wootton's picture of Lord Oxford's Bloody-Shouldered Arabian, a Grey with a dark "Roan" stain. It was suggested that these markings were caused prenatally by an accident to the horse's dam. We know now that this is just a concentration of fleabites.





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This site was last updated 02/28/13