so what is a roan, anyway?
"Roan" refers to a horse coat color pattern
characterized by an even mixture of colored and white
hairs on the body, while the head and "points"—lower
legs, mane and tail—are mostly solid-colored. Horses
with roan coats have white hairs evenly intermingled
throughout any other color. The head, legs, mane and
tail have fewer scattered white hairs or none at all.
The roan pattern is dominantly-inherited, and is found
in many horse breeds. While the specific mutation
responsible for roan has not been exactly identified, a
DNA test can determine zygosity for roan in several
breeds. True roan is always present at birth, though it
may be hard to see until after the foal coat sheds out.
The coat may lighten or darken from winter to summer,
but unlike the gray coat color, which also begins with
intermixed white and colored hairs, roans do not become
progressively lighter in color as they age.
the three most typical roan colors
bay roan: base color bay
blue roan: base color black
red roan: base color sorrel or chestnut
the shades of roan
Horses with the roan pattern have an even mixture of
white and colored hairs in the coat. These
interspersed white hairs are more scattered or absent on
the horse's head, mane, tail, and lower legs. The
unaffected color on the legs often forms a sharp,
inverted "V" above the knee and hock, not seen in other
roan-like coat patterns. The non-white background
coat may be any color, as determined by unrelated
Often, the background coat color is used in
combination with the word "roan" to describe the shade
of a roan horse's coat, such as bay roan or red roan.
The most common shades and terms for various roan colors
are the following:
Blue roan: any roan with a dark underlying
coat that gives it a bluish cast. However,
"blue roan" is a roan with a black base color.
- Red roan:
"red roan" used to include
both chestnut and bay roans. In 1999, the American
Paint Horse Association changed its coat color
descriptions: roans with a chestnut background coat
are registered "red roan", while "bay roan" is its
own category. The American Quarter Horse
Association followed suit in 2003. Previously,
strawberry roan described the pinkish color
of a light chestnut or sorrel roan. While less
common, the term
lilac roan may be applied to a dark chestnut
honey roan to palominos or the lightest
- Bay roan
replaced red roan as the term for a roan with a bay
Three horses classified as "bay roan"
brown base color, black points
brown base color, black points
bay base color, black points, white hair in mane
Some roan horses have more white hair than others,
and even individual horses may look lighter or darker
based on the season and their coats may vary from year
to year. While roan is always present at birth, the soft
first coat of newborn foals may not show the white hairs
well. Some roan horses get darker with age.
Generally, roans appear to have more white hair when
they have their short summer coats and darker when they
have their winter coats.
Roans have other unusual characteristics. If the
skin is damaged by even a very minor scrape, cut or
brand, the coat grows back in solid-colored without any
white hairs. These regions of solid-colored coat
are called "corn spots" or "corn marks" and can appear
even without the horse having had a visible injury.
Another true roan trait is reverse dappling.
Usually dapples are darker than the surrounding coat
color, but on a roan, the dapples are lighter.
more shades of roan
While bay roan, blue roan and red roan are the 3 main
classifications and most typical shades of roan, roans
can come in virtually any base color. In a lighter
color horse, roan hairs may be harder to see, but the
same mixture of colored hairs and white hairs apply.
more shades of roan
when is a roan not a roan?
Gray vs. roan:
Roans are sometimes mistaken for grays, however
horses can possess characteristics of both gray and
roan. Gray is one
of the most common coat colors found in nearly all
breeds of horses. The defining characteristic of
the gray coat is that it becomes progressively lighter
over time. Gray foals may be born any color, even
there may be no indication of the future gray coat at
birth. Mature grays may retain none of their
original coat color, and have a "white" coat, while the
color of the skin and eyes is unchanged. The first white
hairs are usually seen around the muzzle and eyes.
As a gray may go from entirely colored to entirely white
over the course of its life, the process of "graying
out" can, at times, closely resemble roan. Unlike grays,
roans wihtout a graying gene do not develop more white
hair with age, though than can appear lighter or darker
this is the same horse
registered a bay roan.....
....turned to gray with age
dun vs. roan
Grullo coloring is created by the dun gene, called
the dun factor, acting on a black base coat.
Grullo is a coat color with a bluish cast and darker
points. Unlike blue roans, grullos have solid colored
and appear bluish due to low amounts of pigment in each
hair, not black hairs interspersed white hairs.
Like other dun factor coat colors like dun or red dun, grullos have dark or
black primitive markings, always including a stripe down
Rabicano vs. roan
One pattern of roaning is rabicano. While true roans
have an even intermixture of white hairs throughout the
body, except the extremities, the white hairs of a
rabicano are densest around the base of the tail and the
flank. Rabicano roaning frequently forms rings of
white hair around the base of the tail, called a "coon
tail" and in
extensively roaned rabicanos, the white hairs may
converge to form vertical stripes over the ribcage.
Rabicano is found in many breeds but is not a recognized
color in the AQHA. Rabicano horses are classified
by their base color in most breeds.
bay with roan hairs in flank and a coon tail
sorrel with roan hairs over shoulder, ribcage
roans in different breeds
Sabino vs. roan
Roaning is also associated with some of the sabino
spotting patterns. There are many patterns in
various breeds called "sabino," and these patterns
usually feature irregular, rough-edged patches of white
that originate from the lower legs, face, and midline.
The borders of these white patches can be heavily
roaned, and some sabinos can be mistaken for roans.
The roaning of sabinos will originate in a white patch,
and the roaning is uneven.
Varnish roan vs. roan
The leopard complex colors, characteristic of the
Appaloosa, have several manifestations that feature
mixtures of white and colored hairs. A varnish roan, one
type of leopard complex coat color also called "marble",
is an all-over blend of white and colored hairs.
Patches of skin that lie close to the bone, such as on
the face and legs, and the point of shoulder and point
of hip, do not grow as much white hair. These darker
patches are called "varnish marks" and are not found in
true roans. Varnish roans can also be distinguished from
true roans by the presence of leopard complex
characteristics, such as the white sclera, striped hooves, and mottled skin around the eyes,
muzzle, and genitals.
Roan is a simple dominant trait symbolized by the Rn
allele. Roaning, caused by the roan gene, (R),
cannot appear in offspring of two non-roan parents, even
if they have roan ancestors. The three primary base
colors include red (chestnut “e” gene), black (“E”
gene), and bay (Black “E” gene) +Agouti (“A”gene) which
when paired with the roan gene result in the red or
strawberry, blue, and bay roans, respectively.
Traits that are dominantly-inherited cannot skip
generations, meaning that two non-roan parents cannot
produce a roan offspring. In cases where roan has
appeared to skip generations, one of the parents is
usually discovered to be slightly roaned. A roan can
also be born from two seemingly non-roan parents if the
roan coat is "masked" by extensive white markings or
gray. In some cases, the supposedly roan offspring is
not true roan at all, but rabicano, sabino, or
influenced by some other genetic factor.
The University of California, Davis School of
Veterinary Medicine's genetics services developed a DNA
test that uses genetic markers to indirectly determine
the number of Rn or rn alleles a horse has. The mutation
responsible for true roan has not yet been identified
exactly, but been assigned to equine chromosome 3 (ECA3)
in the KIT sequence. The roan zygosity test is
reliable for American Quarter Horses and American Paint
Horses. Until a direct test is developed, the roan
zygosity test may enable breeders to produce roans more
Homozygous horses have the genotype Rn/Rn and produce
100% roan offspring. Homozygous roans and
heterozygous roans (Rn/rn) are identical in appearance.