Palomino Horse Color Genetics

BF Oliver Twist, Welsh Mountain Pony, owned by Leah McFarlin - Photo by Reg Corkum. This palomino is dappled, and also shows an example of Sabino pinto-- the high white legs and facial marking are signs of the sabino gene.



A palomino is, genetically, a chestnut horse with one cream gene. The shades have a far range, from a pale, almost cremello-color, to a dark chocolate color.




Palomino Photos: Click to enlarge

Secret Spanish, AQHA mare.
owned by Linda McDonald

Luke Joans Trigger, AQHA gelding owned
by Karla Wood.

Affirmation, chocolate palomino AQHA stallion. Owned

PR blondenclueless, AQHA palomino with dapples. Owned by Karen Urbanovsky

The most common shade is probably a yellowish-gold color, although it can vary much as described above.
The mane and tail may be very pale flaxen, flaxen, reddish-gold, or 'gray' (mix of black and light hairs).

The eyes are usually brown, but sometimes hazel, green, or blue eyes occur. Blue eyes always occur in homozygous creams (cremellos), as does pink skin.

A palomino is a heterozygous cream, having only one cream gene. The skin is usually dark, but rarely may be pink.

Queen Isabella of Spain loved palominos and kept a stable to breed them. Cortez brought some of Queen Isabella's Palominos with him to America in 1519. The name 'Palomino' likely comes from Juan de Palomino, who received one of these golden horses from Cortez. It is also possible they were named after a golden-colored Spanish grape called 'Palomino'.

In Spain, horses of this color are called Ysabellas, after Isabella, and even today Palominos are sometimes called 'Isabellas' -- especially the lighter shades.

Sponenberg calls light palominos 'isabelo', which is a masculine form of Isabella. According to him, the name is derived from a legend about Queen Isabella. She stated that during the siege of Ostende that she would not change her white blouse until the siege was over. It lasted longer than she had expected, and her blouse had become a yellowish color that he calls 'isabelo' in horses.

The palomino color occurs in many breeds. It is not a breed, though is often confused as such-- in fact, it can never become a breed as palominos are heterozygous.

There is an association to register horses of this color, the 'Palomino Horse Breeders Association', and most palomino shades may join. Many different breeds are also allowed registration.

The best color for breeding palominos is Cremello-- chestnut-based like a palomino, only homozygous for the cream gene. This, when bred to chestnut, will always produce a palomino.

The shades vary greatly depending on what shade the chestnut base is, as well as the addition of flaxen and sooty genes.
Most palominos are a yellow-golden color with a flaxen mane and tail. Very dark 'chocolate' palominos are the result of palomino on a liver chestnut or the sooty gene darkening the horse. These usually have a dark chocolate body and light flaxen mane and tail, a very striking combination.

Some palominos are so red that they appear to be chestnuts-- and the opposite also occurs, where some chestnuts appear palomino. An example of this is the Halflinger, which is always chestnut, but many of them are light enough to be thought of as palominos. This is because they often have the flaxen and/or mealy genes which lighten them up, as well as a naturally light body color. However, there is no cream gene in the Haflinger breed-- otherwise we would see cremellos.

Very light palominos, almost an off-white or cream color, are sometimes called 'Isabella' or 'Isabelo' palominos. They are as light as the color gets.

A palomino's skin is almost always dark, although they can be born with pink skin. A very few palominos will have pink skin as adults, too. Brown eyes are the most common, but rarely amber, blue, or even green eyes can occur.

The mane and tail are usually off-white (flaxen) but can have golden hairs or black hairs. Sometimes the sooty gene will create a 'gray' mane on a palomino.

This AQHA Mare (Northwind Gold, owned by Mikie Peebles) shows an unusual distribution of sootiness on a palomino. The mare's rear end has been darkened, and the barrel area dappled, but the neck shows her base color.

Ramblin' Lemon Twist -Missouri Fox Trotter stallion owned by Lee Yates. This photo shows the deep dappling that can occur on palominos.


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