Coat colours

Horse Stand Chestnut It’s surprising how many of us have subconscious (or very conscious) preconceptions and judgments about the colour, build or general look of a horse. Some might think bays bring them luck, and others might say grey horses ‘don’t like them very much’.
But is there anything to those small superstitions … is a horse with three white socks really hot? Is a black horse always stubborn? Small superstitions become big beliefs, and as odd as it might sound, there are still many people today who place great stock in these ‘dated’ ideas.

Colour code

Horse WhiteThe belief that an animal’s colour can determine his personality is as old as riding itself. For hundreds of years the American-Indians have preferred painted horses. According to them the horses were lucky, good in battle and far more docile than their single-shaded counterparts. In Spain black horses were considered bad luck. In France they believed the opposite, and sometimes chose a black horse in favour of a good pedigree. And today we’re all familiar with the old saying ‘chestnut mare, beware!’
Doug Carpenter, trainer for over 20 years and famous for selecting champions from almost any blood-stock, noted that black and grey horses are harder to train. Bay horses are said to be good-natured and solid-minded, leading to the old saying ‘give me a bay any day.’
Is there any truth to the idea that colour can decide your horse’s personality? Though we usually have our own personal bias, there is little evidence to suggest it is possible. As riders we’ll probably always be influenced by the colour of a horse. It is usually the first thing we see, and the last thing we remember. We prefer certain colours and turn our nose up at others, it’s just basic preference. But as has often been said: ‘A good horse is never a bad colour.’


Coat markings have also drawn attention over the years. In her study with cows, scientist Temple Grandin PhD, from Colorado University, noted that animals with low pigmentation and more ‘pink’ skin gave low quality milk. Could similar principles be applied to pigmented horses? Even back in the Old West people were careful to buy a horse with white feet.
‘One white foot, buy him; two white feet, try him, three white feet, look well about him; four white feet, go without him.’ The origin of this saying apparently stems from the idea that white hooves are weaker than dark hooves, but there is little evidence to support this unless those cowboys knew something we didn’t.

Text: Engela Snyman

The full article appears in the April issue (98) of HQ.