Neu Perspectives

Chocolate? Palomino?

A Chocolate Palomino colored horse standing in a field.

The rare “black silver dapple” is a coat color of many names that deserves a closer look.

There’s an equine coat color floating around out there, and for a very long time, I did not know what it was. It’s rare in our Quarter Horse world, and I mostly identified it on Shetland-types, so I always referred to it as “pony-colored.” Well, I was soon corrected by both fellow Americans, who called it “chocolate palomino,” and Australians, who said it was “taffy.” Although each of those terms whetted my appetite and conjured up sweet images, it turns out they aren’t much more technically accurate than calling it “pony-colored.”

The color I’m talking about is a black pigmented (Ee or EE) horse that carries the silver gene (marked as Z). It’s called black silver dapple, to be specific. As I mentioned above, it’s not at all common in the American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association or other stock-type horses, but it runs rampant in many pony breeds, gaited breeds, and other breeds such as Gypsy Vanners and Icelandics.

Technically speaking, a “black silver dapple” is a black horse with a genetic modifying gene that dilutes black hairs. It takes that black coat and dilutes it down to a dark chocolatey gray, often accompanied by dapples. The black mane and tail turn very flaxen, sometimes to the point of silver or white. If a horse carries Z (whether it’s Z/Z homozygous or Z/n heterozygous), the gene is expressed, but only if the horse also carries the black gene (EE or Ee.) So, sometimes a red-based horse coat (sorrel, chestnut, palomino, red roan, and more) may be a silver carrier without anyone knowing it (because they have no black hair to dilute). If you breed a red-based horse silently carrying the gene, the resulting foal could be extremely surprising should it pass the Z gene onto something with black hair. But if the horse is black, bay, blue roan, buckskin or any other multitude of colors carrying “E,” it will dilute the black into the silver gene.

Why is it not a palomino? Well, the answer is simple. A palomino is genetically a sorrel horse with the cream gene as a modifier. Yes, it dapples. Yes, it can be sooty. But it’s technically a golden hue with a flaxen mane and tail. The black (or bay!) silver dapple is genetically a black, bay or any other horse with the silver gene, which dilutes the black-based hairs and turns their manes and tails to flaxen. To some, it even looks like a gray horse. But, the color doesn’t morph lighter as the horse ages, and it is a completely different gene entirely than the gray gene.

In our Western world, it’s not something we are super familiar with. My daughter has a bay pony that carries silver, and when she tells most folks her pony is a silver bay, they sort of smile and nod like, “OK, kid.” But it really is a thing, and it’s truly a beautiful coat color, no matter the breed.

No, it may not be chocolate, and it may not technically be taffy, but in my opinion, a horse or pony expressing the silver gene is a treat all the same.

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