Tru blue roan horse

Blue Roan Horses – Can a horse be blue?

Horses cannot be truly “blue” in the way that other animals might exhibit blue colouration, such as a kingfisher or a butterfly. Instead, the term “blue” in the context of horses typically refers to a specific coat colouration known as “blue roan.”

Blue Roan is seen in less than 5% of the horse population.

Roan is a pattern, not a colour…

Blue roan horses have a coat that appears bluish due to a combination of black and white hairs. The overall appearance can range from a deep, slate-like blue to a lighter, steel-grey colour, giving the impression of a blue hue from a distance.

Blue colouration is not from pigments, but from mixed white and coloured hairs

The blue coloration of blue roan horses is not caused by pigments that produce a true blue colour. Instead, it results from the interaction between the white hair and a black base coat.

Think about how a painter creates an image. When you look at a painting from distance, it is blue, but on closer inspection you can see it is made up of many different colours. Take these Van Gogh self portraits as an example, painted in a pointillist style. At a distance they look blue/green, but on closer inspection you can see they are made up of many different colours.

Is Roan genetic?

The mutation responsible for true roan has not yet been identified exactly, but been assigned to equine chromosome 3 (ECA3) in the KIT sequence. At least one roan parent is required. i.e, one parent with individual white hairs to be interspersed with the darker hairs. This does not guarantee a roan foal however, nor does it guarantee a blue, black or any other coloured foal.

How “Blue” a horse is depends on many factors

The intensity of the blue colour can vary among individual horses and may change with factors such as sun exposure and grooming practices.

We have a few horses which show a “Blue roan” pattern at Strathorn which vary in their “Blueness” throughout the year. These horses are not what’s know as “True Roan”, which means they have the so called “roan gene” which gives them white and dark hair interspersed evenly throughout their entire body, They are a mix which means they display roaning trait on parts of their body.

These patterns can variously be described as Blagdon, Sabino or Rabicano. Some greys, such as Strathorn June our Clydesdale cross Connemara can look blue at times due to the mix of light and dark hairs, but June would not be classified as a True Roan.

True Roan Vs Roan Colouring

“True” roan is a pattern which can be identifed by genetics. True roans will have this coluring throught their lives and will have a face and legs the base coat colour. Roan coloured horses, such as roan Clydesdales do not have this specfic gene. They will not have legs and face of the base coat colour and their colour may change throught their lives.

Tru blue roan horse

True blue roan horse. Note the dark face and legs, this is typical of a true roan horse.

Laddie (our local legend ex hunting pony) is sometimes a really dark dappled blue roan, and sometimes he can look nearly white! He is probably best described as Rabicano

Blue roan horse

Laddie, can look blue roan, but he can go almost white at times

50 Shades of Laddie

On the other end of the scale we have Strathorn Ally – a rising 4 year old Clydesdale. Ally WAS white when he was born, but has now turned a beautiful dark blue roan Sabino or Blagdon. He can also look black at times – although a pure black Clydesdale is next to impossible. The Clydesdale Horse Society does not recognise “Sabino” or “Blagdon” so Ally would either be called Blue Roan or Black and White according to the breed standard.

Blue roan Clydesdale horse

Strathorn Ally. White at birth, now has an amazing blue sabino pattern

In the middle we have Strathorn June. She is a Connemara cross Clydesdale and mostly looks like a dappled grey, but in the midst of summer comes out as a striking blue.

June. Blue roan horse

Strathorn June. Tacked up and ready to ride

True Blue Roan Horse Breeds

Today, true blue roans can be found in several breeds, including:

  • Quarter Horse
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • American Paint Horse
  • Nokota Horse
  • Brabant

You’ll never see a registered Roan Shire Stallion

Shire stallions may be black, bay, brown or grey, but cannot have large amounts of white marking or have coat colours that are roan. You might see a roan mare though! Note, SHores an Cllydesdales roan pattern is not from the same gene as a True roan, rather it is what is sometimes called a “roan mimc” which is the effect – whiote haors interspersed through a dark coat. The Clydesdale Horse Society, founded in Scotland in 1877, recognises roan as a colour, meaning Clydesdale foals can be registerd as roan.

Different Colours of Roan

Roan horses can come in various colours, each with its own unique appearance. The primary colours of roan horses include:

  1. Red Roan: Red roan horses have a base coat colour of chestnut or sorrel, with white or grey interspersed hairs throughout the coat. The combination of red and white creates a beautiful roan pattern that ranges from a light pinkish hue to a darker reddish tone.
  2. Blue Roan: Blue roan horses have a base coat colour of black, with white or grey interspersed hairs giving the coat a bluish appearance. The shade of blue can vary from a deep, slate-like colour to a lighter, steel-grey hue, creating a striking contrast with the darker base coat.
  3. Strawberry Roan: Strawberry roan horses have a base coat colour of bay, characterized by a reddish-brown body with black points (mane, tail, and lower legs). Intermixed with the bay coat are white or grey hairs, producing a pinkish roan pattern that resembles the colour of strawberry ice cream.
  4. Bay Roan: Bay roan horses have a base coat colour of bay, similar to strawberry roans, but with a darker brown body and black points. The roan pattern consists of white or grey interspersed hairs, creating a marbled effect over the bay coat.
  5. Brown Roan: Brown roan horses have a base coat colour of brown, which can range from a light tan shade to a rich chocolate brown. The roan pattern is formed by the mixture of white or grey hairs throughout the coat, giving it a speckled or mottled appearance.

These are the primary colours of roan horses, but variations within each category can occur due to factors such as genetics and individual differences. Regardless of the specific colouration, roan horses are admired for their unique and eye-catching coats, which make them stand out in any setting.

Frequently asked questions about Blue roan horses

Is a blue roan horse rare?

Blue roan horses are considered relatively rare, with about 5% of horses being classed this way. The rarity of blue roans can vary depending on the breed standards and the prevalence of the roan gene within specific populations. In some breeds, such as the American Quarter Horse and the Tennessee Walking Horse, blue roans may be less common compared to other roan variations or solid colours.

The rarity of blue roan horses is partly due to the genetic factors involved in producing their distinctive coat coloration. Blue roans result from a combination of the roan gene and a black base coat, and the expression of this specific colouration requires the inheritance of specific genetic traits from both parents. As a result, the frequency of blue roan offspring depends on the presence of these genetic factors within breeding populations.

What two horses make a blue roan?

A blue roan horse is typically the result of breeding two horses that carry the roan gene and have a black base coat. The roan gene is responsible for the speckled or mottled appearance of the coat, with individual white or grey interspersed hairs mixed with the darker base colour.

To produce a blue roan offspring, both parent horses must carry at least one copy of the roan gene and have a black base coat. When these horses are bred together, there is a chance that their offspring will inherit the roan gene from each parent, resulting in the expression of the blue roan coat coloration.

It’s important to note that not all combinations of horses carrying the roan gene and black base coat will produce blue roan offspring. The inheritance of coat colour is complex and involves various genetic factors, so breeding for specific colorations like blue roan requires careful selection and understanding of the genetics involved.

What is the rarest colour of a horse?

Determining the absolute rarest colour of a horse is challenging, as rarity can vary depending on factors such as breed, geographical location, and specific genetic traits. However, some coat colours are generally considered rare across different horse breeds. One such colour is the“champagne” coat colour, which is characterized by a metallic sheen, light-coloured eyes, and often a diluted mane and tail.

Champagne horses have a unique genetic makeup that affects their coat colour by diluting the pigment in their hair, resulting in shades ranging from gold to amber. They can exhibit various coat variations, including classic champagne, amber champagne, and gold champagne, each with its own distinct appearance. The champagne gene is relatively rare compared to other coat colour genes, making champagne-coloured horses less common overall.

Another rare coat colour is “cremello” or “perlino,” which result from double dilution of the cream gene. Cremellos have a creamy white coat and blue eyes, while perlinos have a slightly darker coat colour with pink skin and blue eyes. These colours are particularly rare because they require the inheritance of two copies of the cream gene, which is less common in horse populations.

Other rare coat colours include “silver dapple,” characterized by a dilution of the black pigment, resulting in a silver or chocolate-coloured coat with light mane and tail, and “brindle,” characterized by dark stripes on a lighter background, similar to the pattern seen in some cattle and dogs.

Ultimately, rarity in horse coat colours is subjective and can vary depending on individual preferences and breeding practices. However, colours like champagne, cremello, perlino, silver dapple, and brindle are often considered among the rarest in the equine world.

Watch a video of some of our Blue Roan horses here

What is the difference between a grulla roan and a blue roan?

The key difference between a grulla roan and a blue roan lies in their base coat colours and the specific genetic factors that contribute to their coat coloration.

Blue Roan: Blue roan horses have a black base coat with interspersed white or grey hairs, giving the coat a bluish appearance. The blue roan coloration is typically the result of the interaction between the roan gene and a black base coat. The roan gene causes individual white hairs to be mixed with the darker hairs, creating the mottled or speckled effect characteristic of blue roans.

Grulla Roan: Grulla roan horses, on the other hand, have a base coat colour known as grulla, which is a dilute form of black or dun. Grulla coats often appear mouse-coloured or grayish with a characteristic dorsal stripe and primitive markings. When the grulla coat is combined with the roan gene, grulla roan horses exhibit a similar mottled or speckled pattern as blue roans, but with a different underlying base colour.Therefore, while both blue roan and grulla roan horses display a roan coat pattern, the distinction lies in their base coat colours. Blue roans have a black base coat, while grulla roans have a grulla base coat, resulting in differences in overall appearance despite the similar roan patterning.

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