Horses That Change Color: Gray

You might be surprised to know that some horses do not stay the same color for their lifetime. As if by magic some horses who are born one color, transform themselves into a horse that is often mistakenly referred to as being white.


Many non- horse people will see a gray horse out in the field and think of it as a white horse. In truth there are very few truly white horses, most are gray horses, those born a different color and who now sport white hairs where their colored ones use to be.

Horses who are going to go gray must have at least one gray gene. This is a dominant gene, so the horse must have one, or both, parents who are gray. A breeding of two non-gray horses can never produce a gray horse. A gray horse is distinguished from a white one because the gray horse still has dark skin, where as the white horse will have pink skin on its entire body.

If we look at gray as G and non gray as g, we see that a gray horse could be GG or Gg, all non-gray horses are gg. If we were to breed a non gray horse with a Gg horse we would have a 50/50 chance of getting a gray horse.  If we bred a GG gray to a gg non-gray, all the off-spring would be gray, to read more about Gray genetics, see the link at the bottom of the page.

Any color of horse (other than white) can turn gray, even spotted appaloosas or pintos. The speed of which horses go gray is determined by other factors and genetics which we will not get into here. Typically they are born solid colored, even more so than a horse would who is a solid color. For example a chestnut foal who is going gray might have a bright chestnut color at birth where as a horse who will always be chestnut might look as thought it was slightly faded at birth and will brighten up in a few days. If a horse is going gray quickly the graying will start within a few days of birth, often being noticed on the muzzle and ears first.

At a few months of age you cannot see many signs that this filly is going gray, small changes are taking place around her eye, and on her muzzle.  Photo by Author.

This is the same filly as the first photo, along side her mom, she is now steel gray in color, and you can see her tail is lighter.  She would be 3 years old in this picture.  Photo by Author.

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21 Responses to “Horses That Change Color: Gray”
  1. Jenny Heart Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 6:07 am

    I learned a lot reading this great article. Very interesting!

  2. ken bultman Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Good article. Brings to mind Disney’s Miracle of the White Stallions. I was born with dark hair and my skin quit making……

  3. jennifer eiffel01 Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Great article! I learned something new today!
    The pictures of the horses were beautiful!

  4. mo hoyal Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    This was interesting B. I had a grey tobiano mare that was born paint colored, then turned grey and only when wet or sweaty did she show the pinto underneath. Crazy but neat!

    I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and wish you were close to me as someone wants to give their 15 year old quarter-arab mare away! She’s been shown in a lot of horse shows but the owner is skittish. I’d take her but we need a bomb proof for the kids.

    Anyway, best regards from me!

  5. speckledlily Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Interesting! I never knew this. I have now learned something new. Thanks.

  6. DriftingInsomnia Says...

    On December 20, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Beautiful write! I’ve always wondered about horses and their colours… beautiful pictures :)

  7. drelayaraja Says...

    On December 21, 2009 at 12:51 am

    wonderful information friend… Nice article ;)

  8. Andrew Davies Says...

    On December 21, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    When I was growing up my family had Ausstralian Sheppards (dogs). They start off one color and change as they age. Our first was free because he was the oppisite color and the breeder didn’t want him.

  9. Snooky Says...

    On December 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    i’ve learned something new today

  10. PR Mace Says...

    On December 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    I really found this one quite interesting. I love the term Flea-Bitten Gray.

  11. LewSethics Says...

    On December 21, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    well you sure know your horses. some articles seem put together or contrived, but you speak with convincing authority on your subject. i liked it, a good read.

  12. Glynis Smy Says...

    On December 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Interesting, I never knew that. I learned something new, thanks.

  13. SharifaMcFarlane Says...

    On December 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    You gave a great explanation. My family had dogs that changed color from black to brown. It’s interesting. I hope police officers know about this! Lol

  14. dkrichar Says...

    On December 22, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    There is actually a breed of horse that the foals are always born a bay color and as they get older they turn gray. Can’t think of the breed right now but I read about it the other day.

  15. Linvio Says...

    On December 23, 2009 at 1:38 am

    amazing breeds…

  16. S A JOHNSON Says...

    On December 23, 2009 at 5:05 am

    Very interesting!

  17. Andrea Smith MD Says...

    On December 24, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Im not really a horse fan, but your article is great. Thank you for sharing this.

  18. JumperGirl15 Says...

    On January 2, 2010 at 2:24 am

    I wonder if my arab colt will change color. He is black. And 6 months old. He is a rescue, and 100 lbs under weight. But is getting better! But he has signs of brown in his mane, brown tips on his coat by his shoulder, and grey, blonde, brown in his tail. Signs of color change or signs of poor-nutirtion? It’s interesting, and I can’t wait to watch him grow up :)

  19. Lindsey rand Says...

    On May 22, 2011 at 9:38 am

    they talk about white horses going grey but my little pony who is bay is going grey around the face and under the neck and near the hind end, does anyone who anything about that????

  20. Brenda Nelson Says...

    On May 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    he could be turning grey very slowly..

    if he is a foal he could be shedding and turning grey.

    horses who are grey start out as a color and slowly turn “white” they do not start out white

  21. Lindsey Rand Says...

    On June 7, 2011 at 10:41 am

    oh ok thanks he stoped changing color now but he was when he was shelding but now he is out in the sun so he is changes back :)

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