White horses are so majestic and popular not just among breeders, but even to small kids. They are usually characterized as fairy-tale and heart-warming, stimulating kid’s imaginations.
White horses symbolize freedom, supremacy, intelligence, and glory.
However, as much as we want to see these beautiful creatures far and wide, they are very uncommon. Where can we find them? What specific breeds of horse are generally white?
Are White Horses Rare?
Yes, white horses are extremely rare compared to other horse colors.
The color of your horse’s coat is reliant on its genes.
Chestnut (red), bay (brown), and black are the three base colors of horses. The chestnut color happens when the extension gene (e) is lacking; whereas, the black coat occurs when the extension gene (E) is existing.
For a horse to be dominant white or have white markings, it should have a deficiency in pigment cells called melanocytes, a dark pigment that is accountable for skin colors.
Owning white genes inherited from the parents is the main reason for turning a horse’s skin and coat partially or entirely white.
How Rare Are White Horses?
White horses are rare, accounting for only 8% of the total equine population.
White horses are characterized by white hair, pink skin with no pigments, and sets of dark eyes.
The majority of the white horses that you can see are not the pure white ones; rather they could either be cream or gray.
Nonetheless, these gray horses that fade out their colors and the cream horses are still rare and hard to find, just like the pure white ones.
Why Are White Horses So Rare?
White horses are rare because of their genetic composition.
It may sound unlikely, but not all white horses that you see are the real white horses.
You might be wondering why a chestnut foal on your friend’s farm became a white horse when it grew older.
Is it the rare and true white horse you have been looking for?
The answer is NO. Horses that change their color into white when they become adults are not pure white. They are “gray” horses.
They have a dark coat during their young days. Once they start to shed during their first year, their coats will go lighter until becoming white. However, the hair of a gray horse will not be completely faded; there will still be gray hairs on some parts.
By the age of six to eight, gray horses that are heterozygous will look completely white. Meanwhile, those homozygous gray horses will reach whiter color faster as early as four years old.
Gray horses are born with gray skin that gets brighter and whiter as they mature. Unlike a true white horse that has full white and pinkish skin, you will see some gray spots or dark areas on gray horses if you observe closely.
Gray horses are a candidate for developing melanoma when they get older. Approximately 75% of them, aging from 15 years and older, have melanoma that could be malignant and deadly.
Are Pure White Horses Rare?
Pure white horses, specifically those owning one white-dominant gene, are rare.
If you want a pure white horse, you should probably consider looking for Dominant White horses.
Compared to gray horses that are born with dark coats and will just become lighter eventually, the Dominant White horses are born as totally white. Although some of these horses will not produce all white colors when they grow up, you can expect them to have 50 to 100% white patterns on their body.
Dominant White horses are the outcome of different KIT gene mutations. You can anticipate that their offspring will also be dominantly white as their white genes are superior to other colors. It rarely happens that a foal of a Dominant White will have a different coat.
Interestingly, there are also very occasional cases when a horse will be born Dominant White even if its parents have the typical colors. This is a result of random mutation.
In 2017, it was found out and recorded that dominant white genes have 27 variants.
Are All White Horses Rare?
All white horses are rare as their genetic compositions are rare as well.
The white, full-grown horse that you can see on the farm could either be a gray horse, a Dominant White horse, a Sabino White horse, or a Cremello horse.
These white horses have different genes that you can find in different breeds.
There are instances when both the parents should have the same genes, such as the Sabino White, to be purely white.
If you have a white horse and want to know its specific genes, it is recommended that you take a DNA test.
Are White Horses With Blue Eyes Rare?
You can find a blue-eyed white horse, but exceptionally rare.
A white horse can have a pair of black, brown, or blue eyes.
Brown is the very common eye color of white horses similar to what Dominant White horses have.
If a horse has blue eyes, the pigment called melanin in its eyes is probably reduced compared to the typical horses.
As rare as it can be, blue eyes can be seen in horses with splash genes or splashed white mutation.
Splashed-white is a pattern of white spots where a horse has a white stripe going down on its middle face, pink skin, white markings on the legs and belly, and typically blue eyes.
As its name implies, Splashed White horses have white splashes on its head and body.
They are not real white horses as they will not be fully whiteout even they grow older. These horses look like they soaked the lower part of their bodies in white paint. Their belly, head, and legs are typically white while the rest of the parts are of a different color.
So, if you want a true white horse with blue eyes, you should probably look for a horse whose parents are either Sabino or Dominant White for the coat and Slashed White for the eyes.
Aside from the gray horses and Dominant White horses, there is another class of white-colored horses based on genes – the Cremello horse, which is known to own a set of blue eyes also.
Cremello is a color based on genes that specific breeds of horses can have. You can have a Cremello horse when its parents both have crème genes; meaning, there should be two copies of cream genes.
Cremello horses usually have white or cream color, white mane and tail, pink skin, and blue eyes.
White Is The Rarest Color of Horse
Yes, white is one of the rarest colors of horses.
White, or the absence of color, is not included in the list of the base colors of horses. Dark-colored horses are common such as red, brown, and black, which are the basic shades.
For you to have a pure white horse, crucial gene mutations must take place. The white or cream genes of the dam and sire should be combined to come up with a full white horse.
Because white horses are rare, they are being bred to grow their numbers which could even be fatal and cause ailments or abnormalities.
The life of foals with mutated parents could be in danger as they might suffer from abnormalities. Some breeders are worried about whether white foals will survive or not. There can be instances where they might have undeveloped internal organs, causing them to live only for a couple of days.
List of Popular White Horse
The famous white horses based on their genes are the Dominant White horses, Sabino horses, and Cremello horses.
Dominant White Horses
The majority of the Dominant White horses are born as purely white because of their white genes. A horse can have a full white coat even with only a single white gene. You can find the Dominant White genes in specific breeds such as:
- Arabian Horses
- Camarillo White Horse
- American White Horse
Sabino refers to the white pattern of spots generated by the Sabino 1 gene.
Unlike the Dominant White horse that needs only one dominant white gene, a Sabino horse must have two copies of the Sabino 1 to be fully white. If a horse has two copies of this Sabino 1, it is called Homozygous Sabino 1 or Sabino-White.
A Sabino-White horse can be expected to have at least 90% white hair and pink skin when it is born. The Sabino genes are often found in:
- American Paint Horses
- American Quarter Horses
- Shetland Ponies
- Tennessee Walkers
- Miniature horses
The two copies of the cream genes of a Cremello horse are the ones accountable for its white coat. Though not completely white, it usually has light cream hair that looks life full white.
Cremello horses have a full white mane and tail. Those that are not fully knowledgeable about white horses are typically confused and thought that Cremello horses are Albino horses instead.
The common breeds where you can find the cream genes are:
- Draft Horses
- Quarter Horses
- Shetland Ponies
Deford, F. (2012, May 2). A horse of a different color. NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2012/05/02/151756328/a-horse-of-a-different-color
The Regents of the University of California. (2020, December 5). Lethal white Overo syndrome (LWO). School of Veterinary Medicine. https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/lethal-white-overo-syndrome-lwo
The Regents of the University of California. (n.d.). Splashed white mutations – SW1, sw2, sw3, SW4, SW5, and SW6. Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/splashed-white
Uppsala University. (2008, July 23). Genetics of white horses unraveled: One mutation makes ordinary horses turn grey, then white, very young. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080720150203.htm