Pony Coat Colors

There are many colors in the pony world. Some are exclusive to specific breeds. For our purpose, we will concentrate on the colors allowed within purebred American Shetland Ponies and crosses that our program have utilized. I’ve long been fascinated by Pintos and when the chance arrived to purchase our first stallion who was homozygous for Tobiano, I jumped right in (after doing quite a bit of studying on his conformation and disposition). Also near and dear to me is the Silver coloring – which is a popular color in the Shetlands.

From studying, it’s been determined that there are two main coat colors and that anything else is created by markings and patterns, modifiers and dilution genes. Also, within all colors, there are many different shades.


Black: The horse is black all over, including the muzzle, flanks and underbelly. Blacks are notorious for fading and bleaching when exposed to the sun, so it can be hard to identify a black horse that has been out in the sun…. they might look more like some strange shade of bay, brown or even dun! But once the new coat comes in, they will be all black again (for awhile, at least).

Echo Eclipse - Captain's Melia

Echo is a black Tobiano. Eclipse is black.

Red: (Known as Chestnut or Sorrel) Body color any shade of red, reddish-brown, or orange-red, points may be lighter or darker than the body, or the same color, but never black. This is a typical medium chestnut; they can be much lighter or darker.

Tory LP Painted Chyllydown W
Tory and Chylly are chestnut Tobianos.


Bay: Body color red, ranging from light to dark, but some shade of red or reddish-brown; points black. Dark bays may have an “overlay” of black hairs on the body (see “sooty” for details) but the color underneath will still be some shade of red.

LP Painted K Blitzen Wiz Dynamics Cherishthemoment Buckeye WCF Classical Eclipse LP Painted Guinness T Stout
LP Painted Riddle Me Wiz ME My Samiri LP Painted Toro Buckeye WCF Classical Wizard
LP Ellona

Blitzen, Cheri, ‘Clipse, Guinness,
Riddler, Sami, Toro and Wizard are all bay Tobianos.
Ellona is solid bay.

Cream: The Cream gene is an INCOMPLETE DOMINANT gene. This means if one gene is present, it will show one way, and if two copies are present, it will show differently. One Cream gene will lighten the base colors to colors such as palomino or buckskin. Two Cream genes will lighten the base colors to colors such as cremello or perlino. Cremello & perlino will always pass on a cream gene to their offspring.

LP Jewels Kechara H Showmans Buckwheat H
Kechi is a cremello.
Taff is a buckskin and also carries a silver gene.

Roan: Roan is a general term meaning a mixture of white hairs in the coat that is not progressive, that is, it does not increase every year like grey does (although they can vary with the seasons). There are several different genes that can cause roaning, some of which are well understood, some not so much.

LP Painted K Blitzen Wiz
Blitzen is a bay roan Tobiano pinto.

Silver: The silver dapple dilution is a modifying dilute gene (Z) which affects only black pigment. nZ is heterozygous and ZZ is homozygous for silver. When a black horse has the silver modifier, its body color will range from a silvery gray to a dark chocolate color. A bay horse carrying the silver dilution will maintain its body color because the silver doesn’t affect the red pigment. However, the bay horse’s points will turn a diluted color from a dark gray to pale silver, often confused with liver chestnuts with flaxen manes. A chestnut can carry the gene but will not display the color since silver doesn’t show on red coloring. The silver dapple is a dominant gene; a horse carrying this dilution has a 50% chance of passing the color to its offspring. Silver shading and dappling hasn’t been determined by testing …(yet).

SNS Exoticas Crowning Glory Little Jims Silver Bell KoKo - LP KoKo Pagasus H

Ami, Bell and KoKo  are solid silvers.

lp painted silver bunny LP Painted Classic Bell LP Painted StyleNcupid LP Painted FlashNfluff
LP Painted Silver Toy H Wa-Full Koalahs Silver Fluff LP Painted StyleNrio LP Painted SilverNshamrock LP Painted StuffNpuf

Bunny , Classy, Cupid, Flashi , GG , Koalah ,
Rio, Shamrock  and Stuffy  are silver Tobianos.

LP Painted FineNdandy LP Painted Fleur-de-Lis LP Painted Nymbus

Dandy, Flower and Nymbus are silver bay Tobianos.

Smokey Silver Bay: The silver dapple dilution is a modifying dilute gene (Z) which affects only black pigment. nZ is heterozygous and ZZ is homozygous for silver. The cream gene affects the red in a horse’s coat.  When the two combine on a single horse, you can get some interesting shades!

Kreature-LP Kreature Feature H

Kreature is smokey silver bay.


Head and Leg Markings will be covered in a Pony Markings post soon. Patterns acceptable with Shetlands are Overo, Tobiano and Tovero pintos. “Tovero” is a term that was used many years ago in the American Paint Horse world and according to a lot of friends still is, however, it’s not used so much now and is frowned on in some circles.  I am still using it for several reasons – 1 – I grew up with the term and it’s near, dear and familiar.  2 – I still like the term and again, according to some long time acquaintances, it is still used in the western horse community and 3 – We have had several of our ponies who display “overo” characteristics tested (SB1 & LWO) – yet they are negative for those patterns, so I plan on continuing to use my familiar “term” of Tovero…  We have predominantly Tobiano patterns but have a couple of bloodlines which may also be minimal Sabino Overo – producing Tovero offspring.  When tested in 2014, these lines were NEGATIVE for what was available for testing at the time.  YES, there are more tests available now (March 2016) and resulting foals will be tested.  Eventually the parents will be as well (specifically Cheri, ‘Clipse & Wizard – all by the same sire and Flashi and Flashi’s dam, Koalah from different lines).

Overo: On an Overo colored horse, the white will not usually cross the back of the horse between the withers and tail. It is desirable for all four legs to be dark, or at least one. Face markings are usually bald-faced, apron-faced or bonnet-faced. The white color throughout the overo’s body is generally irregular or sometimes ”jagged” instead of forming smooth lines between the colors.

Frame Overo: White spots along the horse’s barrel, with a “frame” of darker color around the white. Over 95% of all frame overos are solid colored along the back from the withers to the tail, and it is uncommon for the mane to be of mixed color.

Splash Overo: This is still a rare overo color pattern. Splash white overos look like reverse-colored Tobiano…with smooth-edged color patterns, and with a white “shield” in the front covering the shoulders and bottom of the neck being a common trait. Splash whites generally have light-to-medium blue eyes. It is also common for splash whites to have 4 white legs.

Sabino Overo: Appears speckled or “roany”, mostly near the spot’s edges. This is the most common overo pattern. Sabinos often have spotted or roan-like facial markings, which can look quite wild. It is rare to find a sabino with a normal star or stripe for a facial marking. Another distinct characteristic of the sabino, is that they generally have three or four white legs.

LP Painted FlashNfluff
Flashi is possibly a Sabino Overo as well as a Tobiano.

Tobiano: Tobiano is a dominant color pattern. A tobiano generally has four white legs, at least below the hocks and knees. The dark color of the pattern is usually covering one or both flanks and the spots are regular and distinct (smooth ovals or round patterns that extend down over the neck, chest, and/or shoulders giving the appearance of a “war shield”). Generally, face markings are just like a solid-colored horse (solid, blaze, strip, star or snip) and body color may be either predominantly dark or white. The mane and tail is usually mixed of two colors. A majority of tobianos have spots that are smooth-edged and not jagged like most overos, and many have white over their back and/or neck. Tobianos are heterozygous (one tobiano gene) or homozygous (two tobiano genes – all resulting offspring will be tobiano pintos regardless of color of other parent).  Just because a pony is homozygous for a color or color pattern does not mean they are automatically used for breeding here at LP Painted Ponys.  Being homozygous is just the “icing on the color cake”.

Dynamics Cherishthemoment LP Painted StyleNcupid LP Painted FineNdandy Echo Buckeye WCF Classical Wizard

Cheri, Cupid, Dandy, Echo and Wizard are tested homozygous Tobianos.

LP Painted K Blitzen Wiz LP Painted Classic Bell LP Painted FlashNfluff LP Painted Fleur-de-Lis LP Painted Silver Toy H
Wa-Full Koalahs Silver Fluff ME My Samiri LP Painted StuffNpuf Tory

Blitzen, Classy, Flashi, Flower, GG, Koalah, Sami,
Stuffy & Tory are heterozygous Tobianos (one solid gene from one parent).

lp painted silver bunny LP Painted Chyllydown W Buckeye WCF Classical Eclipse
LP Painted Riddle Me Wiz LP Painted SilverNshamrock LP Painted Toro

Bunny, Chylly, ‘Clipse, Riddler, Shamrock and Toro  haven’t been tested
and can be either heterozygous or homozygous Tobianos.

About lppaintedponys

Husband and wife team raising shetland ponies, rescuing dogs/cats & becoming self sufficient.
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