So, something else I read recently on my Ilona Andrews kick was “Magic Stars,” a recent novella featuring Derek and Julie. I like both characters and sure, whatever, I am willing to watch the two of them dance around each other with this I-don’t-care kind of attitude. Obviously the reader is in no doubt about a future romance between them, which is fine. Julie’s a little young but given her background, not *too* young.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point is: there’s a moment when Julie rides up on a Gypsy horse and Derek thinks disparaging thoughts about horses in general and Friesians and Gypsy horses in particular and I thought, Wait, what is a Gypsy horse anyway? and pulled out my phone to look up pictures.
Well, Gypsy horses sure are pretty. They are little bitty draft-type horses, some of them just about pony sized, but built hefty, with draft horse conformation, flowing manes and tails, and lots (lots) of feathering on their lower legs. I question the practicality of the feathering, and in fact a minute’s search on the internet reveals that taking care of the legs is indeed a little more complicated for a feathered horse than a non-feathered horse. I’m sure the upkeep must be SO annoying in muddy weather. Still, really pretty. And so many colors! Gyspy horses, also called Gypsy Vanner horses, are meant to be flashy, so in addition to the abundant furnishings, they are bred in all kinds of pinto patterns, plus all the dilute colors, including gray and palomino and also including the far more unusual and extremely handsome silver dilutes. I’m sure you all admire a pretty horse, so take a look at some Gypsy Vanners:
Here is a very flashy, handsome black tobiano Gypsy horse. Or probably a tobiano/sabino now that I look more closely.
Here we have a pretty buckskin. I actually very much appreciate some of the less flashy horses and I like this one a lot. The furnishings don’t look so extreme, but are enough to add interest. I’d be delighted to ride such a handsome animal.
And one more: a black silver.
Okay, despite my liking for the buckskin above, I could easily be seduced into preferring this impressive color. This guy must really turn heads.
The silver gene is rare, but you find it in a handful of breeds, notably Rocky Mountain horses, Morgans, Icelandic horses, and evidently also these Gypsy Vanners. The dilute produces a range of effects, but it basically acts on black color, diluting black manes and tails to a much paler color – in this case practically pure white – and also generally diluting the black body color to a dark to medium chocolate shade. On a bay horse, silver dilutes the mane and tail and dilutes the black color on the legs, producing a red silver. On chestnut, the silver dilute is invisible, because there’s no black in the first place.
Aren’t these Gypsy horses lovely? I like the draft horse look, too.
Yes, yes, of course one should select a horse on the basis of structure and temperament first, pretty head second, and color last, but honestly, all these Gypsy horse pictures makes me wish I had time and space and time and money and no back trouble and time, so I could treat myself to a whole herd of beautiful horses.
But! Looking at many, many pictures of pretty horses, lots of them with pinto patterns, makes me want to indulge myself with a quick discourse on pinto patterns in horses. Since I’m sure you’re all also happy to look pretty horses, here goes:
Though many horse people still think of pintos as falling either into the Tobiano or the Overo pattern, this is misleading to the point of doing actual harm. There are actually four main pinto patterns in horses, all controlled by distinct genes that are unlinked to one another, and all dominant to the “wild type” of solid color. Incidentally, trivial white markings such as one white foot or a white snip on the nose are not generally anything to do with pinto genes; they are “extra” and outside this whole discussion.
It’s nice to be able to recognize the four different pinto patterns because a) you get to enjoy your knowledge of color genetics; and b) one of the pinto patterns is lethal in its homozygous form, so if you accidentally breed two of those pintos together, you have a 25% chance of getting a pure white foal that lacks a complete digestive system and starves to death in a couple of days. Speaking as someone who has had, on several occasions, one or more puppies die a few hours or weeks after birth, let me just say that this is liable to be a highly unpleasant event for all concerned and you should totally learn to look at pinto horses properly in order to avoid the possibility.
So, as a public service and also because color genetics is really neat, allow me to present a visual guide to the main pinto patterns:
1. The most common pinto pattern, tobiano. This is a bay tobiano Gypsy horse:
Basically a tobiano horse can be recognized because
a) it has white feet and legs.
b) it has no more white on the head than expected for a solid-colored horse.
c) the eyes are dark, not blue.
d) the markings have smooth, rounded edges and tend to be vertically oriented.
e) the white markings cross the topline in at least one place.
2. The second most common pinto pattern is sabino. Sabino horses can be minimally marked, producing flashy horses that don’t immediately look pinto. People deliberately breed to get minimally marked sabinos — solid horses with lots of “chrome” — in Clydesdales and other breeds. Often a little belly spot will give a minimally marked sabino away, as here:
A sabino typically can be recognized because:
a) it has white feet and legs, often with narrow extensions of white extending up from the white stockings.
b) it has a broad white blaze.
c) the white markings often spatter across the body, especially the belly or neck, with heavily “roaned” edges.
d) the white almost never crosses the topline of the horse.
d) the eyes can be brown or blue.
Here is a more extensively marked sabino Gypsy horse:
You can also get extreme sabino, which visually intergrades into dominant white. Lots of variation in the sabino pattern. Me, I mostly prefer the minimal sabino types of markings.
3. The third pinto pattern, not as common, is called “splashed white.” I think it really should be called “dipped white.” Visualize yourself picking up a sleeping horse with a pair of tongs and dipping it into a vat of white paint. Its head is hanging (that’s why it has to be asleep). This results in:
a) white feet and legs, often white all the way up to the belly.
b) a lot of white patches with clean edges, mostly on the belly and perhaps up the barrel of the horse, but almost never crossing the topline.
c) a very white head, often white all the way up to the ears, with a clean edge between the white and colored portions.
d) typically, blue eyes.
Here is an extreme splashed white horse (not a gypsy, but really *obviously* splashed white):
The horse above is completely unmistakable, but a splashed white horse can have much less white on it. Here is a splashed white palomino Icelandic horse:
And in fact, if you have a basically solid-colored horse with blue eyes, you might wonder whether it is actually a minimally marked splashed white horse, because blue eyes are so typical with this color.
4. And finally, most important to recognize, the frame pinto or frame overo. This pattern is not all that rare, and this is the one that is lethal in the homozygous form, so if you have a frame pinto, you can assume it is heterozygous. Breeding it to another frame is not a good idea, although breeding it to any other kind of pinto is fine. Frames basically have a dark “frame” around a white “center,” so they look like this:
Frames are expected to have:
a) a solid colored topline, dark legs, dark butt.
b) white patches, generally with jagged edges, on the neck and barrel.
c) often a good bit of white on the head.
d) eyes can be brown or blue.
And of course a minimally marked frame pinto might not be this obvious. But this is the basic image you want in your mind when looking at pintos.
Now, the thing to remember about *all* these pinto patterns is that each is controlled by an independent gene, so there’s nothing to stop you from stacking up one pinto pattern on top of another until you come out with a horse that has a whole lot of white on it, but you’re not sure what kind of white. If you’ve resisted the urge to call all non-tobiano horses “overo”, and thus developed your eye for these four different pinto patterns, then you may be able to make a good guess about combo patterns.
For example, I think this horse is probably both tobiano and frame.
The markings are smooth-edged like a tobiano. The white crosses the topline up on the neck, a typical place to find white on a minimally marked tobiano. White legs are typical of a tobiano but not a frame, so a combination of both would explain the white front legs and dark back legs. If this was my horse and I wanted to breed it, I would steer clear of anything that might be a frame pinto.
This horse might also be both tobiano and frame:
This horse has more jagged edges to its markings, more characteristic of frame than tobiano. It might be sabino plus frame. But either way, it sure looks like frame might be involved.
If you stack up enough different pinto patterns on one horse, you can get a very white animal — a medicine hat, like this:
I think it’s safest to assume that a medicine hat horse is a frame plus other patterns unless you are dead sure it is not carrying the frame allele. Which actually, these days, you can check for via a genetic test. But if you are thinking of breeding a medicine hat, then you would want to either do the test or bred it to a very obviously non-frame horse or a solid-colored horse, definitely not anything that could be another frame.
If you happen to write a fantasy novel in which horse breeding is important . . . as in Elizabeth Bear’s RANGE OF GHOSTS, say . . . then it might add an extra bit of authenticity to understand pinto patterns.
Plus, it’s such a good excuse to look at lots of pictures of pretty horses …