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Shades of Bay
 By Saferaphus   •   13th Sep 2017   •   159 views   •   0 comments
My daughter has the best view from her kitchen window. When you’re hand washing dishes, you can see directly into her front paddock. So while I was there recently, doing the dishes, I noticed that there were four bay horses in the paddock, and not one of them was exactly the same color. And, not one of them was exactly the same color as my own bay horse.

Bay is a very common coat color. In fact, it is the most common color, followed by chestnut, which also has a lot of variations. So what accounts for all the variety?



First of all, we’ll start with a basic description of what the color bay looks like. A bay horse has an overall brown or red-brown body with black mane, tail, legs, ear tips and muzzle. These black areas are called the horse’s black points. If the horse doesn’t have these points, it isn’t considered a bay. It’s chestnut, or some people might call it brown. Under their body and point hair, the skin is dark colored. If the horse has white markings, such as a blaze, star, or stockings, the skin beneath will be white.

Of course, all of this is controlled by genetics. Although color genetics are complicated, there are two very basic colors: red and black. Bay horses are black but have something called an agouti gene that modifies the genetics that would otherwise result in an all black horse. It’s this modifier that is responsible for keeping the black pigmentation to the areas we call the points and allowing red pigmentation to appear elsewhere on the horse’s body.

But, other genes come into play to make the red pigmentation we see into other shades. And, not all bays are completely solid colored. Some have roaning, spots, splotches or sooty markings. So there is an endless range of bay color combinations depending on how the genetic soup is mixed.

So bay horses can range from almost black, to almost light tan, and still be considered bay. Here are a few of the combinations that occur.

Dark bays, sometimes called mahogany bays or black bays may appear very dark brown, almost black. These aren’t what some people call brown, or even liver chestnut, neither of which have the black points of a bay.

Red bays are lighter, and a richer red color. These horses have a red toned brown coat and are what most people think of when they picture a bay horse. And, there is a very light bay, often with very short points on its legs, that is sometimes called a ‘wild bay’. This might be considered dun by some, but it is a variation of bay. This is caused by another gene variation that makes the hair under the horse’s belly, on their legs and muzzle a lighter shade.

Beyond these common shades of bay, other genetic modifiers are responsible for other colors. A ‘creme’ gene will result in a buckskin horse or depending on the mix, cremello, perlino or dun. Silver bays have pale hairs throughout and pale manes and tails. A bay roan will have white hairs mixed with the red body hair. Bay horses may have the genetics for pinto splotches. And, bays may also have leopard-like spots, like Appaloosas, with speckling around their eyes, muzzles and coronet bands, resulting in hoof stripes.

So what color is your bay?
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