All About the Chestnut Horse: Coat Colors and Temperament

Horses have only two base colors: red and black. All other colors are modified or developed from either of these two. A chestnut has two recessive gene copies for the red color pigment. Two bred chestnuts (a chestnut stallion and a chestnut mare) will undoubtedly produce a chestnut offspring. There are no exceptions. Two black horses may potentially have a chestnut offspring. It may seem impossible, but it happens.

While most associations may recognize and accept the chestnut color, they don’t all use the same terminology for chestnut shades.

Every breed association agrees that chestnut horses have reddish-brown coats without black points (eyes, tail, legs, and mane). A horse with any black hairs at its points can’t be registered or accepted as a chestnut. A chestnut horse can have darker hairs around its eyes, but certainly not black. The genetic build usually determines a horse’s color.

Is the Chestnut Horse the Same as the Sorrel Horse?

The term “chestnut” is English, while “sorrel” originates from the Western world. The two words imply reddish-brown coats, which exist in multiple shades. Different associations have their standards based on the shade of color and genetic make-up. Most of them identify the darker red as chestnut and the lighter shades as sorrel. You need to know the association’s standards and register your horse in the right color category. If registration isn’t your objective, you still need to know the exact color if you’re planning to breed or sell.

The chestnut color has four basic shades that come in different tones.

chestnut horse

Liver Chestnut Horse

This breed of horses has a chocolate brown coat. Their tail and mane have the same color. There are two variants: the light liver and dark liver chestnut.

Flaxen Chestnut Horse

These horses have a reddish-brown coat with a flaxen tail and mane. They’re the only chestnut shade where the tail and mane have a different color from the body. The term “flaxen” implies a creme shade.

Light Chestnut

A light chestnut horse, also known as “sandy chestnut,” has an entire sand-colored body.

Red Chestnut Horse

This shade can be either red or glittery like copper. The entire body is the same color, including the tail and mane.

The Breed Association Determines the Color Name

Most associations require a draft horse to have a mealy effect (a genetic modification). To look for this effect, check for yellowish hairs or lighter red on your horse’s lower belly, behind its elbows, inside its legs, and on its flanks. Furthermore, some lighter hairs may appear over its eyes or on its muzzle. The mealy effect can also cause several shades of red on the horse’s body. However, this requirement may vary for each association.

The mealy effect isn’t a requirement at the Belgian draft horse registry. A sorrel Belgian may have pale points on a light yellow coat. Also, a chestnut Belgian has a darker shade of red.

Suffolk draft horses are always chestnut. They have seven tone variations: yellow, copper, dark, light, red, gold, and liver.

chestnut horse

The American Quarter Horse Association

The most popular colors of horses in the American Quarter Horse Association are chestnut and sorrel. Chestnut horses have darker reddish-brown coats and can often become so dark that you’ll confuse them with seal-brown shade. They use a genetic test (red factor) to determine the horse’s dominant color. They also accept the flaxen chestnut color. Sometimes, flaxen chestnuts are confused with chocolate Palomino horses.

The Canadian Horse Breeders Association

One common fact that every association agrees with, including the Canadian Horse Breeders Association, is that a chestnut horse can’t have black in the face, legs, manes, or tails. This registry recognizes four shades of chestnut:

Pale or Clear Chestnut

A pale or clear chestnut has a pale and even color, similar to a Palomino. But unlike a Palomino’s cream tail and mane, a clear chestnut has a reddish blonde tail and mane.

Golden Chestnut

A golden chestnut may have any color on its points except black. It has a gold-colored coat with a red hue. A golden chestnut is darker than the pale or clear chestnut.

Burnt Chestnut

A burnt chestnut’s points can range from dark brown to reddish-brown. The color of its coat is rich coffee.

Dark Chestnut

A dark chestnut’s points are thicker than its coat. The points are mostly reddish-brown with the coat ranging from rich brown to pale copper.

chestnut horse

Which Horse Breeds Have Chestnut Coloring?

You can find solid-colored horse breeds with chestnut coloring. Some kinds have white markings with chestnut as their base coat color. Ensure to check with the breed association to know the terms used for their shades.

There are several recognized horse breeds around the globe. Here’s a list of some notable color horse breeds that acknowledge chestnut color to an extent. Most of them have specific terms for different chestnut shades.

Some horse breeds with solid colors are:

  • Hackney Horse
  • Paso Fino
  • Rocky Mountain Horse
  • American Saddlebred
  • Shetland Pony
  • Thoroughbred
  • West Phalian
  • Selle Francais
  • Racking Horse
  • Welsh Pony
  • Dutch Warmblood
  • Peruvian Paso
  • Trakehner
  • Missouri Foxtrotter
  • Trakehner
  • Arabian
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • Kentucky Mountain Horse
  • Morgan
  • Hanoverian

Some horse breeds with chestnut as their base coat color and patterns or white markings are the Pony of America, Icelandic, Appaloosa, American Paint Horse, and so on.

The Temperament of a Chestnut Horse

There are thoughts that the temperament of a horse can reflect in its coat color. For instance, many consider a chestnut horse to be hot-blooded and sensitive. While this may be true, the study is limited.

Our opinion? Don’t judge chestnut horses by their color. Although some horses’ coat colors may get linked to their behavior, there’s not enough evidence to prove that a chestnut horse tends to be hot-blooded and sensitive. The stereotype may be subject to confirmation bias where a person unconsciously remembers an instance of a hot-blooded or sensitive chestnut horse that supports their previous belief and disregards examples of other calm chestnut horses that don’t hold up their opinion.

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