What Is a Bay Horse?

Horses come in a variety of coat patterns and colors. Bay, gray, and chestnut are the most popular colors. Other uncommon colors include roan, palomino, white, cremello, pinto, black, dun, perlino, leopard, and buckskin. Here’s what you need to know about a bay horse.

A bay horse is typically brown, with black points — its lower legs, tail, and mane are black. These horses vary in color shade, from a bright copper red to dark brown that’s almost black (called dark bay, mahogany bay, brown, or black bay). The most popular bay horse pure color is a reddish color known as blood bay.

Genetics of Bay Horses

Equine color genetics studies how parent horses determine the coat color of their foal through gene transfer. The genes that control horse coat colors vary, and they work together to yield specific patterns and colors. Most solid-colored horses display only a few of the said genes, while uniquely spotted or patterned horses may have more of them.

According to horse DNAs, they all have base bodies colored in either black or red (chestnut). The base is the original gene layer. In a bay horse, the second genes (known as agouti genes) regulate the black hair distribution, confining it to only the points and top line. Bays can generally be found in most horse breeds.

bay horse

Bay Shades

Bay colors are in varieties depending on the animal and breed. These are the basic categories.

Mahogany or Dark Bay

Mahogany, or dark bay, is the darkest bay shade. The horse has a deep brown-red body that looks like deep brown or black.

Blood Bay

The second darkest bay color, blood bay, is a deep blood-red coat color. The shade looks so much like a shade of purple.

Copper Bay

The copper bay is a bright color, with the appearance of a copper penny. The coat color is bright orange-red.

Standard Bay

It’s likely the most common shade of bay and what quickly comes to mind when people visualize the color. The body color is deep red — no smutty coloration.

Wildtype Bay

Wildtype bay is technically an actual bay, with black points and a deep red coat. The leg points of a wild bay horse extend to its fetlock or pastern, and this is mostly associated with pangare gene-carrying animals.

Golden or Light Bay

It’s the lightest bay shade. However, the darker shades of bay are more common. The coat can be close to golden yellow or light red.

bay horse

Famous Bay Horses

Since bay is among the most famous horse coat colors, it’s not surprising to learn that several horses have this rich shade.

Budweiser Clydesdales

In 1933, a brewing company started using these good-looking bay draft horses for celebrating the revocation of prohibition. The people loved it, and they started a breeding program to develop top-quality horses (always bay) for their promotional events and carriages.


A world champion bay-roan horse, this Dutch Warmblood was awarded many Olympic medals and set records in the Grand Prix Freestyle, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix during his career.


In 1972, this hardy bay horse was used to settle a debt owed to a teacher, Justin Morgan. He could out-pull and outrun every local horse and later became the Morgan breed foundation sire.


This talented bay horse was excellent at top-level eventing and the Olympic, European, and World eventing championship — at the same time!

Finder’s Key

Finder’s key is a bay racehorse who’s now an equine actor, taking the lead equine role as Joey in War Horse, and as the famous racehorse in Seabiscuit.


Shergar was a British bay racing horse that was retired at five years old to stud. Unfortunately, he was stolen, and a ransom of two million dollars was demanded but was never paid.

Cass Ole

This dark bay Arabian played in The Young Black Stallion in 2003, though he was dyed black in the film.

The Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is the only horse breed that must be bay before being registered.

They’re beautiful English horses and native of the Cleveland District in Yorkshire. Influenced by a mix of Chapman, Andalusian, and Barb horses, these versatile and robust horses influenced several other modern breeds.

The Cleveland Bay breed went almost extinct as a result of many world wars and crossbreeding. But in the seventies, it was restored. Cleveland Bay crosses, and Cleveland Bays are the official coach horses of the Queen of England.

bay horse

Other Bay Horse Breeds

Most registries approve bay colored horses since it’s a standard color in horse coats. The specific horse breeds that require that a horse must be one color are very few. For instance, Suffolk Punches are strictly chestnut, and Friesians are black. Some horses that have a limited color range are:


Although Clydesdales can have any coat color, Budweiser Clydesdale horses must have a deep bay coat color and fluffy white feet. Specifically bred by Budweiser for their TV commercials and trademark beer wagons, this is the main reason most Clydesdale horses in the United States have bay coat color.


A small bay horse owned by Justin Morgan in the mid-nineteenth century later became the Morgan breed foundation sire. The breed is famous for its deep bay coat color.


Most of the greatest racehorses in the past were bay Thoroughbreds, such as Barbaro, Seattle Slew, American Pharaoh, Northern Dancer, and many more.


These racehorses are typically brown, black, or bay. Since the racing industry has several Standardbred horses, you’ll easily find a bay Standardbred horse starting a new life as a driving or pleasure horse after retiring from racing.

Hackney Pony or Horse

These beautiful driving horses mostly have a solid color, with bay exceptionally common.


Most warmblood horses can have any coat color. However, some specific breeds have more of the bay color, such as the Trakhener, Holsteiner, Selle Francais, Oldenburg, and Dutch Warmblood.


Most horses from this rare breed have a unique, shiny, bright bay colored coat.

Canadian Horse

About eighty percent of Canadian Horses are black or dark bay. Many consider the foundation sire of the Morgan breed, Figure, to be a descendant of the Canadian horse.

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