The Dapple Grey Horse: Reasons For Changing, Spotty Coats

If you’ve ever seen a dapple grey horse, you know that they’re special. Dapple greys are eye-catching, unique, and have a beautiful spotted pattern that you won’t forget.

 

But how do they get those dapples? Where can you find these one-of-a-kind horses? Don’t worry — keep reading for the full trot!

 

What Are Dapple Grey Horses?

Dapple grey horses are not a breed! Rather, it refers to the color of their coat. As a result, these horses can appear in many different kinds of horse breeds.

 
When a horse is dapple grey, it is a representation of its age. Most of the time, these majestic beasts start out a darker color, fade into a dapple grey, and then eventually become fully white.
 
Their coat essentially goes through the same process human hair does (graying with age), which results in a dapple grey coat somewhere in the middle.
 

What Are Dapples On a Horses Coat?

The dapples are a pattern of unique irregular spots (or rings) in varying sizes all over the horse’s coat. The pattern can change over time, and the size of the spots varies depending on the season and age of the horse.
 
Dappling does not have to do with skin color — it is a result of red or black pigmentation in the hair. Generally, most dapple greys have black skin, and their changing hair colors give the dappling effect.
 
Although dappling is associated with grey horses, it can happen in other coat colors too. In darker coat colors — like bay, dun, or chestnut — the dapples are more subtle. But in horses, the dappling can be prominent.

horse trainer and equine practicing on course

What Causes Dappling?



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It’s all in the genes! A horse must have a grey allele (gene variant). This gene is what causes the horse to slowly turn white as it ages. Interestingly enough, a dapple grey horse can be born with any color coat, but the original color will fade to white over time.

 
The grey allele is the dominant gene, so if both parents are grey, the foal will be grey as well. However, if only one parent is grey, there is a 50% chance the foal will be grey. Horses with two grey alleles will usually turn grey quicker than ones with only one grey allele.

 

Are Dapple Grey Horses Common?

Yes, as greying coats are found in almost any horse breed. Approximately one in ten horses today carry the grey allele that causes them to turn grey with age. 

 

What Do Dapple Grey Horses Look Like? (Characteristics)

Dapples are dark spots or rings on a horse’s coat that surround lighter-colored hair. There are two different types of dapple patterns:

 

  • True dapples: These are the dapples found in traditional dapple grey horses. And the dark hair is always present and forms a prominent dappling pattern.
  • Bloom dapples: Typically found in darker-colored coats, these are subtle dapples that can come and go depending on diet, condition, and grooming.

 

The dappling on a horse happens at different rates, but here is a general timeline of what to expect from a dapple grey horse:

 

Foals and Weanlings

A dapple grey foal, or a younger than a one-year-old horse, can be just about any color but grey — bay, black, chestnut, etc. By the time they wean, there will be apparent signs of the grey coat coming out. The grey will first be seen around the foal’s eyes and mouth.

 

Yearlings

A yearling is a horse that is older than one but younger than two. At this stage, yearling coats will typically change to dark steel-grey color with some dapples.

 

Two to Six Years Old

The coat will fade lighter from two to six years old, which causes the dappling to become more defined. This is the stage of dappling that is most often associated with dapple grey horses. There is a good mix of dark and light hair, making for a true one-of-a-kind look.

 

After four years old, the dark hairs will begin to lighten. After six years old, most dapple grey horses’ coats will transpose almost completely white. However, in rare cases, older horses have been known to retain some of their dapples or even have some dappling reappear.

 

Dapple Grey Horse History

The history of the dapple grey horse is somewhat uncertain. Here’s what we know:

 

  • A 2008 Swedish study revealed that all dapple grey horses today share a common ancestor that lived over 2000 years ago. This confirms that people were fascinated by the color changes these horses go through even thousands of years ago. They loved them so much that they selectively bred dapple grey horses to retain the gene, which is why we still have these unique coats today.

 

  • Breeds that are more often dapple grey have common ancestry in the Arabian horse breed. It is believed that all grey thoroughbreds descended from one particular grey horse from the 1700s named Alcock’s Arabian.

 

Horse Breeds That Can Have Dapple Grey Coats

Most breeds can have a dapple grey coat, but it’s more common in some breeds. Some of these breeds include:

 

 

How to Care for a Dapple Grey Horse

Because dapple grey horses can be from many different breeds, caring for them is typically breed-specific. As a rule of thumb, a healthy dapple grey horse will have more defined dapples, so make sure to give them adequate exercise, nutritionally balanced food, and regular grooming.

 

Dapple Grey Horse Coat Color And Grooming 

A dapple grey horse’s coat color will change over time, so to get the most shine out of their coat and bring out the dapples, these horses should have regular grooming. This means their coat, mane, and tail needs daily brushing to remove dirt, matting, and debris. Bathe regularly with horse shampoo, and their mane and tail should be detangled as needed.

 
Remember, if your horse has bloom dapples, a good diet and a healthy coat are necessary to make the dapples visible, so don’t skip out on the grooming!
 
It’s important to note that almost 70% of dapple grey horses develop melanoma because their light coats develop melanoma by 15. Most of the time, the melanoma is benign, but sometimes it can become malignant and threaten the horse’s health. This makes grooming and skin health that much more important for dapple grey horses.

 

Do Dapple Greys Turn White?

Yes, the large majority of dapple greys will turn completely white. This will occur gradually over several years, but typically after nine years old, the dappling will be gone. Depending on your horse, this color fade can occur at slower or faster rates. The dappling will first fade away on the body and then along the hind end and legs.

dapple grey horse peaking out through weeds

 

Can a Horse Stay Dapple Grey?

Yes, it is possible, but it’s rare. Most dapple greys will end up white at the later half of their life. If you find a horse that remains one color it is exceptionally rare.

 
However, in some cases, limited dappling can reappear after the coat fades. This can be seen as small patches of dark hair or increased speckling throughout the coat (which is called “flea-bitten grey” or “speckled grey”). These horses are wonderfully unique because they look like a toned-down version of their dapple grey selves.
 

Do Horses Lose Their Dapples?

Yes, they most likely do. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of their dapple grey coats. However, if you’re lucky, some dappling may reappear over time!
 
Although they may lose their dapples, they still have the grey allele responsible for their color-changing coats. So even if they may not look like they have dapples, it’s still there and can be passed on to later generations.

 

More About These Types of Horses

The color-changing coats of dapple greys have enamored enthusiasts for thousands of years, and that love isn’t stopping anytime soon! These wonderful coats can be from many different breeds, but no two coats are alike.

 
The color variations make these horses so memorable. While some dapples are more prominent, some are less, some coats are more white, and some are speckled. No two horses are the same, and that’s what we love about them.



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