What Is A Bay Horse (And What Does It Look Like)?

Have you ever stared at a brown horse with a few black spots on its body and wonder what it’s called? A brownish and black coat color combo is quite common, yet most of us rarely know what it’s called. Well, such a horse is usually referred to as a “bay horse

Here’s what this guide is about:

  • What is a bay horse
  • What does it look like
  • Different Shades of Bay
  • Should you buy a bay horse or not

By the end of this article, you’ll be a bay horse expert – let’s get going.

What Is A Bay Horse?

Credits: Montanabw

A bay horse is any horse with a hair coat color defined by a brownish body and black mane, ear tips, lower legs, and tail. Simply put, it is a horse with a bay hair coat. Bay coats are widespread amongst horses and vary from color to color. In effect, “bay” is not a breed but a hair coloration characterized by a specific pigmentation pattern.

What Does A Bay Horse Look Like?

Even though they look like other horses, bay horses have a few defining features:

  • Black ear edges
  • Black lower legs
  • Black mane
  • Black tail

These areas are known as the “black points” of a bay horse.

Their coat colors are usually various shades of brown with tinges of red, and their height ranges from 1.4 to 1.8 metres (at the withers). They usually weigh 900-2,000 lbs. Again, variations may exist because bay is a color not a breed. 

Why Are The “Black Points” On Bay Horse Important?

The black areas of a bay horse’s coat are its defining features. A horse can’t be bay if it doesn’t have these black points. They are caused by the Agouti gene acting on the black base coat of a horse.

If your bay horse has white markings over its black points, don’t worry. It doesn’t make it any less “bay” than other horses, and the black points of your horse are just as legitimate as those of others. 

3 Characteristics Of A Bay Horse’s Coat

Here are three key characteristics of a bay horse’s coat.

  1. No matter the shade of a bay horse’s coat, it is always going to carry richly vibrant pigmentation. When a horse is well cared for and regularly groomed these pigments look particularly radiant in the sun.
  2. Bay horses can have dappling – irregular spots arranged in concentric circles that seemingly don’t match the rest of the coat.
  3. Thanks to its two-toned shaft, the hair of a bay horse seems lighter than it is when it has been shaved down. 

All these traits vary according to the grooming of a horse and can be used as an indicator of the effort its owner puts into its care. 

Genetic Basis Of A Bay Horse’s Unique Appearance

A bay coat‘s appearance depends on the unique genetics of the horse. These genetics mostly revolve around the extension gene which gives them a black base coat, the Agouti gene which specifies where black points occur, and the mysterious inheritance of sootiness in a horse’s coat.

The Extension Gene Behind The Black Base Coat Of Bay Horses

There are two alleles of the extension gene which are said to dictate what color a bay horse will have. In comparison with the recessive allele, the “E” allele is associated with higher melanin and, thus, darker coats. It is also much more dominant and thus darker shades of bay horses are much more common than lighter colors. 

Amazing Agouti Gene Behind Bay Colored Coats

The Agouti gene regulates how pigment is distributed all over a horse’s body. It does so by specifically targeting the black base coat, giving bay horses their trademark black ear edges, lusciously dark mane and tail, and sooty lower legs. The gene gets represented in multiple forms:

  • a: The recessive “a” needs to be homozygous to be seen phenotypically. It results in the non-Agouti black colored coat in horses 
  • At: it is dominant only when coupled with “a”. It has been observed in horses with a seal brown hair coat.
  • A: it is recessive only to ” A+”, and imparts the standard bay coat to horses. 
  • A+: it is the most dominant of all expressions of the Agouti gene. It gives rise to the wildtype bay coat or true bay coat.

“Sooty” Genetics Of A Bay Horse

Some bay horses have darker shades. The genetic cause behind the mixing of dark hair with a horse’s original hair coat has been attributed to polygenic inheritance but isn’t well understood.

4 Shades Of Bay – What Color Is A Bay Horse?

(Did you get the pun?) Bay is one of the most notable horse colors, and other than its typical black points, a bay horse can have many colors, including but not limited to:

1. Standard Bay

Standard bays are deep red and are what people mostly think of when they imagine a bay horse.

2. Golden Bay

The lightest shade of bay ranges from light red to golden yellow and is uncommon. 

3. Mahogany and Blood – Darkest Bays

Mahogany bays are glorious horses with deeply brown-reddish bodies, which can even resemble black. It’s the darkest a bay horse can get. 

A blood bay coat is second only to mahogany. Horses have a deeply rich blood-red body shade. 

4. Wild Bay

These bays have leg points that only reach the fetlock. Wild type bays are also known as true bays as they have the A+ allele. 

Colors Easily Confused With Bay

Like with most other animals, it can be hard to tell horses apart. There are so many different breeds that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Bay horses are no different and can easily be confused with other horses.

Chestnut and black horses are the coats most likely to be confused with bay. Chestnut horses have reddish bodies like bay horses but don’t have black points. Black horses can look brownish after sun fading and are differentiated from bay horses by the hair around their eyes – black horses have black hair, whereas bay horses have lighter hair.

Should I Buy a Bay Horse?

Bay horses are wonderfully magnificent beasts. Anyone will be lucky to have them. If you can take good care of a bay horse’s needs, you should definitely buy one. Don’t forget to read online articles about horses so that you can make an educated decision. 

FAQs About Bay Horses

Here are some FAQs about bay horses you’ll be interested in.

What are black points on a bay horse?

Contrary to popular belief, the bay is not a breed of horse. It is a hair coat color and is seen in almost all breeds of horses. It is commonplace to see equestrians mix the two up.

Is the bay a horse breed?

The black regions found in a bay horse’s hair coats are known as “black points”. The term usually refers to the black mane, tail, lower legs, and ear tips of a horse. They are a defining feature of bay horses, without which a horse cannot be called “bay.”

Can a bay horse change colors?

An adult bay horse’s shade may look different because of sun fading and shedding. Bay horses are born brown with a black tail and mane and greyish brown legs. Their lower legs begin to change color as they grow. Their black points achieve their true hue by the time they turn four.

Does the color of a bay horse matter?

As we mentioned earlier, a horse is only considered a bay as long as it carries the Agouti gene and has black points. Of course, some tones are rarer than others, e.g., sandy bays are rarer than dark bays. However, this variation in color does not affect the horse’s classification in any way.

Can a bay horse have white patterns on its coat?

Some bay horses have white patterns on their coats. We believe it gives them a unique look. Even if they occur on black points, white patterns do not change a horse’s characterization as bay as long as it has bay genetics and at least some amount of black in the right places. Appaloosa horses are the most strikingly beautiful example of such a look. 

Which horse breed is exclusively bay?

Cleveland horses are known to exclusively possess a bay coat. This horse breed has been linked with British monarchs throughout history. Sadly it is currently listed as endangered in the UK because of a decline in pure breeding.

Are bay horses good for riding? 

Bay horses will become your go-to companion for all activities, including riding. You just have to train them right. They are as capable as other horses are for riding. The color of their coat does not impact their abilities.


A bay horse is a beautiful steed with black markings on its lower legs, tail, mane, and the tips of its ears. Its coat is usually a shade of brown or reddish-brown. It is one of the most common coat colors in horses. 

Since it has so many variants, it can be confusing to spot which horse is a bay and which one isn’t. We hope you found this article helpful in understanding what a bay horse is and what it looks like.