What is a Dapple Gray Horse? (Breeds, Genetics, Health Issues)

Horses are an interesting group of animals if you look into their different breeds and genetics. A Dapple Gray horse, for example, is a uniquely patterned animal that changes color over time. If you don’t know what a Dapple Gray horse is, it is a horse with dark circles over a gray body which gives it a mesmerizing look.

A pretty pattern and changing color aren’t the only fascinating things about this breed. Read till the end of this post to find out more interesting Dapple Gray horse facts!

Genetics of a Dapple Gray Horse

While dappling can occur in many colored horses, it is the most common in gray horses. This happens due to the zygosity allele in gray horses. A horse with this gene isn’t born gray. In fact, it has a solid-colored coat that can be chestnut, bay, or even black.

As the horse ages, this color fades and the coat becomes white. Most horses with the zygosity gene have turned white by the age of 9. However, the skin color remains gray, which gives a beautiful unique shade of gray to these horses.

The mechanism of the hair turning gray in Dapple Gray horse breeds is pretty similar to humans. As humans age, the pigment that gives color to the hair runs low and so, the new hair that grows after that is gray. The same happens in a horse. Moreover, the dapples also form over time.

The only distinguishing feature which helps identify a Dapple Gray horse early on is the gray circle around their eyes. The dapples on the rest of the body develop gradually.

This rate of dappling is determined by the genetic nature of individual horses. If both parents of the horse were gray, the dappling would occur much faster. However, if the horse only has one gray gene, the dappling will be slower. Other than that, the size and pattern of dappling are also different in each horse.

Since the zygosity allele is a dominant gene, only gray horses reproduce more gray horses. If one gray horse is mated with a chestnut or a bay horse, the chances of the birth of a gray horse are 50%.

Dappling in Horses: Explained

A Dapple Gray horse is mainly characterized by dappling. It is basically when a horse has a circular pattern on its coat. These circles are neither uniform nor consistent. What this means is that the dappling pattern changes with seasons as well as the horse’s age.

Dappling isn’t restricted to a gray horse only. These patterns also form on darker coats, although, they are subtler and not as prominent. Moreover, as gray horses age and their coat gets lighter, the dapples start to fade, too.

Genes are the only explanation known for dappling so far. But, we do know is how you can enhance these patterns. A healthy nutritional diet along with regular grooming enhances the dappling on a gray horse. Also, this pattern is more visible during the summer season.

Health Issues in Dapple Gray Horses

Here is a Dapple Gray horse fact that you probably didn’t know:

The same genes that are credited for the physical beauty of dappling are also the genes that cause melanoma.

Melanocyte is the skin cell responsible for producing the pigment that gives color to the skin and hair. Melanoma is a cancerous tumor of melanocytes. It can grow on any part of the body but the most common places where you may notice clusters of dark bumps are around the genitals, rectum, mouth, eyes, and under the tail.

While melanomas in horses do not grow as fast as in humans, the risk doesn’t minimize. It can metastasize and enlarge to affect the entire body. Nearby organs and normal bodily functions, for example, urination, are affected adversely.

While all horses can fall victim to melanoma, gray horses are at the highest risk. An alarming 80% of gray horses develop melanoma after the age of 15 years. However, one positive aspect is that melanoma in gray horses is not as dangerous as it is in other horses.

Moreover, melanoma of a gray horse may not always be dangerous. You should notice the patterns of the melanoma of your horse and consult a vet to figure out whether your horse is safe or not. Even if the tumor is dangerous, it can be treated with surgery, laser, cryotherapy, or chemotherapy.

Other Shades of Gray Horses

There are many other names for dapple gray horses based on the different shades of coats the horses develop throughout the process of graying. Each of these stages is defined with different shade names.

Steel Gray

A steel gray horse is also called an iron gray horse. The hue of gray on these horses is bluish. Gray horses with a dark coast turn steel gray early on in the graying process.

Rose Gray

As the name suggests, a rose gray horse is more towards the red color spectrum. This blush gray tone forms on a horse that was born with a chestnut coat. Other light coats can also turn rose gray during the graying process.

Flea-Bitten Gray

A flea-bitten gray color appears more towards the end of the graying process. The base coat turns all-white with speckles of black all over. This pattern is a result of re-pigmentation of previously de-pigmented hair.

Pure White (Light) Gray

A mature gray horse that has gone through the entire process of graying turns all-white. All the pigment of the entire coat has faded by this point. A Pure White Gray horse is usually confused with a True White horse. But, keep in mind that a True White horse is born white and remains the same throughout.

Blood Marked Gray

A gray horse with red patches on some parts of the body is called a Blood Marked Gray Horse. These red patches mostly form over the shoulders and enlarge with time. Rarely, these patches cover the entire body of the horse.

Horse Breeds Likely to Display Dapple Gray Coat

When we talk of types of gray horses, we are referring to the different horse breeds that can display a dappled gray coat. So, if you’re looking for a dapple gray horse for sale, you should restrict your search to the following breeds:


Around 80% of Andalusian horses are gray. Other coat colors you’ll find in this breed are chestnut, bay, black, dun, and palomino. Andalusian gray horses develop dapples as they age.


Lippizan horses aren’t only famous for their dancing abilities. These horses are born dark and then become gray as they age. Back in the day, Lippizan horses came in many other colors but with selective breeding, they have now been restricted to gray coats only.


Percheron horses come in a variety of colors. But, only the gray ones are registered in the studbook. This is why black and gray coats are the most common in this breed.


Other horse breeds with gray coats include:

  • Orlov Horse
  • Irish Sport Horse
  • Poitevin Horse
  • Hanoverian Horse
  • Oldenburg Horse
  • Mangalarga Marchador
  • Arabian Horse
  • Camargue Horse
  • Welsh Pony
  • Dilbaz
  • Lusitano

FAQs Related to Dapple Gray Horses

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions people ask about Dapple Gray horses. If you didn’t already find an answer, now you will.

What is dapple gray horse?

A Dapple Gray horse is a horse with a unique pattern on its coat. The base color is covered with dark rings and circles. These circles and rings are non-uniform and unique to each horse. Also, the dapples change with time, season, and age.
Other than this visible feature, Dapple Gray horses have a specific gene called zygosity. This gene is what causes the dappling. Moreover, this gene also increases the risk of melanoma in gray horses.

Can a horse stay dapple gray?

A Dapple Gray horse isn’t actually born with this pattern. In fact, at birth, the coat isn’t even gray for most horses. The dappling is part of the aging process in which the coat loses its color gradually. So, the pigment fades over the years which causes the appearance of dark rings on the entire body.
The dapples form gradually after the birth of the horse and then begin to fade over the years. For some horses, the dapples are seasonal. Towards the end of the graying process, when the pigment of the hair fades, the dapples begin to become subtler too. Eventually, the dapples disappear as the horse turns completely white or light gray.

Is dapple gray a breed of horse?

Dapple Gray itself is not a breed. It is a coat color and pattern description. These horses can be found in multiple horse breeds.
All gray horses get their color from the same gene. Therefore, any gray-colored horse from any breed can display dappling. The most common horse breeds with gray horses are Andalusian, Lippizan, Percheron, Irish Sport Horse, Arabian, Hanoverian, Orlov, and many more.

Do dapple gray horses turn white?

Horses with the dappling gene are born with a colored coat but by a certain age they turn completely white. The initial coat color can be black, chestnut, bay, or any other color.
With time, the pigment fades and the circular pattern appears on the coat. Usually, by the age of 9, all of the pigment from the hair in the coat has faded. This is when the horse becomes completely white. Although the pigment from the hair finishes, the skin is still colored. Therefore, a Dapple Gray horse’s coat that turns white is usually more of a light gray than a true white color.

What makes a horse dapple?

Dappling is caused by the red and black pigment in the hair of the horse. As this pigment fades and shifts with age and seasons, the dapples appear or vanish on the horse’s coat. Since dapples are a result of the shift in the pigment of the hair, trimming the coat can minimize the pattern’s appearance.
This loss of pigment happens as a gray horse ages. Horses aren’t born with this dappled pattern. In fact, it appears after some time when the pigment starts running low. Only horses with the specific dappling gene get this pattern.

What does it mean to have a dapple Gray Mare Patronus?

A Dapple Gray Mare Patronus has a symbolic meaning relating to magical backgrounds. As with most horses, a Dapple Gray horse is considered to represent complete freedom. This freedom has no limits or conditions. Moreover, freedom can be of any sort. It can be your soul’s ability to feel everything, your mind’s ability to explore new phenomena or the physical freedom to feel alive.
Patronus, in the magical world, is a guardian animal that protects wizards and witches. A Dapple Gray Mare Patronus symbolizes stability, freedom, and protection.

What is a good name for a gray horse?

Since gray horses come in various shades and keep changing color, many unique names are suitable for them. Choose the best one from the following list depending on your horse’s personality:

What percentage of Gray horses get cancer?

Around 80% of gray horses develop a cancerous tumor, melanoma, after 15 years of age. Gray horses are most at risk of this tumor than any other horse. The reason behind this risk is their genes.
Ironically, the genes that give the horses their gray color are also the genes linked to the formation of melanoma. The good news is, melanoma isn’t always dangerous in the case of gray horses.

Today we talked all about gray horses that have a dapple pattern. You now know what a Dapple Gray horse is, which genes cause the dappling, health risks in these horses, the different shades that a horse goes through, and all the breeds that can possibly have this physical attribute.

Now, you are a Dapple Gray horse expert! You can now head over to the horse market and find the perfect Dapple Gray horse that will display the most beautiful patterns over time!