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The genetic palette: The science behind coloured horses’ coats *H&H Plus*

Coloured coats tend to be associated with heavy breeding and limited competitive ability – but are the patches allied to certain athletic traits or is it mere pigmentation? Andrea Oakes looks at the science

A splash of colour is nothing new in the show ring, where skewbalds and piebalds regularly grace the line-up. Neither does a coloured coat come as a surprise at the lower dressage levels, as traditional gypsy cobs continue to make their mark.

But patches of white on a performance horse can really turn heads. With implications of heavy breeding, a coloured coat pattern tends to be more closely associated with pulling a cart than achieving a podium place. Are these elite equine athletes really on a par with their plain-coated counterparts?

According to Dr Samantha Brooks, associate professor of equine physiology at the University of Florida, most white “spotting” patterns in the horse – the patches on our skewbalds and piebalds – are caused by just one change in a single gene.