Rich Horse Colors

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily 

Horse Breeding Insight: “Champagne” and “silver” are descriptive names for two rare horse colorations.

The terms “champagne” and “silver” connote rarity and value. When applied to horses, the terms tend to hold true, as these color modifiers are hard to come by.

Both dilution genes, they affect the appearance of pigment in the horse’s coat. Neither is an official AQHA color. For registration purposes, AQHA has opted to use the coat color choices already in place, and a notation of the gene can be made on the papers.


The champagne dilution is a dominant modifier. It acts on both black- and red-based colors and affects the appearance of the pigments. Red pigmentation will turn gold, and black to chocolate.

Other characteristics of champagne include pink, freckled skin, which is easiest to see on the muzzle and around the eyes and genitals. Champagnes are born with blue eyes, but by adulthood, the eyes usually change to a light brown, hazel or green.Foals are usually born with a dark coat and lighten with age. Often, champagnes appear to have an almost metallic sheen to their coats.

Most horses’ hair shafts are solid, but a champagne’s are translucent, giving the coat a stained-glass sheen.

Depending on the base color of the horse, the champagne modification is often confused with palomino, buckskin and grullo. A red horse with the champagne dilution makes the horse appear to be golden, with a white mane and tail. A bay horse will become a golden tan with chocolate-brown points. A brown or black horse will become a grayish tan, with dark-brown points. Champagne can appear in conjunction with other modifiers, such as cream and dun.

Recently, a new dilution gene called pearl was named. Its effect resembles that of champagne. When the horse carries one copy of the gene, its coat color is not affected, but its skin becomes speckled or mottled. A chestnut horse that is homozygous for the pearl dilution will become a pale apricot color over its body, mane and tail. If the horse is heterozygous for the cream gene, it phenotypically can appear cremello or perlino. 

Shiny Silver

Silver dapple is a dilution gene that affects only black pigment. If a black horse has the silver modifier, its body color will range from a silvery gray to a dark chocolate. The mane and tail will be lightened but not necessarily the same color as the body.

A bay horse with the silver modifier will maintain its brown body color because silver does not affect red pigment.However, the bay horse’s points will turn a diluted color, from a dark gray to a pale silver. These horses can be confused with liver chestnuts with flaxen manes.

They can be distinguished because they often show hints of sooty areas on the lower legs where black stockings would have appeared without the influence of a silver modifier.

Color Facts

  • Champagne and silver dapple are extremely rare.
  • Because both champagne and silver dapple are dominant, a horse carrying them has a 50 percent chance of passing the color to its offspring.