A visual guide to equine colors and patterns

The Silver Dilution

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Black with the silver dilution (Miniature Horse)

 

Bay with the silver dilution (grade pony)

Silver dilutes the black pigment on the body of the horse to a silvery chocolate color, and turns the mane and tail flaxen. This means that black horses show the effect most strongly. Bay horses have their black legs diluted to chocolate. They also have a flaxen mane and tail, but their red body remains unchanged. Because they do not have black hair to dilute, chestnut horses do not show the effect. Because chestnuts with the silver dilution can have self-colored manes and tails, it does not appear that silver alters chestnuts manes and tails to flaxen. 

Silver-diluted black can vary in color from a pale taupe to a deep chocolate that approaches black. Seasonal changes are common, with winter coats tending to be paler. As they age, the flaxen manes and tails tend to darken, starting at the roots. Black silvers sometimes show dappling. This is especially vivid when the horse is clipped. Paler silvers sometimes have a dark face mask similar to that seen on dun horses. 

When combined with cream, silver-diluted black pigment tends to lose its cool, silvery tone and look more like milk chocolate. Black silvers with cream, sometimes called silver smokies, often lack the stark contrast in their manes and tails seen in ordinary black silvers. 

 

As silvers age, their manes and tails tend to darken (bay silver Rocky Mountain Horse)

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Silver smoky (black silver cream) - notice the warmer tone compared to the two horses above (Positively Charmed, purebred Morgan)

 

Black silver in pale winter coat, with a face mask (Miniature Horse)

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A clipped black silver showing vivid dappling with longer coat is visible at the base of the tail (Miniature Horse)

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Bay horse with a silver tail
("Gulastra Plume")

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Sooty chestnut with dark legs and mixed flaxen mane and tail (grade pony)

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Wild bay horse with silvery points (Paint Horse)

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Legs of the horse to the left

Silver is caused by a mutation to the PMEL17 gene, also known as SILV. Commercial tests to identify silver horses are available. Research on ancient remains suggest that the mutation dates back to at least to the Iron Age. 

The mutation for silver is associated with Multiple Congenital Ocular Anomalies (MCOA), formerly known as Anterior Segment Dysgenesis (ASD). Homozygous silvers are believed to be at higher risk for these eye defects.

Silver dilution and eye defects

Discusses a study of silver Icelandics and merle in dogs (Feb 2012)

 

The limits of visual identification

Flaxen liver chestnut in the Black Forest Horse

What are you hiding?

Explanation of epistasis and chestnut carriers of silver

Buckskin silver

Images of an aged buckskin silver

More on founders

A look at the family of American Shetlands where silver was originally believed to have originated

Bay silver comparisons

Point color and countershading on bay silvers

Aging silvers

How the manes and tails change with age

A missense mutation in PMEL17 is associated with the Silver coat color in the horse.

Open access

 

Two SNPs in the SILV gene are associated with silver coat colour in ponies

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On silver dapple colour in Estonian Native horse breed

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Silver dapple, a unique color variety in Shetland Ponies

One of the earliest papers on the color (1953) - incorrectly describes it as having originated in the Shetland Pony
Partial access

Multiple congenital ocular anomalies in Icelandic horses

Open access

Multiple congenital ocular anomalies syndrome in a family of Shetland and Deutsches Classic ponies in Belgium

Open access

Phenotypic description of multiple congenital ocular anomalies in Comtois horses

Open access

There are four breeds where silver is common: American Shetlands, American Miniatures, Rocky Mountain Horses and Comtois.

 

Silver is found more rarely across a wide range of breeds. Among the American breeds it is found in the Morgan, Tennessee Walking Horse, Missouri Foxtrotter, Saddlebred, Quarter Horse, Banker Ponies and the Mountain Pleasure breeds. Among the British native breeds it is found in Welsh Mountain Ponies, Highland Ponies, Gypsy Horses and the Shetland Pony. Other breeds include the Australian Ponies, Australian Stock Horses, Dutch Warmbloods, Dutch Harness Horses, Finnhorses, German Classic Ponies, Icelandics, Nordlands, and Estonian Natives. 

Here are links to some examples of silver horses of various breeds. Be aware that links to individual horses can and do change. If a link no longer works, try searching on the name and breed.

Silver in Morgans (good examples of silver creams and silver duns)
Silver in Saddlebreds

Silver in Quarter Horses
Silver Equine Group (Facebook)

Silver Shetland Ponies (Facebook)
 

Silver Crescent (black silver American Shetland)
Bar U Champ Binder (bay silver QH)
Coulee Bend Talisman (bay dun silver Morgan with dramatic dun factoring)

Silbersee Luxus (brown silver Shetland)
Rotser (bay silver Estonian Native)

Rommel (bay silver Estonian Native)
Voore Antares (silver smoky dun Estonian Native)
Voore Taago (silver black Estonian Native)
Holands Tåke (silver black Nordland)
Ahon Odotus (bay silver Finnhorse)
Ahonkukka (pale mealy bay silver Finnhorse)
M.K. Herotes (bay silver Finnhorse)

Wilgot (black silver Swedish Ardennes)

Austin (black silver tobiano Gypsy Vanner with vivid dappling)

St. Clarins (black silver Gypsy Horse)
Biskup frá Ólafshaga (bay silver Icelandic)
 

Vividly dapples silvers are usually that way because they have been clipped. These images of partially-clipped silvers show this really well.

Clipping example (black silver)

Clipping example (dark bay silver)

Have a link for a silver horse with good-quality photos that you would like to share? Just click on the chat button at the lower left of the screen.