A visual guide to equine colors and patterns
The Silver Dilution
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)
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)
A clipped black silver showing vivid dappling with longer coat is visible at the base of the tail (Miniature Horse)
Silver can be difficult to identify reliably without genetic testing. Darker silvers, liver chestnuts and sooty palominos can all look very similar. The difference in leg color on clear bay silvers can be subtle, especially in winter, leading them to be misidentified as chestnut. Sooty chestnuts where the dark hairs are concentrated on the legs can be mistaken for bay silvers. Some wild bays have very pale, silvery points and some otherwise ordinary bays have flaxen manes and tails. Black silvers and chestnut-based mushrooms also look very similar.
Bay horse with a silver tail
Sooty chestnut with dark legs and mixed flaxen mane and tail (grade pony)
Wild bay horse with silvery points (Paint Horse)
Legs of the horse to the left
Silver is dominant, so at least one parent must be silver in order for the foal to be silver. However, because silver does not alter the appearance of red pigment, a chestnut horse can carry the gene without showing it. This can make it seem that the color skips a generation. The gene is not lethal, so homozygous silvers can be found.
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.
Discusses a study of silver Icelandics and merle in dogs (Feb 2012)
Flaxen liver chestnut in the Black Forest Horse
Explanation of epistasis and chestnut carriers of silver
Images of an aged buckskin silver
A look at the family of American Shetlands where silver was originally believed to have originated
Point color and countershading on bay silvers
How the manes and tails change with age
A missense mutation in PMEL17 is associated with the Silver coat color in the horse.
Two SNPs in the SILV gene are associated with silver coat colour in ponies
On silver dapple colour in Estonian Native horse breed
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
Multiple congenital ocular anomalies in Icelandic horses
Multiple congenital ocular anomalies syndrome in a family of Shetland and Deutsches Classic ponies in Belgium
Phenotypic description of multiple congenital ocular anomalies in Comtois horses
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.
The traditional name for the color in the United States is silver dapple. The most common way to speak about silver today is to add it to the color it modifies, such as black silver, bay silver or buckskin silver. In Rocky Mountain horses, silver is traditionally called chocolate. In Australia, silver is called taffy.
The silver mutation dilutes black areas of the body to a cool chocolate color, and turns manes and tails flaxen. It does not alter red pigment, so chestnut horses effectively hide silver. Liver chestnut, sooty palomino and wild bay can mimic forms of silver. The mutation responsible for the color is associated with defects in the eyes.
Silver Shetland Ponies (Facebook)
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)
Vividly dapples silvers are usually that way because they have been clipped. These images of partially-clipped silvers show this really well.
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