Historical Colors


Appaloosa is famously known by its spots and many varied expressions of those spots. Appaloosa is not the result of just one gene, but of a group. The Leopard Complex (LP) is what creates the ability for appaloosa to exist. Pattern genes change the leopard complex into the many other versions of appaloosa. Varnish roan is the leopard complex without any other patterning mutations. Pattern 1 (PATN1) is what creates the well known leopard appaloosa patterns. Appaloosa is an incomplete dominant, it cannot skip generation and a homozygous appaloosa will have more white than a heterozygous. Horses that are homozygous for LP have Congenital Stationary Night-blindness (CSNB). Understanding how the appaloosa pattern works is a complicated mix and is still being researched. The Appaloosa Project is leading the research into understanding appaloosa. There is a test available for the leopard complex.

A photo has been found of an appaloosa Mustang mare and foal from the 1984 Pony Penning. This is the only known example and they did not breed on. They were part of a group of Mustangs introduced that year most of which did not survive the winter and was also likely their fate. The presence of appaloosa that year was also mentioned in a Sunday News of Hershey, PA article.

Wild mare and foal, 1984, Picture courtesy of Paula

Frame Pinto

Frame Pinto (O), also known as frame overo or just overo, is a pinto pattern. Frame is dominant, and thus cannot skip generations, and only exists in heterozygous form. Homozygous frames suffer from Overo Lethal White Syndrome (OLWS) and are known as Lethal Whites; such foals are born all white and die soon after birth due to an incomplete lower colon. Due to OWLS two frames should never be bred together. Frames generally have dark legs, the white is concentrated on the side of the pony, and have a white face. There is a test available for frame, the same which tests for OLWS.

Frame appears to have existed in the wild herd at some point in the past. A frame mare appears on a postcard from the 1960's and was captured on video in 1962. It is no longer present in Chincoteagues. It likely would have been introduced through Mustang or Paint Horse outcrossing.

Black frame. Picture from a 1960's postcard.


Grey (G) is a modifier that depigments a horse's body color until it reaches near white. Grey is dominant, and thus cannot skip generations. Greys are born a color and through their lifetime "grey out", and subsequently go through many different graying phases. The speed at which a horse greys out varies. Dapple grey, rose, grey, white grey, steel grey, etc. are all names for stages of greying. Fleabitten greys have small dark flecks on a white coat and bloodmarks are a concentration of fleabits. White greys are often mistaken for true white horses. Greys have dark skin and dark eyes. There is a test available for grey.

Grey is currently not found in Chincoteagues. The grey Arabian stallion Skowreym was loaned to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department for two years in the 1960's so it is very likely some of his foals were grey. A postcard and video from that era with a picture of probable greys has also been found.

Grey may have also existed in the early days of the breed. A 1891 article in the New York City newspaper The Sun stated that the ponies "are most frequently black, gray, sorrel, or dun." However, Leonard D. Sale wrote in 1896 in The Horse Review of Chicago that, "I have never yet seen a grey, piebald, dun, or yellow purely bred island pony." A 1912 Baltimore Sun article stated that the ponies were "white sometimes". A 1923 St. Petersburg Times article described the ponies as "bay, gray, dun, black, and sorrel".

Probable grey. Photo from an undated postcard.

Probable grey tobiano. Photo from an undated postcard.

Possible grey tobiano. Feral mare, 1967, Screen shot from a Wild Kingdom episode.

Sabino Roan

Sabino Roan is a type of roaning that occurs when a pony has the sabino pinto pattern. The pony has sabino charteristics such as pointy socks, body spots, or a large blaze and then will have scattered white hairs over the body. It can resemble classic roan but sabino roans do not have the dark head and legs found on classic roans.

Sabino roan was briefly found in the Chincoteague Pony. The last known roan Chincoteague died 2008, the feral mare Strawberry Lady. One source stated that a chestnut roan stallion from Farnley Farm was sent to Chincoteague for three years and was bred to mares. There were also three stallions described as roan transferred from the Maryland herd in 1988: M12AI, M16/John, and Killer. A well known Maryland stallion Scotty was a chestnut tobiano sabino roan and a brother to M12AI.

The last three sabino roans in the feral Virginia herd were all mares: chestnut A Touch of Dust, bay Rags to Riches, and chestnut Strawberry Lady. It also appears to have died out in the Maryland feral herd. It may still exist in private hands as the descendant of one of the three mares.

Chestnut sabino roan. Strawberry Lady, 2006, Picture by Amanda Geci.

Chestnut sabino roan sisters. A Touch of Dust and Strawberry Lady, 1995, Picture by Amanda Geci.

Bay sabino roan. Rags to Riches, 2006, Picture by Amanda Geci.

Strawberry Lady and A Touch of Dust. Photo from The Islands of Assateague and Chincoteague by Kevin N. Moore.

Chestnut sabino roans from the Maryland herd. Photos from undated postcards.


Silver (Z), also known as silver dapple, chocolate, or taffy, is a dilution that dilutes black. The silver dilution mutation is on the PMEL17 gene. Silver is dominant, meaning it cannot skip generations. Since silver can only dilute black it has no effect chestnut and thus can appear to skip generations via chestnut. Silvers can range in shade based upon their base color and other dilutions/modifiers. Silver generally lightens the points so they have flaxen manes and/or tails, but that is not a requirement. Black silvers are often described as odd looking chestnuts. Bay silvers often have legs that are not quite black. Silvers can also go through many shade changes throughout their lifetime. There is a test available for silver.

Many silvers are mistaken for flaxen chestnuts. In the absence of testing; a black based offspring from seemingly chestnut parents indicates that one parent is a silver instead of a chestnut. Similarly, the silver offspring of a chestnut parent and a non-silver black based parent indicates that the chestnut parent is carrying silver.

Multiple Congenital Ocular Anomalies (MCOA) is a genetic disorder linked to silver. Heterozygous horses are not affected but homozygous silver horses are. MOCA affected horses can have multiple abnormalities of the eye including cysts, cloudy eyes, abnormal lens positions, and pop eyes. Horses with MOCA often have impaired vision and difficulties in adapting to changing light conditions. Silver to silver breedings are not recommended. The Wild Horse Dilemma by Bonnie Gruenberg stated that a silver stallion from Shackleford Banks herd tested positive for MOCA.

The earliest photographic evidence of silver in Chincoteagues is a bay silver named Starlight whom Misty rejected as a mate in the late 1950's. Starlight's photograph appears in the Pictorial Life Story of Misty. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle from 1893 described a Chincoteague Pony that sounds a great deal like a silver, "His coat is a beautiful shade of red, lighter than bay and almost a sorrel. The mane and tails are strikingly conspicuous, being a soft, creamy, white suggestive of silky Augora wool."

Bay silver. Note dirty flaxen mane and tail and pale black legs. Historical reference. Starlight, late 1950's, Picture from A Pictorial Life Story of Misty.

Possible silver, could also have been a dark flaxen chestnut. Historical reference. Feral pony, 1977, Picture by Joseph Spies from Wild Ponies of Chincoteague.

Drawing of a possible silver, could also have been a flaxen chestnut. Historical reference from 1893. Drawing from the San Francisco Chronicle.