The average person can look at a herd of horses and distinguish between a bay and a palomino or a buckskin and a cream. Identifying a horse's coat color is fairly simple, after all. But once you spend more time around horses, you notice not all bays are the same, and it's rare to find two horses that look exactly alike. The differences will always be in their markings. There are several different kinds of horse markings. From a facial blaze to a horse with socks, markings are used to identify specific horses.
Here's a breakdown of the most common horse markings.
Star: A Star is a white marking located either directly between or above a horse's eyes. Stars don't always look exactly like stars. They can be round, half-moon, heart, oval, or crescent. They also come in different sizes.
Snip: Like a star, a snip can come in varying sizes and shapes. The difference is that a snip is located on a horse's nose or muzzle.
Strip: A strip is one of the easier to identify horse markings. It's a narrow strip of white that runs vertically down the middle of a horse's face. Some strips go the whole way down a horse's face, and others don't. If you have a horse with a crooked or wavy strip, some equestrians would call that a "race."
Blaze: Compared to a strip, a blaze is wider and more prominent. It's still a vertical line that runs down a horse's face and cat stop partway down the forehead or stretch all the way to the muzzle.
Bald: If someone says a horse is bald, they don't mean it doesn't have hair. A bald horse marking is when the white on a horse's face extends above their eyes. The white area is also much wider than a blaze and takes up most of the horse's face. Most bald-faced horses have blue eyes, and this horse marking is common in Paint horses.
Coronet: A coronet horse marking is when a horse has a small area of white hair just above the hoof. The coronet is also the upper part of a horse's hoof.
Pastern: In terms of anatomy, a pastern is the part of a horse's leg between the top of the hoof and the fetlock. When talking about horse markings, a pastern is a patch of white hair on this area of the leg. There are also partial pasterns where the white hair does not go all the way around the leg.
Bonus Fact: The horse pictured below also has a marking called an ermine. An ermine is a dark spot that appears within the white marking above the hoof. Unlike regular spots, an ermine touches the coronary band (coronet).
Sock: One of the most common horse leg markings is a sock. These white markings extend from the top of the hoof to about two-thirds of the way up the leg. A horse can have anywhere from 1-4 socks.
Boot: It's not always easy to tell the difference between a sock and a boot. The key is in how far up the leg the white hair reaches. A boot extends higher than a sock, but it stays below the knee.
Stocking: The next step up from a boot is a stocking. This horse marking starts above the hoof and extends past the knee. Some stockings stop right above the knee, and others stretch to include the entire leg.
Other Horse Markings
Dorsal Stripe/Eel Strip: Sometimes called a dorsal strip and sometimes called an eel strip, this horse marking is located on a horse's back. It's a darker strip of hair that runs down a horse's back from the mane to the tail. Mustangs, duns, donkeys, mules, and certain pony breeds often have this marking.
Spot: A spot can be on any part of a horse's body. The hair typically swirls in a circular direction different than the rest of the coat.
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Spend enough time with horses, and you'll start to see all the beautiful combinations of markings and colors. Identifying marks is an important part of keeping horses safe. Horse owners use marks to separate their horses from others of similar color. It can be used as proof of ownership and can help identify stolen or lost horses. It's often recommended for horse owners to sketch out their horse's markings. You never know when you'll need to accurately describe what that "splotchy star" looks like.