All foals go through some level of color change once they shed their baby coats, but gray horses are by far the most dramatic.
When born, gray horses have standard-colored coats in brown, chestnut, black, or bay variations. As they age, these shades undergo a depigmentation process that transforms them into a stunning silvery color that continues to lighten over the horse’s lifetime.
Some foals are born showing signs of graying, with white hairs appearing around their eyes and along their muzzle. Others may begin to depigment at 6-8 years old.
While all gray horses turn white by the time they’ve reached their golden years, the intermediate coats can take on different colors depending on the steed’s original shade.
Red and light bay horses turn rose gray, while black and dark bay horses adopt a bluish tone called iron or steel gray.
We've rounded up 17 photos of gray horses with distinctive rose and steel-colored coats.
- 1. Three-for-One
- 2. Dashingly Dappled
- 3. An Agile Andalusian
- 4. Full-Body Blush
- 5. Growing Into His Colors
- 6. A Mischievous Mount
- 7. From Midnight to Moonlight
- 8. Natural Camouflage
- 9. From Red to Ruddy
- 10. Black Stockings
- 11. Speckled and Freckled
- 12. Aging Gracefully
- 13. From Light Bay to Rose Gray
- 14. A Storybook Stallion
- 15. Froclicking Through the Flowers
- 16. Galloping in Gray
- 17. Rosy Cheeks
- Final Thoughts
These three gray geldings demonstrate the striking range of patterns and shades possible in smoky-colored coats. From left to right, the coat types are pure white gray, dapple gray, and steel gray.
2. Dashingly Dappled
While dappling isn’t exclusive to gray horses, it is the coat color where this pattern most commonly appears. This lovely lady has steel gray freckling that contrasts beautifully against her pearly white base coat.
3. An Agile Andalusian
This fleet-footed steed still has dark-pigmented patches along his haunches and legs, but most of his coat is smoky steel. Eventually, even his multicolored mane and tale will fade to ghostly white.
4. Full-Body Blush
The small stature of this blushed beauty indicates that she’s likely still a foal. Despite her young age, her natural bay coat has already faded to pink-tinted rose gray. Even her coppery mane is showing signs of depigmentation at the roots.
5. Growing Into His Colors
Mitico, an Iberian, still has deep, richly pigmented patches along his legs and mane. The signs of graying are most evident on his shoulders and withers, where the once-black coat is starting to dapple.
6. A Mischievous Mount
Most humans dread the thought of going gray while they’re still young, but not this cheeky Thoroughbred. Instead of his fading coat ruining his good mood, he’s embracing his new red-tinted dapples with a haylarious sense of humor.
7. From Midnight to Moonlight
Ironically, this stately steed’s name is Midnight Black despite his now-milky coat freckled with splotches of iron gray. It must have been quite a surprise for his owners when the inky foal began his sudden color shift.
8. Natural Camouflage
Unfortunately, gray horses are more prone to melanoma than their darker-coated counterparts because the light colors don’t protect them as well against UV rays. However, one benefit is that wild mustangs in snowy states like Colorado have better winter camouflage to protect themselves from predators.
9. From Red to Ruddy
In the decade between Sisco’s “gotcha” day and this photo, the stallion has lost most of his color to depigmentation. His abundant facial freckles betray his reddish-brown birth color, but it’s quite a shock that it’s even the same horse.
10. Black Stockings
When gray horses are still foals, their legs are often much darker than the rest of their body. Because of pigment density below the knee, they take longer to lose their color.
The contrasting colors can give a younger horse the appearance of wearing stockings, as seen in this misty-coated majesty.
11. Speckled and Freckled
At 25 years old, most of Sky’s bay coat has faded to white. You can still see hints of her chestnut coloration from her younger years in the smattering of speckles that adorn her pearly pelt.
12. Aging Gracefully
In a breathtaking example of how much gray horses can lighten over time, this horse has nearly achieved Shadowfax levels of paleness. She’s maintaining the softest tints of steel gray at the roots of her luxuriously wavy mane.
13. From Light Bay to Rose Gray
While it’s not always easy to figure out what color gray horses were at birth, it’s clear by the lingering black points and rose gray dapples on her haunches that this Lusitano was once a light bay beauty.
14. A Storybook Stallion
Loki’s rose gray coat is eye-catching because it lacks the common dappling seen during depigmentation. Instead, thanks to his light pink coat from mane to tail, he looks like a fairytale steed or a hornless unicorn.
15. Froclicking Through the Flowers
Furiosa is an Andalusian whose black coat has shifted into a gray dapple. His barrel and back are fading faster than his forequarters, which still have larger splotches of color. Even his mane is transitioning in phases, with steel gray and white sections blending together.
16. Galloping in Gray
Arabians are regaled for their athletic abilities and endurance in dressage competitions, exemplified by this steel gray steed’s excited galloping. While it would appear that she’s an older horse, given her nearly pure white coat, she hasn’t lost a bit of her equestrian enthusiasm.
17. Rosy Cheeks
In another example of how light bay horses slowly transition to rose gray, this gorgeous mare’s face has gone nearly white except for her cheeks. Along her neck, there are also small patches where the lighter-colored hairs are starting to mix into the auburn coat.
After seeing so many gorgeous gray horses, you might wonder whether white horses are simply steel-coated stallions of a certain age.
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Here’s a parting tip to help you tell the difference:
While gray horses can turn almost perfectly white once they reach their twilight years, they are distinctive from “true” white horses, which completely lack pigmentation from birth.
The missing pigment in their genes also affects their skin. Rather than the darker flesh of a gray horse, they will have pink skin, which is most distinguishable on their noses, ears, and around the eyes.