The roan horse’s flashy and stunning colour is admired throughout the world. Roan horses can appear in every traditional colour, from bay to chestnut and grey. Unique and wonderful in their appearance, their speckled coat stands out in any crowd and turns heads.
The roan gene is essentially a white overlay on a solid base colour, such as chestnut or bay. Roan is easier seen on darker colours, due to the contrast of the white hairs over the surface. So only the head and legs have a solid colour. Roans are undeniably beautiful and a wonder to behold, prized by equine enthusiasts all over the world for their captivating and charming appearance. Read on for more fascinating information about the roan horse pattern.
Defining the Roan Gene
Roan is categorized by its base colour. For example, roan horses are referred to as bay roan, blue roan (black coat), red roan (chestnut), strawberry roan, and so on. Horses that possess the roan gene but are light in colour can be hard to define, such as a palomino or a grey horse. In this case, roan can often be misunderstood as grey because of similar colouring.
The roan gene is a dominant gene. This means that at least the dam or the sire must be roan for the foal to be produced as roan. Roan foals will only begin to show their roan colouring when their hair sheds. And as they mature the colour will darken and lighten depending on the season. However, unlike many grey horses, the colour doesn’t progressively lighten with maturity.
Blue roan horses are often mistaken as grey horses, seen to be similar to the untrained eye. However, blue roan horses are actually black with roan colouring over the top of their coats, except for the head and legs. To confuse things even more, grey horses are born black, chestnut, or bay and gradually turn grey. And that is why many roans can commonly be mistaken for grey horses in their early stages.
Fun Fact: Roan coloured horses are desired by many horse owners, because they are unique in many ways. Unlike other horses that are solid in colour, when a roan has a scar, the hair will grow back solid rather than white or roan.
History of the Roan Horse
Since roan is a colour and not a breed, the origins of the gene are unknown. However, the roan horse has been name-dropped throughout history and even associated with royalty. King Richard III of England was depicted riding the famous steed named Roan Barbary in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Many academics over the years have asserted that Shakespeare was fond of roan horses, as he mentions many of them in his works.
Which Breeds Produce Roan Coats?
There are a variety of breeds that commonly produce roan coats. For example: many European draft horses, British ponies, and North American breeds such as the Paint Horse, Quarter Horse, and Mustang. Breeds that exclusively never produce roans include the Arabian Horse, the Suffolk Punch, the Haflinger, and more.
Roan Lookalikes: Don’t Be Fooled
A few horse coats are often mistaken for a roan, because the colour is incredibly similar. Sabino horses are one example of these. The colouring of Sabino horses appears to be roan, although they do not possess the gene for it. A Sabino horse’s colour can either be discreet or very eye-catching. And when Sabino horses' colour is fully expressed, they look very much like a true roan. The roan gene does not exist in pure Arabian horses, so Sabino Arab bred horses are often mistaken for roan.
The Appaloosa may also be mistaken for a roan if the white hair is predominantly speckled on the body rather than spotted all over. The Jockey Club, who register Thoroughbred horses, define horses as "grey or roan," even though a roan was not registered officially until 2000, when Lilac Hill was foaled.
Protecting and Promoting Roan Horses
The American Roan Horse Association was established to define and promote the ownership of roan horses. Today, there are many showing and competing platforms to celebrate roan colouring and promote the breeding of roans of several variations.
Did you learn something new about roans? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Anna Wilson