It is very common to see horses that look like they are wearing socks. Socks can be found on cats, pigs, mice, rats, and cows also. Socks are hair on the lower leg that is colored differently than the rest of the leg. They are not cotton socks knitted by grandma. In this article, we will be discussing why some horses look like they're wearing socks.
What are socks on a horse?
The white or black hairs located on the lower part of the horse's leg, in general, is referred to as a sock. Most commonly white, horse sock can also be black. They vary in shape and size; therefore, they are an excellent way to help recognize each horse as an individual. Horse socks have different names based on how high they extend up a horse's leg. You can learn more in our article on "A Guide to Common Horse Markings."
What causes white socks on a horse?
Horse's have a base hair coat color. A Chestnut and Sorrel are the most common. Regardless of what the base color is, the color is formed by pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.
During the development of a horse, the melanocytes migrate throughout the body. The last places these cells migrate towards are the head and legs. If the melanocyte cells fail to migrate to their final location, that area will have white markings.
Specific genes have been found to influence/interfere in the migration of melanocytes. This is why white hairs can be found in all regions of a horse's body. An excellent example of this are Paint and Appaloosa Breeds.
Certain breed registries want and accept different color variations. But, breeding two horses from the same registry will not always result in a desired colored pattern. That is why there are registered paints that are solid white.
Quarter horses cannot be registered if the sock goes to high on the leg or there is too much white on the face. However, a roan can be registered. A roan horse has white hairs distributed throughout the coat.
Want to learn more about roan horses? Check out this article here on iHeartHorses.com.
Color not guaranteed!
The genetics behind the white coloring in horses can be very complicated. Here is an excellent article from UC Davis Veterinary Medicine on Equine Coat Color Genetics that shares more details should you like to read it. If two bay horses are bred together, it may not result in a bay colored foal. A genotype is the genetic makeup of a given physical trait. A test can be run to determine the color genotype of a horse to help decide which color an offspring is likely to be. But this is not conclusive, and the results may vary.