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How common are brindle horses?

Brindle is a coat coloring pattern in horses that is characterized by stripes or flecks of brown or black hair interspersed on a background of another color, usually chestnut or bay. While not extremely rare, brindle horses are relatively uncommon compared to solid colored horses.

Overview of Brindle Coloring in Horses

The brindle pattern in horses is produced by the interaction of two different genes – the extension gene and the chimeric gene. The extension gene controls the production of black pigment, while the chimeric gene causes the intermixing of colored and white hairs. When these two genes combine, they create the striped or flecked brindle pattern.

Horses with the brindle pattern usually have a base coat color of chestnut or bay. The brindle stripes or spots can range in color from brown to black. The extent of brindling can vary widely, from just a few faint stripes on part of the body to an almost evenly distributed speckled pattern over the entire horse.

Brindle markings are present at birth and do not change over the horse’s lifetime. However, the stripes or spots may be more difficult to discern on darker base coat colors or when the horse has a long, thick coat.

Prevalence of Brindle Coloring

Brindle is one of the rarer coat patterns seen in horses. However, precise statistics on the prevalence of brindle horses are difficult to find.

Certain horse breeds are more likely to exhibit brindle coloring. Breeds that are known to occasionally have brindle individuals include:

  • American Quarter Horse
  • Appaloosa
  • Arabian
  • Missouri Fox Trotter
  • Morgan
  • Mustang
  • Paint
  • Paso Fino
  • Standardbred
  • Tennessee Walking Horse

Even in these breeds, brindle horses only represent a very small percentage of the overall population. Among Quarter Horses, one study estimated the frequency of the brindle pattern to be about 0.01%, or 1 in 10,000 horses.

Certain lines within a breed may have a slightly higher incidence of brindle coloring if breeding selections have concentrated the necessary genes. However, the overall rarity of the trait means brindle horses cannot be reliably bred for.

Registration Policies for Brindle Horses

Whether brindle horses can be registered varies between different breed associations. Some registries prohibit the registration of brindle horses, while others accept them.

For example, neither the American Quarter Horse Association nor the Jockey Club (for Thoroughbreds) allow horses with brindle markings to be registered. However, registries such as the American Paint Horse Association, Appaloosa Horse Club, and International Buckskin Horse Association do permit brindle patterned horses to be registered if parentage can be verified.

Here are the registration policies on brindle horses for some major breed associations:

Breed Registry Brindle Registration Policy
American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Not permitted
Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) Permitted if parentage verified
Arabian Horse Association (AHA) Not permitted
American Paint Horse Association (APHA) Permitted if parentage verified
Pinto Horse Association of America (PtHA) Permitted if parentage verified
International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) Permitted if parentage verified
Pony of the Americas Club (POAC) Not permitted

The scarcity of brindle horses means that even when permitted, very few brindle individuals are actually registered in most breeds. However, the Appaloosa and Paint registries likely have the most registered brindle horses due to those breeds’ color genetics.

Genetics Behind Brindle Coloring

As mentioned previously, two different genes interact to produce the brindle pattern in horses – the extension gene and the chimeric gene.

The extension gene controls the production and distribution of black pigment. The dominant form (E) allows for black hair production, while the recessive form (e) restricts black pigment.

The wildtype version of the chimeric gene (Ch) results in an evenly colored coat. However, a mutated variant of the gene (ch) disrupts even pigment distribution, leading to the interspersing of white hairs in a colored coat.

Together, these genes result in a base coat color determined by the extension genes (usually bay or chestnut) with stripes or flecks of black pigment distributed by the action of the chimeric gene. A horse needs one copy of the mutated chimeric gene to exhibit brindling.

The brindle pattern can potentially occur on any base coat color. However, it is most visible on bay and chestnut due to the presence of black points and the lack of other modifying genes that could obscure brindling.

Unique Aspects of Brindle Coloring

In addition to their distinctive striped or flecked appearance, brindle horses have some other interesting attributes related to their unusual coat patterning:

  • The amount of brindling can vary significantly between horses, from subtle to striking.
  • Brindling is present at birth and does not change over time.
  • Both mares and stallions can display brindle coloring.
  • Brindle horses may be at increased risk for skin cancer if not protected from sun exposure.
  • The combination of genes that produce brindling likely arose from a spontaneous mutation long ago.
  • Brindle coloring is not associated with any health or performance consequences.

While not extremely common, the brindle coat pattern certainly makes for eye-catching horses with unique markings. Responsible breeding programs can occasionally produce these striking individuals while still maintaining breed integrity.

Breeding Considerations for Brindle Horses

As an uncommon recessive trait, predicting or producing brindle foals requires careful breeding decisions:

  • Since one copy of the chimeric gene mutation results in brindling, both parents must be carriers of the gene in order to potentially produce a brindle foal.
  • Outcrossing to unrelated lines can help increase the chances of introducing the brindle mutation through one parent.
  • Once potential carrier status is identified through producing a brindle foal, those lines can be selectively bred to reproduce the pattern.
  • However, since the trait is rare, extensive inbreeding is not recommended to try to make brindle foals.
  • Breeding two brindle horses together will not necessarily result in brindle offspring, since other genetics come into play.
  • The unpredictability and rarity of the brindle pattern means breeders should focus on quality and temperament rather than coat color when making pairing selections.

Those interested in responsibly producing brindle foals should work patiently through pedigree analysis, strategic outcrossing, and genetic testing for the best results over time.

Value and Uses of Brindle Horses

Brindle horses are prized by some buyers for their unique and eye-catching coloration. However, they do not otherwise differ in value, abilities, or uses compared to solid colored horses of the same breed.

Well-trained brindle horses can be successful competitors and performance animals. The brindle pattern itself does not affect a horse’s abilities or temperament.

Some potential uses for brindle horses include:

  • Ranch work and cattle handling
  • Western riding and rodeo events
  • Hunter/jumper competitions
  • Dressage
  • Eventing
  • Endurance riding
  • Trail riding and pleasure riding
  • Driving
  • Therapeutic riding programs
  • Companion animals

Their colorful coat pattern may make brindle horses especially desirable for disciplines like western riding events, parades, and demonstrations where standing out is an advantage. But they can be successful in any activity or role their conformation and temperament suits.

Famous Brindle Horses

While not extremely common, some famous and historic brindle horses have made names for themselves in various equestrian sports and industries:

  • Scamper – Brindle Appaloosa show horse who was a World Champion and National Halter Horse Association Supreme Champion in the 1960s.
  • Colonels Smokin Gun “Gunner” – AQHA stallion who descended from a line of brindle horses and became a leading sire in reining and cow horse competition.
  • OK Atom – Brindle Pinto racehorse who set track records and had a successful racing career in the 1950s despite his unusual coloring.
  • Spartan – Famous brindle Mustang stallion from the Pryor Mountain herd known for his distinctive striped coat.
  • Ten Arrows – Brindle Thoroughbred stallion born in the 1800s who descended from a line of brindle racehorses.

These exceptional brindle horses demonstrated that coat color has no relation to ability or performance. With their eye-catching striped patterns, they often drew significant attention in the show ring or racetrack.


The brindle coat pattern, while quite rare, can make for uniquely colored horses that stand out from the crowd. This unusual coloring is the result of a specific combination of genetic factors that produce stripes or flecks on a darker base coat.

Certain breeds see brindle marking more often, though even in those breeds the prevalence is quite low. Responsible selective breeding decisions can work to produce brindle foals, but the rarity and unpredictability of the trait prevent widespread production.

Brindle horses have no disadvantages compared to solid colored horses and can be successful in any discipline their conformation and temperament suits. Their distinctive look simply adds a layer of interest to an otherwise talented horse.

With careful breeding choices guided by an understanding of the underlying genetics, breeders can occasionally produce eye-catching brindle foals as part of efforts to maintain breed diversity and quality.