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What two colors make a palomino?

A palomino horse has a distinctive golden coat color that many horse enthusiasts find beautiful. But what exactly causes this golden hue? The palomino color is produced by a combination of two different coat colors – chestnut and cremello. By understanding the genetics behind these two coat colors and how they interact, we can unravel the mystery of what makes a palomino’s coat so unique. In this article, we’ll look at the genetics of horse coat colors, examine the colors that make up a palomino’s coat, and learn why this mix results in such a striking golden hue.

Genetics of Horse Coat Colors

A horse’s coat color is determined by its genetic makeup. Here are some key things to know about horse coat color genetics:

  • Horses have two color genes that determine the base coat color.
  • The two main genes are the Extension gene and the Agouti gene.
  • The Extension gene controls the production of red and black pigment.
  • The Agouti gene controls the distribution of black pigment across the body.
  • Different variants of these genes lead to different base coat colors in horses.

The two main genetic variants that interact to produce the palomino coat are:

  • Chestnut: Produced by the genetic variant “ee” on the Extension gene. This results in a red coat with no black hairs.
  • Cremello: Produced by the genetic variant “CrCr” on the Extension gene and “aa” on the Agouti gene. This dilutes red pigment to produce a light cream coat.

Let’s look closer at these two coat colors and how they create the palomino hue.

Chestnut Coat Color

The chestnut coat color is the base red coat color found in palominos. Here are some key facts about chestnut horse coats:

  • Produced by two recessive alleles (“ee”) of the Extension gene.
  • Unable to produce black pigment due to this genetic variant.
  • Coat appears reddish-orange to dark red in color.
  • Mane, tail, and legs will be the same shade as the coat.
  • No black points on the legs, mane, or tail.

This coat color is caused by a recessive trait, meaning a horse needs to inherit two copies of the “e” allele to display chestnut coloring. The dominance hierarchy of the Extension gene is:

E > e
Black (E) is dominant over red (e)

If a horse inherits at least one E allele, it will physically display black pigment in its coat, even if it also has an e allele. Only inheritance of two e alleles will result in a completely red chestnut coat.

Common Genetic Variants for Chestnut

There are a couple common genetic variants that produce chestnut coloring:

Genetic Variant Appearance
ee Chestnut – Bright reddish coat, may also appear orange or dark red.
ee aa Sorrel – Same genetics as chestnut but with a lighter, orangey red coat.

As we can see, a homozygous pair of e alleles on the Extension gene is what creates this solid red coat color in horses. Next let’s look at how the cremello dilution modifies this.

Cremello Coat Color

The other main component in a palomino coat is the cremello color. Here are some key facts about cremello:

  • Produced by two CR alleles on the Extension gene and two a alleles on the Agouti gene.
  • Causes a drastic dilution of red pigment into a light tan or cream.
  • Also dilutes black pigment to a faded grayish color.
  • Skin and hooves may also be pinkish.
  • Eyes are blue.
  • Mane, tail, and coat are all light cream colored.

Genetically, cremello is the result of two diluting factors – CR on Extension and aa on Agouti – together creating an extreme dilution on both red and black pigment.

Effects of the Cremello Genetic Variants

Let’s look closer at what each cremello variant does:

Gene Variant Effect
Extension CR Drastically dilutes production of red pigment into light tan/cream.
Agouti aa Restricts black pigment to small points across body, diluting it to gray.

Together these create a horse with a light cream coat, grayish black points, blue eyes, and pink skin/hooves – the cremello.

What Makes a Palomino?

Now that we’ve looked at the chestnut and cremello coat colors separately, let’s examine how they combine to form the palomino:

  • A palomino must inherit one chestnut (e) allele and one cremello (CR) allele from the Extension gene.
  • The Agouti gene must be “aa” to allow the cremello dilution to occur.
  • This combination dilutes the chestnut base coat into the golden palomino hue.
  • Mane, tail, and legs will be lighter than body coat.
  • May have white markings on face and legs.

The key combination is one e allele contributing the chestnut base color and one CR allele contributing the cremello dilution factor.

Palomino Genetic Makeup:

Gene Alleles
Extension e Cr
Agouti aa

This genetic recipe – (e Cr) for Extension and aa for Agouti – is what creates the uniquely golden tone of a palomino horse’s coat.

The Palomino’s Golden Sheen

Now let’s take a closer look at what exactly happens when the chestnut and cremello factors meet in a palomino coat:

  • The e allele produces a rich red base coat (the chestnut contribution).
  • The Cr allele from cremello acts to dilute and lighten this red into gold.
  • The aa Agouti gene helps restrict black pigment to just the mane, tail, and legs.
  • This leaves the golden coat as the standout color against lighter points.

Here’s a visual summary of how the two colors mix:

Chestnut (e) Cremello (Cr) Palomino (e Cr)
Rich red coat Light cream coat Golden coat
No black points Grayish black points Lighter mane, tail, legs

The cremello dilution takes the chestnut red and turns it into a stunning golden color. This unique interaction is what creates the palomino’s signature sheen.

Notable Features of Palominos

In addition to their golden coat, palominos often have some other distinguishing features that result from their genetic makeup:

White Markings

Many palominos have white markings on the face, legs, and underside. These are caused by the Sabino and Dominant White gene variants that create random white spotting. Leg markings are especially common.

Flaxen Mane and Tail

The mane and tail are lighter and brighter than the body coat. This flaxen color results from the cremello dilution affecting these black-pigmented areas.

Dark Gold Legs

The legs may retain more of the deep reddish tone from the chestnut base color. This creates a rich gold coloring on the lower legs.

Speckled Skin

Pink speckled skin is often seen under white markings. This is caused by the cremello dilution. Areas with pigment will be dark.

Blue Eyes

Palominos can inherit blue eyes from their cremello genetics. This is not always the case, as darker eye colors are also possible.

So in summary, palominos exhibit golden coats, flaxen manes and tails, dark gold legs, white markings, and sometimes blue eyes. These characteristics reflect their unique genetic makeup.

Breeds With Palomino Coats

While any horse breed can produce palominos if the genetic factors are present, some breeds are especially associated with this colorful coat:

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse breed has many palominos, particularly in the stock horse lines where the color is prized. Palomino Quarter Horses are popular for both ranch work and competitive events.

American Saddlebred

Golden palominos stand out in Saddlebred exhibition and in the show ring. The lighter coat contrasted with the dark mane and tail is eye-catching.

Tennessee Walking Horse

Some lines of Tennessee Walkers produce palomino foals. They are featured in shows and are popular riding horses.

Morgan Horse

The palomino coat appears among Morgan Horses and can be striking combined with the breed’s classic profile. Morgans with flaxen manes and tails are particularly prized.

While most common in these breeds, palominos can appear in almost any breed since the necessary genetics can be present. Even Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Warmbloods occasionally throw palomino foals.

Value and Use of Palomino Horses

What makes palominos so prized in parts of the equine world? Here are some factors that contribute to their popularity:

  • Unique golden coat color catches attention in the show ring.
  • Color is linked to heritage and tradition in breeds like the Quarter Horse.
  • Some believe palominos have a particularly good temperament.
  • Light coat paired with dark points is very attractive.
  • The rare cream dilution stands out in breeds where base colors are common.

In breeds like Quarter Horses, Morgans, and Saddlebreds, pale palominos are highly valued as show horses and command very high prices.

Popular uses for palomino horses include:

  • Show horses – Conformation and competition
  • Ranch work – Cattle, roping, cutting
  • Pleasure riding – Trail, horseback riding
  • Driving – Carriage pulling, parades, shows
  • Competition – Western events, saddle seat

Their attractive coat and good nature make palominos excellent all-around using horses as well as show animals.


The palomino’s stunning golden coat is the result of a precise genetic combination – one allele for chestnut plus one allele for cremello. This delicate interaction between two very different coat colors produces the unique golden sheen that makes palominos so distinctive. These attractive horses combine their flashy good looks with versatility and a willing temperament, making them cherished across several breeds. So while the genetics behind palomino coloring are complicated, the appeal of these “golden” horses is simple – their gleaming coats make them truly stand out!