Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

July/August 2006

Great Gaits

by: Barbara Weatherwax


Spotted Mountain Horses

The “Sports Models” of the Mountain Horse Family


Part 1  (Part 2, September/October Issue)


Spotted horses have been a sought after commodity and source of fascination since before recorded history. Twenty thousand years ago, cave-dwellers scratched out pictures of spotted horses on their walls. Spotted markings appeared throughout the centuries for the purpose of camouflage. Spots, in fact, may have been the original markings on horses. Having a coat that blends into the background is an added advantage, since the horse depends on alertness and speed for survival. A spotted horse can conceal itself in the shadows of foliaged landscape. Zebras and giraffes are other examples of animals who benefit from this type of “natural protection.”

Pictures and statuary in the tombs of ancient Egypt record spotted horses as early as 1600 B.C. They were also depicted in the early artwork of China, Tibet and India. The Romans preferred spotted horses for their parades and pageantry. Spotted horses found their way to the new world when the Icelandic ponies liberated themselves from the Viking ships that crashed on the shorelines of the North American continent. These little horses had a natural soft gait and were often spotted. As war horses, they were exceptionally strong and had great stamina.

Spotted horses are clearly a part of the gene pool of the Mountain Horses. We are reminded of that when we see the recent birth of twins born in May of this year (2006) to two solid parents. One foal was solid – but one was spotted.

Knowing what terminology to use to describe individual spotted horses can be a bit of a challenge. I decided it was time to tackle the subject with full gusto. My drawings show the two main categories of color: overo and tobiano. The following are some common terms used to describe the multi-colored coats of our Spotted Mountain Horses.


TOBIANO is a color pattern created by a dominant color gene. The color pattern must be visible for the gene to be present. The white area starts on the back and spreads downward in a regular or clearly marked pattern. The head is usually a solid color, often with a star or snip or small blaze. The legs are usually white below the knees. For a tobiano foal to be produced, at least one parent must possess the tobiano gene.

OVERO is a color pattern created by a recessive color gene. To produce an overo foal, both parents must possess the overo gene; however, they need not display the overo coat pattern. The white areas start on the belly and extend upward. The legs are usually dark and the head is usually white. There are three face patterns that are frequently found in an overo colored horse; bonnet face, apron face, and medicine hat.

The BONNET FACE has colored ears and eyes. It gets its name because it looks as if a bonnet were tied onto the horse’s head. The horse is frequently white-bodied or has little or no color on the body.

The APRON FACE has colored ears and color around the jaw. It looks as if a large white apron were tied around the horse’s head. Both upper and lower lips are white.

The MEDICINE HAT has colored ears, and color on top of the horse’s head, as if it were fitted with a skull cap. There is usually color around the eyes, chest, flank and base of tail.

SABINO is a term describing a speckled pattern. This horse will have a lot of white on the face. Unless it is a heavily marked horse there is not, usually, white over the back. Any white appearing on the legs, flanks, neck, underbelly, jaw and throat-latch are merely patches, flecks and wisps. The hairs are roaned where the white blends into the colored area. Sabino is sometimes confused with overo, but they are genetically and visually different. Sabino is a dominant gene. Overo, Sabino and roan are independent genetic patterns.

There are several terms associated with the Spotted Mountain Horse which are useful to know. Stay for the Sept/Oct issue when I will go into more details about these terms and the distinctive and colorful patterns associated with them.