Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
by: Barbara Weatherwax
Spotted Mountain Horses
The “Sports Models” of the
Mountain Horse Family
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
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