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The Patterns / Markings of Spotted Equines

Several patterns of white hair occur on horses. Each one will be described by the appropriate pattern term that is accepted by the ISHR Association. These are the most complete and accurate variations that are used by this registry.

"ASYMMETRICAL" white patches are typical of Paints/Pintos, and consist of irregular patches of white on any base color.

"SYMMETRICAL" white patches are typical of Appaloosas and POAs. Several different patterns fall into these groups, each is a separate and distinct pattern. (On some Appaloosa's the patterns can be combined and grouped to form unusual pattern types).


Patchwork Paint - Appaloosa - Pintaloosa Patterns


TOBIANO (toe-bee-ah-no): is the most common type of white spotting seen on horses in the U.S. The white areas usually have a distinct, sharp edge to them. The back is usually crossed at some point by a white patch. All four lower legs are usually white, the head is usually colored with markings common on unspotted horses and the eyes, as a rules, are not blue. A tobiano can range from very little white to a horse that is largely white. (usually the head is colored and the body is white with very little color patches)

TOVERO (toe-vah-roh): is not a common pattern, but is a combination of spotting of that of both the tobiano and overo patches. Usually the head has a lot of white, while the body has the more distinct tobiano patches.

OVERO (oh-vah-roh): pattern is less common than the tobiano. The white ares usually display more ragged edges than do the tobiano spots. It is rare for white to extend onto the back. The head is usually marked extensively with white and the blue eyes are more common. the white patches commonly occur on the sides, neck and/or belly. The white pattern is usually horizontal as opposed to the tobiano pattern, which is more vertically arranged. Overos often have one or more colored feet. (as seen in the above picture) Overos are rarely all white, most of the white foals die because of intestinal malfunctions a few days after birth. (this is called "fatal white")

SABINO (sah-bee-no): is a more rare pattern. Usually this is not identified as a separate pattern but is lumped with overo. It is a distinct pattern and sometimes called a "Flecked Roan". On some horses they are very distinct and sharp, but others may only have a flecking of small spots of white on the background color. Many horses will have both flecks and patches. The head will usually have extensive white and it is common for the upper lip to be pigmented. The legs are usually white, and the patches generally cover the belly. The white displayed takes the form of flecks and patches of white on the body in patterns similar to the overo pattern but is much more ragged and irregular. Exceedingly white sabinos maintain colored ears, a chest patch and maybe a colored patch on the flank and base of tail.

RABICANO (rah-bee-cah-no): is a pattern that occurs when a few white hairs are confined to the flank and the base of the tail. Extensively marked horses have a pattern of white hairs that seems to extend out from the flank as well as numberous white hairs at the base of the tail. Some extensively marked equines are confused with this being a "roan", but close observation can determine if the pattern is distinct from the usual roan pattern. (the head, chest, legs will not have roaning if a Rabicano - a "Roan" horse will have white hairs over the entire body). ("FROSTY" is a rare pattern that is similar to a Rabicano, but the white hairs can occur down the back of the horse, over the pelvic bones and over other bony prominences on the body, such as the hocks.) ("SPLASHED WHITE" is a pattern that occurs in some European breeds. The edges of the white areas are crisp and distinct like tobiano spots, but the head is largely white, and varying extents of the belly are white. The eyes are commonly blue. Extensively marked horses resemble a "Tovero")


BLANKET (spotted solid): blankets of white vary in extent from small ones situated over the croup and hips of the horse to larger ones covering most of the body. Some blankets have roan edges, blending into the colored areas. Other blankets are solid white and sharply defined, and still others blend into the colored areas with flecks of white hairs. Many blankets show characteristics of all three and is difficult to cleanly separate the types. (roan, solid, or flecked)

LEOPARD (patterned-unpatterned-few spot): is used for horses that are all white, or that have extensive blankets, with colored spots on the white. These spots can vary in size. With the "Patterned Leopard", the spots appear to flow out from the flank and over the body of the horse. The "Unpatterned Leopard" the spots tend to be rounder and do not appear to flow out of the flank, but seem to be randomly scattered over the body. A "Few Spot Leopard" is almost white but retains a few spots as well as areas of colored skin. (as seen in the above picture)

VARNISH ROAN: also referred to as "marble" is a pattern of white that varies from a simple roan blanket to white hairs dispersed over the whole horse. It differs from the usual pattern of roan in that the head has white hairs and the colored hairs are concentrated over the bony prominences (facial bones, withers, shoulders, knees, stifles, and pelvic bones). These darker areas are called "Varnish Marks". This pattern will likely change with the age of the horse, since many are born solid and develop this pattern later in life.

SNOWFLAKE (speckled): pattern is one that varies with the age of the horse. It begins with small spots that grow into the coat of a colored horse. The white spots can increase in number as the horse ages until the pattern stabilizes at some point. The more advanced pattern is then called "speckled", representing an end point of the "snowflake" pattern and not a completely separate pattern. (some speckled horses can be confused with "flea-bitten")

MOTTLED: refers to small points of white on the muzzle, on the genitalia and around the eyes. Mottling can occur over the entire body in a pattern that does not fit into any other pattern of white.


The "Pintaloosa" has the characteristic spotting of both the Tobiano pattern of the paint/pinto and the scattered spots of an Appaloosa.
The Pintaloosa

Generally, as a rule, the Pintaloosa will be distinct in both types of spotting. The larger patches resembling a Tobiano and the smaller spots resembling the spotting of an Appaloosa, usually on the rump and/or sides. (they can also have the tobiano pattern with the typical blanket of an Appaloosa) The "Pintaloosa" is close to becoming a new type of "breed" in the spotted horse world.



The ISHR was founded in 1990 as a color registry for all kinds / types / breeds of spotted horses, ponies, miniatures and is non profit.

The distinctive colors and pattern markings are what is essential and unlike other registries, proof of bloodline or heritage is not a requirement for registration. Drafts to miniatures - pureblood to grade. (sorry, mules/donkeys not accepted)

Combinations of different "types" of breeds, mixed with the rainbow of color patterns, results in a special type of horse which is truely a great treasure. More people are seeking the recognition and prestige that these colorful horses possess by registering them with this unique registry and to be accepted as a true spotted horse based on the merits of the pattern markings and colors.

This article is courtesy of the International Spotted Horse Registry Association.
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