Characteristics of a Palomino Horse

Palomino refers to a color, or rather a range of colors. Taken from Latin, via Spanish of the Americas, the word originally meant paleness, in soft colors like a dove. Today, the proper noun Palomino horse denotes a horse possessing a soft gold coat with a lighter mane and tail.

In order to be officially recognized as a Palomino, a horse's coat must fall somewhere in a specific range of gold colors. Some are very light cream, some are blonde, and some are as coppery as a penny. Palominos may have white markings below the knee and on the face, but nowhere else. They are popular show horses because of their vibrant coat color. Both Mr. Ed and Roy Rogers' horse Trigger were Palominos.

Palomino Genetics

Palominos are basically hybrid horses. They must have genes from both a chestnut brown parent and a cream parent. In scientific terms, they are heterozygous - their blended color comes from being influenced by both parents' genes.

In English terms, this means Palomino horse parents will not necessarily produce Palomino foals. If two Palomino parents pass on their chestnut genes, the foal is chestnut. If one parent passes on a cream gene and the other a chestnut, the foal will also be a palomino, though not necessarily exactly the same color as its parents. However, even with cream and chestnut genes, some horses come out spotted or dappled or in a range of patterns. Palomino registries will not list spotted horses, but they are still beautiful animals and popular with fanciers.

Joining the Registry

Horse fanciers often choose to have their animals listed in official registers of their breed. This documents the horse's bloodline, and is a sort of shorthand way of saying to potential buyers that a horse is certified. The biggest registry in the United States is the Palomino Horse Breeders of America. They publish a magazine, and have also written a list of over one hundred rules determining if a horse is truly Palomino.

Indeed, the rule book states clearly that a Palomino must be approximately the color of a US gold coin. At least 85 per cent of the hairs of the tail must be completely white; the other 15 per cent can be of any other color - however, the book says no dyeing is allowed. Also, a Palomino's eyes must be black, brown, or hazel.