Page Title
Classic Roan
True Roan

When we say a horse is a Classic or True Roan we mean that they have a unique coat
color pattern.  The base color of a horse can be black, red,  or any other color but
presents with an even  blend of white hairs in specific areas.  The head, legs, tail and
mane are not affected in the same way that the body of the classic roan is, the points do
not get the even blend of white hairs thus resulting in the contrast of color .  The outcome
of the classic roan gene pattern is a pink or blue appearance on a black or red bodied

However, red and black horses are not the only color on the  palette .  The classic roan
pattern also works on horses that have been modified by other genes.  The classic roan
pattern can change a horse with the agouti or bay gene to a bay roan.  The horse will
appear bay, but have a even roan pattern on all but the points.  The chocolate or silver
gene can also be present and will also be changed in all areas but the points.  
In all cases, the classic roan gene is a pattern which alters the appearance of the horses
color in this patterned way. It does not restrict other color modifiers from being present so
interesting combinations can occur that result in multiple colors.  The exception is when a
classic roan gene co-exist with the gray gene.  The gray gene  will eventually fade the non-
roan areas so as the years pass,  gray modifies the points, so eventually the gray roan
will  to fade or bleach the  non -roan points resulting in a gray horse with out the points.

How do you Get a Roan?
The Classic Roan pattern must be passed from another classic roan.  It does not hide a
generation.  One parent must be a roan.  If you breed a non-roan to a roan you have a
50/50 chance of having  roan off-spring, if the roan parent has only one copy of the gene.  
If you breed a roan to a roan then you have a 75 percent chance of a roan if each parent
has only one roan gene.  If you breed a homozygous roan to any color you have a 100%
chance of a roan.  

Is It A Roan?
The classic roan gene is present at birth, like the grey you may not see it initially and think
that you do not have the pattern present.  You must look closely, especially when colts are
born in the fall to see white hairs scattered in the base coat.  When you look at the hips
and brush  the hair with the palm and heel of your hand forward you see hairs that are
white AT THE BASE OF THE HAIR SHAFT.  In the example below this colt had 2-3 hairs
present at birth, then by day 14, 50-60 hairs, then by 3 months appeared as the picture
shows below:

Above picture shows this blue roan colt  at 2 week and 3 months old

Fair Weather Friends?

The base color of a  roan horse that is modified by the classic or true roan gene presents
with  white hairs that are  blended evenly across the horse except for the points (mane,
tail, legs, head).     In the summer, more white hairs are present, as they shed the longer
base coat.  In the winter, the base coat grows to almost hide the white.  These horses are
well adapted to climate when you consider  the affect of being a light color when it is
warm, thus reflecting the light and then dark in the winter to absorb heat. Like a butterfly
emerges from it's cocoon, the roan returns to the light color in the spring when the weather

UC Davis has located the chromosome responsible for this roan pattern as well as other
roan patterns that are separate and distinct, such as the sabino-1 gene.  Other roan
patterns exists such the rabicano roan gene ,that dusts or sprinkles white hairs on the
body and the tail, are not addressed here, just noted to clarify that there are other
separate and distinct modifiers that add white to the horses coat pattern.  Read more on
those patterns at  

The color of the horse modified with the Classic roan gene (assigned to chromosome 21 in
the KIT sequence by UC Davis) depends on the horse’s base color.

With a base color of black  add classic Rn and  it is a blue roan,
With a base color of red (sorrel or chestnut) add classic Rn and it will result in a red or
strawberry roan.  
With a base color of bay add Rn and  then it will retain the points in the base color, the
body will roan, the head remaining red such as with a blood bay.
With any base color, the white on the barrel of the horse is added and results in a modified

Above is an example of how a black and red  were modified to create a blue and red roan

Until recently it was thought that 2 copies of the roan gene  was  lethal, the theory was
that a homozygous roan could not exist!  Hintz, J.F. and VanVleck, L.D. 1979. Lethal
Dominant Roan in Horses. Journal of Heredity 70: 145-146

Thanks to research from UC Davis pioneered by Ann T. Bowling we know that a horse
can have 2 copies of the roan gene: Below see Generator's DR Blue and the first
homozygous certificate issued to a Tennessee Walking horse.  Thanks to UC Davis for
the testing and verification that the gene could be located on the TWH.

In all cases the roan modifier adds white only to the barrel of the horse-- it changes the
basic  color by adding white hairs to specific areas.  

There is no progression to the color.
Gray horses can also be roan, but will fade in time as the gray gene dilutes the pigment.
Splash marks are independent  and may result in sock, stockings and other white
markings. This does not mean the horse is not a classic roan, it means other genetic
markings are present.

Over 70 % of Grays not Blue Roans will develop melenoma or skin cancer after the age of

Foal Idenfication


The following statements are based on my observation from 19 foals, there may be
  • Foals are born the base color and 2 by weeks old or earlier have white hairs showing
    on the rump and in the flanks that can be seen by rubbing the hair forward and
    looking for white hairs  at the base of the hair shafts.

  • Foals shed to fully reveal their color and will start to go back to the base colors by the
    end of the  year , if born in the spring, then lighten up again and then darken again,
    but always have the white hairs present..
  • When colts are born in the fall, the colts longer base colored hair makes it more    
    difficult to initially see the white hairs. However, by 2 weeks old you can see the white
    hairs present in the rump

  • Some foals have several white hairs present at birth it appears more common in the
    foals born in the spring.
  • After they have shed there does not seem to be a difference in how roan they are, the
    ones showing few white hairs at birth appear the same as those that showed a lot of  
    white  hairs.

From a distance the white hairs growing under the base hair coat make them look like a
bay until they shed the longer base coat.
You can see the roan pattern in areas that have had the hair scrapped off as when the
hair returns to that area it has the blend of white and base color.
The colt in the Pictures
to the right shows the

To the right is  Amigo in
September, then again
to the far right in
December .  Below is
the same colt in the  
Spring as a yearling.
Above pictures show 3 colts; Stepper, Mack, and Amigo less then 1 week old to the left, followed by pictures to
the right at 3 months or older  (images are property of owner and are to be shared only with permission)

Below is DR Pinky at 2 days and then 2 months.  Below that is her as a yearling with her sister
Look closely, you can see white hairs in
her rump and in the scrapes on her skin.  
Notice how her head is shedding to a
darker color
Above pictures were taken at 5 months, 9
months and 11 months.  This colt was sired by
Generator's DR Blue and out of Jose's Sweet
Filly to the right is a red roan prior to shedding, She
is, as all the colts on this page, were sired by
Generator's DR Blue