What Are Roan Horses? The Color They’re Born & More

Many people wonder, what are roan horses anyway? What makes a horse roan? And what kinds of roan horses are there? Having friends with beautiful roan horses made me wonder the same things about them as well.

What are Roan Horses?

Roan horses are a color of a horse, not a breed of horse which may confuse some people.

Roan horses have a coat that consists of a base color and white hairs that are evenly distributed across their bodies. Their mane and tails may have some white hairs as well. What is typically seen in roan horses is that their head and legs remain the base color of their coat and don’t include the same mix of hairs that the rest of the body carries.

What some people don’t know is that there are several different colors of roan horses from the red roan to the blue roan and everything in between. In America there is even an association dedicated to the coat color!

Roan Horse Colors:

The Blue Roan

Blue roan horses are of the rarest coat colors seen on horses and one of the least commonly found in the roan horse world. (Also one of the most beautiful). These horses have a black head, black legs, and a black mane and tail.

Blue roans have a black base coat. This means that the hairs in their coat will be black and white to give them their coloring. Together the black and white hairs create a grey/blue color. This is where that unique blueish tinge in their coat comes from.

Fun Fact: Because the blue roan has a black base coat, any nicks, scars, and scratches they get over a lifetime will show up as black on their coat and won’t fade back into roan. (This goes for any roan horse but is most noticeable on the blue roan)

The Red Roan

The red roan horse is definitely a beautiful animal. Often times, these horses appear pink in color due to the red and white hairs they have in their coat.

These horses have a reddish colored head, mane, tail, and legs while the rest of their body has a pink hue to it. The base coat color of this roan is chestnut. This color is actually one of the most commonly seen in roan horses as chestnut horses are seen in nearly every breed of horse.

Fun Fact: Red roans used to be called strawberry roans. The American Roan Horse Association changed this back in 1999 and turned the name ‘strawberry roan’ into a term to describe red roans that appeared pink in color.

The Bay Roan

The bay roan is very unique when it comes to a horse’s coat color. The mane, tail, and legs are all black but the face is a brown color. The base coat color of this horse is bay which would be a brown coat and a black mane and tail.

With these horses, if the bay color they have is more red, can appear to be pink. If the bay color they have is more black, they can appear to be more blue.

Fun Fact: Bay roans were once known as red roans but this was changed by the American Roan Horse Association in 1999.

The Palomino Roan

The palomino roan is a very unique color combination that is rarely seen, even among roans. This coat color is truly amazing as the palomino color itself actually stems from a genetic mutation or a creme color gene.

Like other roans, the base coat color, in this case palomino, will be mixed with white hairs to give the horse that overall roan look.

Overall, the palomino roan will typically have a golden head, golden legs, and a white mane and tail with a golden/white roan body.

Fun fact: Most Palomino roans are Quarter Horses

What Color are Roan Horses Born as?

Believe it or not, roan horses are not born roan. They are actually born a solid color.

Blue roans are born black, which is why they have a base coat color of black.

For red roans, the horses are born chestnut and have a reddish-chestnut base color.

When it comes to bay roans, these horses are born bay and will keep bay as their base color.

For the Palomino roan, the horses are born a pale gold/yellow color and grow more gold and more roan as they age.

The white hairs prevalent in the roan coat color begin to come in on and around the horse’s hips around the age of two months old. As they get older, white hairs will continue to appear until they are completely roan all over. Every horse is different and the roan pattern they get will be unique to each horse. One horse will not turn completely roan at the same time as another horse, and some may take longer to become that way.

Horse Breeds that Roan Naturally Occurs in

Even though there is a roan horse association in the USA, it doesn’t mean that roan is a breed. Roan horses are merely a color that some horses can have through having certain genetics. Roan horses are seen through out many different horse breeds from warmbloods to drafts.

Quarter Horse

Quarter horses are the most common breed to carry roan horses. It also is one of the breeds where you can register a roan horse as a pure quarter horse regardless of the color. Quarter horses can be any of the roan color types including palomino, blue, red, and bay roans.


Belgian horses are a draft horse which is a coldblooded horse breed. This massive horse is usually found with a solid bay or solid chestnut coat color, but it is also commonly found in either a bay roan or a red roan.

Welsh Pony

Welsh ponies are a popular riding pony among children. These ponies can be found in any color including any type of roan. They cannot, however, be pinto.

Peruvian Paso

The Peruvian Paso is known for its unique gaits and natural movements. This horse not only has great and unique movements that catch the eye, but it also can come in all solid colors as well as all the roan coat colors.

Paint Horse

The paint horse can come in a variety of colors as long as there are patches involved in their coat pattern. Roan paint horses are uncommon but can be found in the world of paint horses. Roan paint horses can be white/grey with roan patches, or roan with white/grey patches. This horse is very beautiful and unique to look at.

Horses that Can’t be Registered as Purebred When Roan:

The Arabian

Although the Arabian would make a beautiful roan horse, they cannot be registered as a purebred with that coat color. Arabians, to be considered a purebred animal, must have a solid colored coat. Even a horse that is pinto in appearance can’t be registered as a purebred Arabian.

Even though a horse can’t be registered as a purebred Arabian when they’re roan, Rabicano horses can be registered as pure Arabs. The Rabicano gene is expressed in its most minimal form with a little bit of white hairs at the base of the tail. The difference between Rabicano horses and roan horses is the fact that Rabicano horses have white hairs in a specific location on their body while roan horses have white hairs throughout their entire coat.

The Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred is a horse breed used in several different disciplines, but is most widely known as a racehorse. Thoroughbreds can only come in solid coat colors. No spotting, patches, roaning, or other unique coat marker is allowed on the horses body besides standard white facial and leg markings.

If a thoroughbred has a roan coat then it can’t be considered a purebred as the roan color had to have come from another breed.

FAQ’s on Roan Horses

Can I register a roan horse regardless of the breed?

You can register any true roan with the American Roan Horse Association. However, you can’t always register a roan with the breed it is, for example, you can’t register a roan thoroughbred as a purebred because that color is not native to the breed. This goes for Arabians as well.

Are roan horses expensive?

This question can be answered as yes or no. Typically when looking at horses, the animal’s conformation, soundness, movement, ability, and stamina, is a lot more important than it’s coat color.

However, if you have a true champion in the ring with a stunning roan coat, that horse is going to be worth more as it catches the judge’s eye over a plain solid color horse. Stud fees for that horse (if it is a stallion) could be increased because not only does the horse have the ability, but it’s also beautiful and unique.

What horse breed has the most roans?

Quarter horses are the horse breed that carry the most amount of roans. About 50% of roans are actually quarter horses.

What causes horses to be roan?

Roan horses carry a specific gene that affects the spread of melanocytes causing different and unique coat patterns.

Scientists also know that the KIT gene is partly responsible for the roan coloration of some horse’s coats, but the exact cause is unclear.

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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