Friday, April 11, 2014

Git Along, Old Paint

(Appearance and Breeding A-M)

The horse was as ubiquitous in the Old West as the automobile is today. Everybody who could afford one had a horse, and the affluent usually kept several. A handsome "turnout," or carriage and team, was a must when the wealthy wished to be seen out and about town, and even the lowly cowboy had a Sunday horse treasured for its fine appearance and behavior.

This will be Part 1 of a two-part column.

Alice Ann: a sorrel horse, probably a corruption of the Spanish alazan
Appaloosa, Palouse: a strain of spotted horses whose spots can be felt with the fingertips; considered to have great stamina
Apron-faced, Bald-faced: a horse with a white face and forehead
Bang-tail, Fuzz-tail, Fuzzy or Fizzy: there is a debate about whether these terms indicate a range horse, with plucked tail, or a mustang or wild horse instead
Bay: a deep rich chestnut red-brown color, usually with a black mane, tail and points (ears, muzzle and lower legs)
     Blood bay: the brown coat has a very deep red tone
     Golden bay: the brown coat has a yellowish tone
     Light bay: having a light brown coat
     Mahogany bay: the brown coat has a dark purple tone, usually sooty
     Standard bay: the coat is "flat" without a red tinge

Bayo: a faded bay or dun horse
     Bayo azafranado: a saffron color, between dun and sorrel
     Bayo blanco: a pale dun
     Bayo cebruno: a dun faded to smoky tones
     Bayo coyote, Coyote dun: a dun with a black dorsal stripe
     Bayo naranjado: a dun of an orange hue
     Bayo tigre, Gateado, Zebra Dun: a dun with stripes around the legs or on the shoulders
Black: a true black horse will have black eyes, points, hooves, and skin; check the hairs around the muzzle and lips to tell the difference between a very dark brown horse and a black one
Blaze, Stripe: an elongated white mark on a horse's forehead
Broom-tail, Broomie: a wild horse or mustang, with a long bushy tail
Buckskin: a light brown horse (colors range from cream to dark bronze) with a black mane and tail
Calico: a pinto or paint horse or, more rarely, a dappled one
California sorrel: a palomino
Canelo: a Spanish (or California) horse of a cinnamon color; a red roan
Cayuse, Kiuse: originally a wild horse of the Northwest, the term came to mean a cow horse of mustang descent, possibly an Indian pony or scrub horse
Chestnut: a horse with a red coat, with mane and tale of a similar color and no black hairs; a liver chestnut is a very dark red

Claybank: a horse of yellowish-brown color
Cold-blooded: horses of northern descent, as opposed to Arabs and Barbs; in the West, this term could mean a cow or horse lacking good breeding
Dun: a grayish-brown color; a bay of faded, dull-brown color with black mane, tail and points, frequently with a dorsal stripe; the dun horse has a reputation for endurance
Fantail: a wild horse with an ungroomed tail; the opposite of a shave-tail
Flea-bitten: a white horse with brownish-yellowish spots
Grade-horse: mustang stock crossed with quarter horse to upgrade it, thus acquiring the ability for quick starts while retaining stamina and endurance
Gray: may look white, but skin is dark and there is dark pigmentation around the eyes, ears and nose; a dapple gray is a gray horse with darker speckles
Grullo, Grulla: dark gray color like a dove; mouse or slate-colored with black points and sometimes zebra stripes on the legs and a dorsal stripe
Hot-blood: an Arab or Barb horse; a horse with breeding
Indian pony: a small, hardy animal bred or caught wild by Indians, especially a paint or pinto pony
Line-back: a horse with a dorsal stripe

Morgan: an Eastern breed descended from Justin Morgan's stallion; a strong, lively breed which crossed well with the mustang and Spanish horse
Moro: a horse of bluish cast
Mustang: a horse descended from the original Spanish stock in Mexico; mostly small and multi-colored (not to be confused with the Spanish Horse, which was bred true)


A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993
Equusite (

J.E.S. Hays


  1. I needed this, JES! Thanks so much--I always wanted a horse growing up but never got one. Love to write westerns but don't know much about horses, so these posts of yours will come in very handy!

  2. Jes,

    Good! I have several books on horse terms and breeds and it’s still complicated.


  3. I was aware of some definitions, but thank you for adding to my knowledge. It is very appreciated. Doris

  4. Very good stuff. I was raised on a farm. We had lots of animals but only one horse,a sorrel used for plowing. I find it fascinating to learn about all the various breeds.
    thanks for the post.

  5. I'm so happy this is coming in useful to fellow authors! I'm trying to post stuff that I've researched for my own stories, figuring that's the sort of thing any Western writer will need sometime.

    And Charlie -- if you notice anything I've missed by the next post, please feel free to comment and add to our knowledge!

  6. Grade as I've always known it means any horse of mixed ancestry, so this is a new one to me. Good post.

  7. Do have to add the definition of an Appaloosa is far too sparse. Many Appaloosas just have white "blankets" over their hindquarters where the spots appear, and no spots on the rest of their bodies. Those with spots over their entire body are "leopard" Appaloosas. And I have no idea where the "you can feel the spots" comes from. I've never heard of that, and while I've never owned an Appy, I know plenty of people who have, and I've never once felt their spots distinctly from the rest of their coats.

  8. A splendid article, JES. I will be referring to it a lot.


  9. Great pics! thanks for explaining. I'm always flummoxed by a horse's breed and coloring.

  10. Jim searching online I found that yes, actually you can if you feel hard. The change in pigment and texture give a distinct difference in the feel of the coat when you run your hand across an appaloosa's spots. I definitely didn't know this. Learn something new every day. Great article JES.

  11. Appies are great--strong heart, durable hooves, and sure-footed. One thing, though, is that they weren't well known east of Idaho until after Chief Joseph's fighting retreat in 1877, and even then, were quite rare. The breed wasn't established until 60 years later and is the Idaho state horse.