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Understanding Equine Coat Colors: Chestnuts

April 28, 2023
Understanding Equine Coat Colors: Chestnuts

Chestnuts are one of the three “base” colors that all horse coat colors and patterns stem from. As opposed to bays and black horses, chestnuts don’t carry the allele known as the “black factor” and instead carry two copies of the “red factor” allele. These extension genes affect the way that horse’s coat colors are expressed, then are further modified by dilution and pattern genes. There are a myriad of ways that a chestnut base coat can be enriched with unique traits, but this article will focus on the difference between shades and colors of chestnut, rather than the patterns that they might have.

Red Chestnut

Sometimes called a “sorrel”, red chestnuts are classic red heads. With mane, tail, and coat matching in a shiny, bright red color, these horses are beauties!

Liver Chestnut

Liver chestnuts are darker than the other shades of chestnut. Sometimes, their coats are so dark that they are even mistaken for bays, but the key difference is that their manes and tails are the same shade of brown as the rest of their bodies instead of black.


Sandy Chestnut

As opposed to the darker liver chestnuts, these horses are lighter than red chestnuts. Also known as “light chestnuts”, these horses are sometimes light enough to be mistaken for palominos. Sandy chestnut is more of a strawberry blonde than the more golden blonde of a palomino coat.

Flaxen Chestnut

Flaxen chestnuts are the variation with a mane and tail that don’t match their coat color. These horses are actually genetically different from the other chestnuts with an inherited gene that creates a blonde mane and tail on a red chestnut body. The flaxen allele doesn’t affect black manes or tails, only chestnuts, so bays and black horses won’t show flaxen characteristics even if they carry the gene.

Chestnuts are known to be “hot” and spunky, and whether you believe it’s true or not, everyone can agree that chestnut horses are flashy with their unique and stunning color!