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Interesting Reading

Name That Color: Sorrel vs. Chestnut

article by Barbara Power

Genetically speaking chestnut and sorrel are the same color. HOWEVER, in the practical, every day world of horses, the difference in definitions and opinions surrounding these two terms is both noteworthy and confusing.

The one common factor among all factions is that both sorrel and chestnut horses exhibit some variation of the color red. Keep in mind that this red ranges all the way from a light blond-red to an orange-red to a copper-red to a dark red to the deepest dark liver-colored red. This wide range of color variations contributes to (or directly causes) the name-that-color controversy.

It is also generally accepted that neither sorrels nor chestnuts have black points (points are the mane, tail, and lower legs). A black mane and tail, with or without black leg marking, automatically places the horses in a different color bracket and into a different controversial topic (to be discussed in a separate article). Finally, the third common factor is the acceptance of the possibility of white points (mane, tail, legs) and facial markings.

Outside of these three facts, the differences are defined strictly by whatever person or discipline is being asked. Many people, including The American Quarter Horse Association, recognize two different colors, with chestnut being the darker, deeper reds and sorrel the lighter shades of red.

Others promote the two color format, but use different criteria to define the differences. They may recognize red horses with flaxen (light colored) mane and tails as sorrels, and identify all others (red horses) as chestnut. Still other people divide them into disciplines: western horses are deemed sorrels, while horses ridden English are called chestnut. And then, some people and breed registries recognize only one or the other, denouncing the need for two separate terms.

Ultimately the choice is yours. Feel free to choose your preference and either join the controversy or quietly respect the other persons right to believe differently than you do. After all, you can always silently feel sorry for the poor soul who doesnt know a sorrel from a chestnut. I guarantee, if your thinking that about them, they are thinking the same about you.

Welcome to the wonderful world of horse people and the horses that love them.


Picture by expage. Click here for more horse pictures.