Blue Roan horses have a striking appearance – their base coat of black is evenly mixed with white hairs to create a steel blue look, and their darker head and lower leg portions only highlight this stunning contrast. The roan gene creates this look, but there are many horses that present a blue roan coloring without the gene, which can make the distinction quite difficult in the equine world.
A true blue roan horse breed has a black or dark grey base coat color at birth and is typically found in Draft horse and pony breeds such as the American Quarter Horse, the Welsh Pony, and the Paso Fino. Thoroughbreds and Arabian breeds have some horses resembling a blue roan, despite having none of the roan genes.
To help you identify a true blue roan horse more clearly, this brief guide will explore the genetics of blue roan horses and which breeds carry the blue roan gene. We’ll also look into the roan coloring of horses in general as well as the expected costs of a blue roan breed.
What Breed is a Blue Roan Horse?
Many of the horse breeds that originated in Europe and North America possess the blue roan gene and these include:
- American Quarter Horse – The AQH adopted the blue roan gene from its European ancestors and has evolved from numerous breeds throughout the US such as Thoroughbreds and Wild Mustangs. Originally bred for racing more than 200 years ago, American Quarter Horses now compete in equestrian sports events.
- Belgian – Belgian horses have lighter face markings and dark hindquarters and legs and are a gentle giant draft breed with brute strength and a sweet temperament. Belgian blue roans descend from the ‘Flemish horse’ of the middle ages that were often popular steeds of choice for medieval knights.
- Welsh Pony – Welsh ponies are an ancient breed used in coal mines and to pull chariots in arenas, and it’s this versatility and hardy nature that ensured their survival. This breed comes in many colors including blue roan.
- Paso Fino – Originating in Puerto Rico, Paso Fino’s are known for their smooth stride and impressive strength despite their small stature. The blue roan coloring is not as common in this breed compared with bay, brown, and chestnut varieties.
What Color are Blue Roan Horses Born?
Blue roans are normally born with a solid black or very dark grey base color and when he sheds his first coat as a foal, this reveals the blue roan coloring – an even mix of white hairs on the body as black/grey hairs. A blue roan’s coloring will not change throughout his life, though on rare occasions, blue roan foals have exhibited a reddish, chestnut-colored mane that eventually turns black.
Do Blue Roan Horses Turn White?
Yes, though not entirely. The ‘blue’ appearance is created because there are two colors in a blue roan’s coat – equal black and white hairs, and the white hairs arrive on top of their base color after their first shed. Though their coat remains a silvery blue mix of white and black, a blue roan’s head and legs typically remain dark.
How Much Does a Blue Roan Horse Cost?
Blue roan horses may cost anywhere between $800-$4,000. A blue roan’s beautiful coat coloring is desirable and may drive the price up, but more experienced equestrians would argue that color should not impact the cost of a blue roan as much as the horse’s conformation (their structure and body proportions as it relates to their athletic abilities), their pedigree and training level.
How to Breed a Blue Roan Horse?
Breeding for a blue roan horse can be difficult since the gene sequence must be just right, otherwise, a foal of solid color may be created. For example, breeding a roan with a gray horse is more likely to result in the gray gene overwhelming the roan and simply creating a plain grey horse.
Breeding a chestnut to a roan has been found to be an effective method of producing a blue roan appearance, though the foal must possess a specific combination of recessive, dominant and non-chestnut alleles (genes) in both chromosomes. To help identify the true blue roan genotype, many breeders carry out a roan genotype test to be certain.
Blue Roan Horse Genetics
Horses with roan coloring possess an odd phenomenon in their genetic make-up in which they carry two different variants of the same gene on each chromosome. Blue roans with the Heterozygous genotype carry just one dominant roan gene and carry a 50/50 chance of producing a blue roan foal.
Meanwhile, in Homozygous roans (carrying two dominant genes) one variant can mask the effects of another, making it hard to predict whether the true roan gene will be passed on.
The mutation thought to cause the roan gene is still hard to identify, making blue roan genetics quite complex. In simple terms, a horse becomes a blue roan when it has inherited a specific gene pattern from both its parents, and this is better identified with genotype testing.
Is a Blue Roan Horse Rare?
Blue roan is the rarest of the roan colors in horses, but they are not considered especially rare among all horse coloring. If blue roans are thought of as rare, this is only in the subjective sense as it relates to location – the Belgian blue roan breed, for example, is much more common in Europe than in the US.
How Many Colors of Roan Horses are There?
Blue roans are one of 3 main roan colorings in a horse’s coat color. In addition to blue, there are also red roans (this occurs in horses born with a chestnut or sorrel color base), and a bay roan (horses born with a bay/reddish-brown coat base). While these are the three main recognized roan colors, the roan gene can produce white hair coloring over any base coat, which is why there are also ‘strawberry’, ‘flaxen’, and ‘blonde’ roan varieties.