When we say a horse is a Classic or True Roan we mean that they have a unique coat
color pattern. The base color of a horse can be black, red, or any other color but
presents with an even blend of white hairs in specific areas. The head, legs, tail and
mane are not affected in the same way that the body of the classic roan is, the points do
not get the even blend of white hairs thus resulting in the contrast of color . The outcome
of the classic roan gene pattern is a pink or blue appearance on a black or red bodied
However, red and black horses are not the only color on the palette . The classic roan
pattern also works on horses that have been modified by other genes. The classic roan
pattern can change a horse with the agouti or bay gene to a bay roan. The horse will
appear bay, but have a even roan pattern on all but the points. The chocolate or silver
gene can also be present and will also be changed in all areas but the points.
In all cases, the classic roan gene is a pattern which alters the appearance of the horses
color in this patterned way. It does not restrict other color modifiers from being present so
interesting combinations can occur that result in multiple colors. The exception is when a
classic roan gene co-exist with the gray gene. The gray gene will eventually fade the non-
roan areas so as the years pass, gray modifies the points, so eventually the gray roan
will to fade or bleach the non -roan points resulting in a gray horse with out the points.
How do you Get a Roan?
The Classic Roan pattern must be passed from another classic roan. It does not hide a
generation. One parent must be a roan. If you breed a non-roan to a roan you have a
50/50 chance of having roan off-spring, if the roan parent has only one copy of the gene.
If you breed a roan to a roan then you have a 75 percent chance of a roan if each parent
has only one roan gene. If you breed a homozygous roan to any color you have a 100%
chance of a roan.
Is It A Roan?
The classic roan gene is present at birth, like the grey you may not see it initially and think
that you do not have the pattern present. You must look closely, especially when colts are
born in the fall to see white hairs scattered in the base coat. When you look at the hips
and brush the hair with the palm and heel of your hand forward you see hairs that are
white AT THE BASE OF THE HAIR SHAFT. In the example below this colt had 2-3 hairs
present at birth, then by day 14, 50-60 hairs, then by 3 months appeared as the picture
Above picture shows this blue roan colt at 2 week and 3 months old
Fair Weather Friends?
The base color of a roan horse that is modified by the classic or true roan gene presents
with white hairs that are blended evenly across the horse except for the points (mane,
tail, legs, head). In the summer, more white hairs are present, as they shed the longer
base coat. In the winter, the base coat grows to almost hide the white. These horses are
well adapted to climate when you consider the affect of being a light color when it is
warm, thus reflecting the light and then dark in the winter to absorb heat. Like a butterfly
emerges from it's cocoon, the roan returns to the light color in the spring when the weather
UC Davis has located the chromosome responsible for this roan pattern as well as other
roan patterns that are separate and distinct, such as the sabino-1 gene. Other roan
patterns exists such the rabicano roan gene ,that dusts or sprinkles white hairs on the
body and the tail, are not addressed here, just noted to clarify that there are other
separate and distinct modifiers that add white to the horses coat pattern. Read more on
those patterns at horse-genetics
The color of the horse modified with the Classic roan gene (assigned to chromosome 21 in
the KIT sequence by UC Davis) depends on the horse’s base color.
With a base color of black add classic Rn and it is a blue roan,
With a base color of red (sorrel or chestnut) add classic Rn and it will result in a red or
With a base color of bay add Rn and then it will retain the points in the base color, the
body will roan, the head remaining red such as with a blood bay.
With any base color, the white on the barrel of the horse is added and results in a modified
Above is an example of how a black and red were modified to create a blue and red roan
Until recently it was thought that 2 copies of the roan gene was lethal, the theory was
that a homozygous roan could not exist! Hintz, J.F. and VanVleck, L.D. 1979. Lethal
Dominant Roan in Horses. Journal of Heredity 70: 145-146
Thanks to research from UC Davis pioneered by Ann T. Bowling we know that a horse
can have 2 copies of the roan gene: Below see Generator's DR Blue and the first
homozygous certificate issued to a Tennessee Walking horse. Thanks to UC Davis for
the testing and verification that the gene could be located on the TWH.
In all cases the roan modifier adds white only to the barrel of the horse-- it changes the
basic color by adding white hairs to specific areas.
There is no progression to the color.
Gray horses can also be roan, but will fade in time as the gray gene dilutes the pigment.
Splash marks are independent and may result in sock, stockings and other white
markings. This does not mean the horse is not a classic roan, it means other genetic
markings are present.
Over 70 % of Grays not Blue Roans will develop melenoma or skin cancer after the age of
The following statements are based on my observation from 19 foals, there may be
From a distance the white hairs growing under the base hair coat make them look like a
bay until they shed the longer base coat.
You can see the roan pattern in areas that have had the hair scrapped off as when the
hair returns to that area it has the blend of white and base color.
|The colt in the Pictures
to the right shows the
To the right is Amigo in
September, then again
to the far right in
December . Below is
the same colt in the
Spring as a yearling.
|Above pictures show 3 colts; Stepper, Mack, and Amigo less then 1 week old to the left, followed by pictures to
the right at 3 months or older (images are property of owner and are to be shared only with permission)
Below is DR Pinky at 2 days and then 2 months. Below that is her as a yearling with her sister
|Look closely, you can see white hairs in
her rump and in the scrapes on her skin.
Notice how her head is shedding to a