Some horses turn grey, while others will not. Just like humans, who turn grey with age, horses are also prone to this, let’s say, condition. The process is relatively simple, and it has to do with hair growth.
Contrary to what most people think, hair doesn’t grow forever. The hair follicle will, on average, grow for about 1 to 3 years, after which it will be replaced. Your body will produce new pigments to color the new hair follicle with its natural color whenever that happens.
The body will find it increasingly difficult to produce these natural pigments over the years, reaching to a point where all the reserves are depleted. With no natural pigments available, the hair will lose its color and turn grey or white.
The same process occurs in horses, with a plus for those with the Grey gene. The Grey gene horses are Grey during their lifetime – a process of selective breeding – and will experience an even more drastic Greying effect with age.
Do Horses Get Grey Hair as They Age?
Yes, horses will get Grey hair with age. It is an inevitable effect of aging, and it’s quite amazing to see it unfold over the years. The Greying effect occurs over 5 different phases:
- Phase 1 – The effect begins with the face, head, and tail. These are the first areas where the hair will begin to turn grey gradually. The main areas of interest are the upper neck, the area around the eyes and forehead, and the tip of the tail.
- Phase 2 – The facial Grey will exacerbate, becoming more visible and widespread. It will now take over the ears and spread to the mane moderately. Half of the tail may turn grey as well, as lighter shades may be visible around inner contours – elbows and flanks. Many horses will also develop mild dappling, showing subtle Grey shading.
- Phase 3 – The Greying accelerates down the neck and face and will now be also visible near ankles and tendons. The mane will follow the same pattern, while the horse’s face is almost entirely grey by now.
- Phase 4 – The horse’s general color has switched almost entirely now. It will be a lot lighter than usual, highlighting Grey patches in the starting points. You may no longer notice the dappling, as the grey is now almost uniform.
- Phase 5 – By this phase, the horse will turn completely white with only residual Grey patches around the muzzle and joints, where more skin is visible.
Naturally, not all horses will turn white. Others may retain much of their original coloring with only patches of grey here and there, especially the face.
Why do Grey Horses Fade?
The fading effect comes from gray hairs mixing with the horse’s born color, creating a fading effect. Some horses are naturally grey in the sense that their grey coloring doesn’t relate to aging. The interesting aspect here is that no horse is born that way.
All horses are born with basic, standard coat coloring, including brown, black, chestnut, bay, etc. Soon after, however, their coloring will change as the gray hair will begin to appear. This is due to the grey gene causing hair depigmentation with age.
There are, overall, two patterns of gray horses. The first one is completely white, mane and tail included – stick a horn to its forehead, and you’ve got yourself a unicorn.
The second type will retain its mane, tail, muzzle, and lower portion of the legs in their natural colors.
What Age Do Horses Turn Grey?
The answer depends on the breed and genetic makeup. Most horses will show visible signs of greying at around 15-18 years of age. For many others, the process might start sooner. It all depends on your horse’s genetic makeup.
Will a Brown Horse Turn Grey as it Gets Older?
Yes, brown horses may also turn grey or white. The horse’s born color makes no difference; the only thing that matters is the horse’s grey gene. An important thing to note – the horse’s skin is unaffected. The grey gene will only influence the color of the hair.
This may lead to horses who are not entirely grey or white, as I’ve already explained in this article.
Why do Foals Fade Their Color?
Foals will be born with a lighter version of their parents’ coloring. This phenomenon isn’t random but derives from an ingrained genetic behavior. Foals with more faded coloring would survive longer in the wild as they are less visible to predators.
Domestic foals no longer need that feature, but their gene pool doesn’t know that. This leads to all foals showing more faded coloring at birth, usually correcting itself 3 to 4 months after birth. You will see your foal’s shift in coloring rather rapidly as it grows.
Why is My Horse Losing Color Around the Eyelids?
If your horse’s skin becomes discolored around the eyelids or muzzle, you may have a case of Vitiligo at hand. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that causes melanocytes to die or stops their functioning. These are cells responsible for producing the natural pigment in the skin.
There is no known cause for Vitiligo, but we do know its effects. This disorder affects a lot of mammals, including dogs, cats, and humans, and can occur in stages and various degrees:
- Universal Vitiligo – The condition affects almost all skin surfaces, with the patient displaying extensive discolored portions.
- Generalized Vitiligo – This is the most common type, with the disease extending symmetrically to corresponding body parts.
- Segmental Vitiligo – The discoloring will only occur on one side of the body or body part. The good news is that this form of Vitiligo only progresses for about a year or two.
- Focal Vitiligo – The disorder will only affect several areas of the body.
- Acrofacial Vitiligo – The condition only affects the skin around the hands and face.
If your horse shows skin depigmentation, you might have a case of Vitiligo at hand. The grey gene we’ve been talking about so far doesn’t affect the pigments in the skin. The good news is that Vitiligo is mostly an aesthetic problem; it doesn’t cause any other health problems.
The disorder has no cure. However, the treatment will stop the progression and even return some color in some of the affected areas.
All horses turn grey and even white with age. There is no reason for concern since the same effect occurs in humans.
An important note here – you can guess the horse’s age partially by its coloring.Horse Facts