All About Blue Roan Horses (Genetics, Facts, Breeds & More!)


Horse Blue Roan

There are few sights more breathtaking and stunning to see than a blue roan horse.

A beautiful animal with a coat that appears almost blue, there is little wonder that in times gone by, they were once considered mythical animals.

While horses can come in many colors and with many different markings, it is impossible to find a real blue horse. However, the blue roan is arguably one of the rarest roan colors, and it is certainly very unique-looking.

A blue roan is a horse that has a black base color with a mixture of white hairs evenly mixed across the body, which gives the “blue” appearance, while the head and legs remain a solid color, also black.

Table Of Contents

blue roan stallion

Blue Roan Genetics

The genetic make-up of blue roans is as fascinating as it is complex, but before we dive into blue roan genetics, it’s important to note that sometimes there are horses that appear to be “roan” in their coloring, but they are not actually a true roan.

When Horses Look Blue Roan, But They Are Not!

  • They have slight variations in their base coat colors and have some white hairs mingled in
  • Due to their markings
  • The horse is a grey, whose color is still developing (grey horses are born a solid color and lighten over time, thus sometimes appearing as roan).
  • In particular, the Rabicano color pattern is often mistaken for being a roan, as is the Sabino coloring. However, the Rabicano coloring has white hair mainly around the tail and flanks, unlike the roan where the white hairs are mixed evenly across the body.

A horse must have two roan parents in order to be a true roan, and the roan gene itself is a dominant gene. This is symbolized by the “Rn” allele.

Even if a true roan horse appears to have a parent who is not roan, the gene must be present in the parent and they will have some roan color in them, even if it is masked by other colors or markings, making them appear as though they are not roan.

Three Main Base Colors Of Horses

The three main base colors of horses are black, chestnut, and bay.

  • Black genes are symbolized by “E”
  • Chestnut by “e”
  • Bay by “E” + “A”(Agouti gene)

To make it simple, in order to produce roans (blue, red, and bay roans respectively), the base coat genes above must be paired with the roan gene “Rn.”

If we look deeper into the genetics of roans and particularly blue roan horses, then the “Agouti” gene (A)
determines where the black coloring will be on a horse.

If it is recessive (aa) then the horse will be black on it’s legs and the body, but if the gene is dominant (Aa or AA) then the horse will be bay if paired with a dominant black gene (EE or Ee) to produce black legs and a red body.

A chestnut if paired with recessive black gene (ee), ie no black, and all of these will produce roans if combined with the roan gene (Rn).

Therefore, to get a blue roan, the horse must carry the dominant black gene “E” for the base color and the roan gene “Rn”.

The particular circumstances under which the genetic make-up of the blue roan needs make it very difficult to intentionally breed a horse that is blue roan.

It is possible but in most circumstances you would need to know the exact DNA make-up of both potential parents, which is why, more often than not, blue roans are born by pure chance.

blue roan welsh pony

10 Blue Roan Horse Facts

When a blue roan is born, they appear to be a solid color-usually black. However, the roan is present, but it is covered by the initial foal coat and the white hairs only appear once they begin to lose it.

The roan coloring starts to show by the time they are two to three months old and will usually be fully visible by the time they are a year old.

Due to the longer hair of the winter coat, blue roans usually appear darker in winter.

If a blue roan has a cut or scrape that scars, then the hair will grow back black over it without any white hairs, therefore creating a black mark in their roan coloring. This is a contrast to most other colors, which would usually be scarred with white hairs.

Blue roan horses are often mistaken for grey by people unfamiliar with the coloring.

The roan gene does not exist in Arabian horses, so you will never get a true blue roan Arab, or any Arabian horse that is a true roan for that matter. However, the Rabicano coloring is present in Arabs, and as such, they are often mistaken for roan Arab horses.

Thoroughbreds are another breed not to have the roan gene in their genetics.

Roan horses have been much revered throughout history, and in Shakespeare’s play Richard II, King Richard was portrayed as riding a roan horse, and Shakespeare also mentioned roan horses in several of his other plays.

Blue Valentine was a blue roan stallion who was born in 1956 and became famous on the rodeo circuits, excelling at roping, cutting, and barrel racing, along with regular ranch work. He became a legendary sire and died in 1980 after suffering from colic.

Dapples are reversed on blue roans – instead of having dark dapples, blue roans have light dapples which appear as lighter circles on their coat, therefore reversed.

Young Blue Roan Horses

Horse Breeds with the Blue Roan Color

As blue roan is a coloring and not a breed, there are many breeds of horse which can be blue roan.

Blue Roan Quarter Horse

Blue roan is more common in some breeds than others and is found most often in many breeds that originated in North America, particularly in the American Quarter Horse.

Bred for their power and endurance and famous for their abilities on working ranches and in rodeos and on the barrel racing circuits.

There have been several blue roan horses over the years, some of which have proved exceptionally talented at their jobs and gone on to be prolific breeders, passing on those traits (and the color at times) to their offspring.

The blue roan is a recognized color of the quarter horse by the American Quarter Horse Association.

Nakota Horse

Nakota horses are a beautiful and unique breed of horse that are known for their striking blue roan coloring. This is a breed that mainly comes in this color.

The Nakota is a medium-sized breed that typically stands between 14 and 16 hands high. These horses have a sturdy build with a deep chest and strong legs.

The head of a Nakota horse is relatively small in proportion to the body, and the neck is of medium length. The coat is thick and dense, which helps to protect the horse from the harsh conditions of the Great Plains. The most distinctive feature of this horse is their blue roan coloring.

The Nakota horse is a hardy breed that originated in the Great Plains region of North America. These horses were prized by the Native Americans for their strength, endurance, and agility.

They used these horses for hunting and warfare, as they were able to cover large distances quickly. They are a versatile breed that is now used for a variety of purposes including riding, as pack animals, and even racing.

The Nakota horse is also an intelligent breed that tends to be easy to train.

Standardbred

Used predominately in harness racing, the Standardbred is another breed which has the blue roan color, although it is not seen as frequently as in the American Quarter Horse.

The Standardbred is a breed that was developed in North America, although it’s origins go back to Thoroughbreds, Morgan, and Hackney horses so it’s possible that the blue roan gene evolved from those early influences.

A mostly calm breed of horse, the Standardbred makes for a good riding horse with plenty of athletic ability, although some retraining may be required if the horse had raced before beginning it’s ridden career.

Percheron

The Percheron is a breed of draught horse which originated in France.

It is one of the oldest heavy draught breeds in the world and it’s origins can be traced back to around AD 800.

The modern Percheron was used by the British Army during the First World War to pull the guns due to their strength and calm nature.

The Percheron is famed for it’s muscular stature, good temperament, and versatility.

Welsh Pony

The blue roan is more common in the Welsh pony and cob (all four sections-A, B, C, and D) than in some other breeds of horses.

Originating in Wales, early types of Welsh ponies and cobs existed before 1600 BC, although it is thought that, like the Standardbred, they were influenced by Morgan and Hackney horses.

They are a versatile breed which, due to the different breed sections and heights, are suitable for children
right up to adults. They have had a variety of uses over the years, from pit ponies to working on farms, and latterly as riding and show ponies.

They have an excellent temperament, which makes them suitable for children, and they have smart movements, which means they usually excel in the show ring.

Hackney

With both the Standardbred and the Welsh Pony having their origins in the Hackney breed, it could be suggested that those breeds have received their blue roan genes from the Hackney itself, and indeed, blue roans are found within the breed.

Developed in the United Kingdom, the Hackney has a high stepping action and the ability to trot at great speeds.

They are perhaps one of the smartest moving horses around and are well known as excellent driving horses – their showy action making them highly desirable horses to pull carriages with, particularly throughout the nineteenth century amongst the more well-to-do of society.

Morgan

The Morgan is another breed which seems to have had an influence in the origins of the blue roan gene, and indeed there have been several well known blue roans within the breed, including a popular dressage horse called Caduceus Herod.

The Morgan is one of the earliest breeds of horse to be developed in America and has had many jobs throughout the years.

They have been successful in harness racing, as coach horses, and were also used as Cavalry horses in the American Civil War. In more modern times they are successful across a range of disciplines, including dressage and show jumping.

Paso Fino

The Paso Fino originated in Puerto Rico, and the blue roan is a recognized color of the breed.

The Paso Fino is a particularly unique breed of horse as they are a “gaited” breed that has different gaits to usual horses which are unique to it’s own breed. They have the classic fino which is a collected show gait.

Their paso corto gait is the equivalent of a trot but is much smoother. The paso largo is a much faster gait, more like a canter or a slow gallop.

Paso Finos are a popular breed across America nowadays, and they are used in a wide variety of disciplines.

Shetland Pony

Shetland ponies are famed for their strength and hardiness and make fantastic children’s ponies due to their calm and affectionate nature.

While there is a vast array of colors and markings in Shetland ponies, the blue roan is a recognized color by the Shetland Pony Society, and it is not that rare to find a Shetland that is blue roan, although it would be harder to determine the origins of the true blue roan genetics in Shetland ponies.

Some Other Breeds With Blue Roans

  • Mustang
  • American Paint
  • Belgian
  • Shire
  • Clydesdale
Blue Roan Quarter Horse

Blue Roan Horse Names


If you’re lucky enough to own a blue roan horse, then you’re going to need a good name to go with it. I think it’s pretty obvious what the top names for a blue roan horse are going to be, but there’s still plenty more to choose from here if they don’t take your fancy.

  • Blue
  • Silver
  • Steel
  • Storm
  • Thunder
  • Skye
  • Frost
  • Lightening
  • Mist
  • Misty
  • Clouds
  • Casper
  • Diamond
  • Ghost
  • Mercury
Horse Blue Roan

Blue Roan FAQ’s

Do blue roan horses turn white?

No, unlike grey horses which get progressively lighter as they get older, a blue roan horse remains the same color throughout it’s life, although they can appear darker in the winter due to the longer hair of the winter coat.

What is a true blue roan horse?

A true blue roan horse is a horse which has a black base color on it’s body with white hair mixed in evenly throughout it’s body, giving the appearance of a blue color. The head and legs are black. The true blue roan must also be from parents who were both roans.

Is a blue roan horse rare?

While not rare as some other coat colors, the blue roan horse is one of the least common coat colors of the roan colored horses.

Are blue roan horses expensive?

Unless someone is buying it specifically for it’s coloring or with the intention of attempting to breed another blue roan, then blue roan horses should not be more expensive than other horses of the same breed or caliber.

Are horses born blue roan?

Yes, a horse that is a true blue roan will be always born roan although they will appear to be black until they begin to lose their foal coat. By the time the foal is two months old the roan coloring is usually visible to some extent.

Wrapping Up

You now know blue roan horses are not actually blue but a genetically black horse with a white pattern gene called roan.

They are born with the roan pattern and keep it throughout their life.

So we went over the genetics, facts about blue roans, breeds that can come in the color, even names if you decide to buy a blue roan.

They are a unique and gorgeous color of horse. But only one of many horse coat colors.

Do you ride any bay horses? Be sure to read my blog post all about the base color bay and variations that come from bay.


Kacey

Hi, I am Kacey. I create content for equestrians to encourage further education about horses, improving skills in and out of the saddle and having fun as lovers of horses. Learn more about me here: www.joyfulequestrian.com/about-kacey-cleary/

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