Blue Roan Horse Fine Art Photography by Ejaz Khan.


Enchanting at sight, a roan horse, rare blue roan horses, blue roan appaloosa, blue varnish roan, blue roan draft horses, and blue roan horse breeds in general have been admired by equine enthusiasts for centuries. Defined by their remarkable coats, blue roan paint, and true blue roan color, this stallion truly makes a statement with its presence as a true blue roan horse breed. A roan horse is highly regarded for its rare color genetics, true blue horse color, blue roan paint, and  stunning beauty.


The term roan describes the color pattern of a horse’s coat and the blue roan horse breed. True roan horses have an even mixture of white and blue roan colored hairs and are rare when compared to the black rabicano horse, the roan appaloosa, the blue roan draft horse and the varnish roan, The color pattern of the white hairs mixed with the base color creates a striking coat color for the true blue roan horse color. The roan colors exhibited allude to a silver-tone but may differ depending on the base color, such as black or red. More importantly, roan is a dominant gene that must be inherited, attributing to its rarity for the rare blue roan horse. Essentially, a roan stallion can be born in any color. The gene exists in various breeds of horses as well as the rare blue roan horse, but primarily found in many European and North American ones. The blue roan is the most sought after of the roans because it’s such a rare horse color, and is unlike the palomino roan and the rabicano horse.


The word roan is typically used in combination with the base coat color to describe the shade of the roan horse, such as a bay roan, a red roan, a blue roan appaloosa, a blue colored horse, or a blue roan. Roan coats are categorized into three main colors; blue, biay, and red. A blue roan horse has a black base color (the most known are the famous blue roan horses,) a bay roan horse has a bay base color (typical of a blue roan appaloosa horses,)  and a red roan horse has a sorrel or chestnut base color (seen in the lilac roan horses, the strawberry roan horses, and the red roan horses.) A red roan used to include both chestnut and bay coat colors, however, in 1999 the American Paint Horse Association separated red roans and bay roans. In 2003, they followed suit again with the term “strawberry roan.” A strawberry roan, now labeled a red roan, is the pinkish color of a light chestnut or sorrel roan, and is now affirmatively considered a true strawberry roan horse and not a rabicano horse

While less common, the term lilac roan may be applied to a dark chestnut roan horse, a honey roan horse, a  palomino roan horse or the lightest sorrel roan horses.

Some roan horses and the famous blue roan horses have more white hair than others, and even individual horses may look lighter or darker based on the season. In the winter, (the blue roan horse color,)  will appear darker because the colored hairs grow longer and thicker than the white hairs. In the summer, the horses as well as the blue colored horses will appear lighter because the thick, colored hairs shed, and the white hairs become more visible. It’s easier to see roan on a darker coat color because the white hairs are more pronounced.

Light colors like palomino roan make the roaning difficult to see and differs from a rabicano horse and an appaloosa strawberry roan horse

The roan gene is a dominant gene, so it must be inherited from at least one parent. The roan gene affects the coat color on the horse’s body only, whereas the head, mane, lower legs, and tail remain solid colored often seen on blue roan foals. Sometimes a roan will have a concentration of white hairs above the eyes, making the horse appear to have white eyebrows. On occasion, the roan feature can show up only over the croup and hip area (this is referred to as “minimal expression”). True roans are born a solid color and won’t appear roan until the foal coat sheds as with the lilac roan horse, the the strawberry roan horse, and the red roan horse When a roan horse or a true blue roan incurs damage to the skin (and hair), the regrowth hair heals fully colored, without any white.  These damaged spots are commonly referred to as “corn marks” or “corn spots.” Roan coats are also known for dappling. Dappling in a roan is the opposite of traditional dappling in a horse coat, where the dappling rings are lighter circles of hair on the famous blue roan horses and the blue colored horses.


Black and White Horse Photography

To go more into detail, the roan is a simple dominant trait symbolized by the Rn allele as we see in the dapple blue roan horse. The color pattern of the roan is caused by the roan gene, (R), which cannot appear in a foal of two non-roan parents, even if they have roan ancestors.  The three primary base colors include red (chestnut “e” gene), black (“E” gene), and bay (Black “E” gene) +Agouti (“A”gene) which when paired with the roan gene result in the red or strawberry, blue, and bay roans, respectively. The appaloosa strawberry roan is not pertinent here.  

The roan pattern is dominantly inherited and cannot skip generations, therefore, two non-roan parents cannot produce a roan foal or a famous blue roan color. If roaning has shown to skip generations, typically one of the parents is discovered to be slightly roaned. Moreover, a roan foal can be born from two seemingly non-roan parents if the coat is “masked” by extensive white markings or gray. In some cases, the supposedly roan foal is not true roan at all, but rabicano, sabino, or influenced by some other genetic factor.

The University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s genetics services developed a DNA test that uses genetic markers to indirectly determine the number of Rn or rn alleles a horse has. The mutation responsible for a true roan or dapple blue roan horse has not yet been precisely identified but assigned to equine chromosome 3 (ECA3) in the KIT sequence. The roan zygosity test is reliable for the American Quarter Horse Stallion and the American Paint Horse. Until a direct test is developed, the roan zygosity test may enable breeders to produce true roans more reliably.

Homozygous Roan horses have the genotype Rn/Rn and produce 100% roan offspring.  Homozygous roans and heterozygous roans (Rn/rn) are identical in appearance. A 1979 study of American-bred Belgian draft horses found fewer roan offspring from roan-to-roan matings than expected. Researchers concluded that homozygous roans had a higher chance of being born dead. Despite the popular belief in the “lethal roan,” genetic science could not prove this of blue roan foals, and the theory has since been debunked by the existence of such roan wild horses.


There’s a variety of other horse coats that appear similar to a roan horse or a blue roan horse color but it’s important to not interchange them or mistake them as a dapple blue roan horse. Gray is one of the most common horse colors and is found in almost all breeds. A gray foal may be born any color, even roan. Distinctively, a gray coat lightens with age, whereas a roan coat does not. Mature grays may lose their original coat color to have a white coat, while the color of the skin and eyes is unchanged. The first white hairs are usually seen around the eyes and muzzle. As a gray may go from entirely colored to entirely white over the course of its life, the process of “graying out” can, at times, closely resemble roan. Blue roans can look very similar to a young gray horse or a blue dun.

Blue dun or grullo coloring is created by the dun gene. Unlike blue roans, blue duns are solid colored and have a black coat. The color genetics of the dun gene affect the black horse by having low amounts of pigment in each hair. Therefore, these blue dun horses appear to have a blueish coat rather than a black one.

Rabicano and sabino colorings are two different genes that appear roan like because they also produce white hairs in the coat. Rabicanos have dense areas of white hair around the base of the tail and the flank. Rabicano roaning frequently forms rings of white hair around the base of the tail, called a “coon tail.” Sabino coat color patterns may also look like roaning, but sabinos usually have unevenly distributed white hairs on the lower legs, face, and midline. Sabino white patches will look heavily roaned, but the roaning is uneven.



There are many breeds that produce roan coats including European draft horses, British ponies, and North American breeds such as the Paint Horse, the Quarter Horse Stallion, Mustang, and Tennessee Walking Horse. The Hokkaido Pony of Japan may also be roan. There are some horse breeds that never produce a true roani, including the Arabian Horse, the Suffolk Punch, and the Haflinger. To offer some perspective, 12 percent of the horses registered with AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) in 2017 were roans.


Some famous roan horses include red roan stallion Red Man, born in 1935, and blue roan stallion Blue Valentine, born in 1957, who gained fame on the rodeo circuit. Zippos Mr. Good Bar, a famous red roan was not a strawberry roan horse, but an American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame inductee for 2019. He was known for his show career and as a top sire. The famous blue roan stallion named Royal Blue Boon, born in 1980 was the first in a line of world-class cutting horses.


A blue roan horse is arguably the most attractive of the roans. It’s difficult to breed a blue roan because the genetic makeup must be precise, consequently making them the most valuable and rarest of the roans. A blue roan will be born with a solid black foal coat,

Blue roans are always roan at birth, though they can appear to be born solid black and then shed their baby coat to reveal their roan color.

A true blue roan will have a genetically black body, black legs, and a roaned black coat. The body includes the barrel, hip, head, and neck. The legs, mane, and tail are not included. Because a true blue roan is an even mixture of white and black, the equine appears a striking indigo color with tones of silver. They truly are a sight to see.

Because blue roans are so rare, people have the tendency to mislabel them. The term blue roan is often loosely applied to any roan horse with a dark underlying coat suggesting a blueish shade. Gray horses are commonly mistaken as blue roan horses to the untrained eye. Dark bay roans might give the impression of a blue roan as well. The easiest way to determine the difference between a gray and blue roan horse is to look at the head. A roan’s head will be darker than its body, whereas a gray head will be lighter than its body. Blue roans also do not include patterns of varnish, rabicano, or sabino.

Blue Roan Horses are common in North American breeds such as Paint horses, Paso Finos, the Quarter Horse, Standardbred, Mustang, and Tennessee Walking horse. The Nokota Horse, a feral and semi-feral breed native to North Dakota, often comes with a blue roan coat. So often, in fact, that the color has become a symbol of the breed.


Breeds with appaloosa characteristics are typically associated as varnish roans. Their patches of skin around the face or legs don’t grow as much white hair. The darker patches can be known as “varnish marks” – True roan horses don’t have them. By noting leopard complex characteristics, like striped hooves or mottled skin around the eye and their nose, one can figure out a varnish roan from a true roan.


The roan horse has been revered throughout history. The steed has been associated with royalty and has played a historical role in William Shakespeare’s famous plays. King Richard III of England was portrayed riding the famous stallion named Roan Barbary in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Over the years, many literary scholars have claimed Shakespeare was partial to roan horses, as he mentioned many roan equines in his writings. There is a classic line from Shakespeare’s Henry IV play that states, “That roan shall be my throne.”



Standardbred is another breed which has the blue roan color used mostly for harness racing. It’s a breed developed in North America,  with origins that go back to Thoroughbreds, Morgan, and Hackney. They make for good riding horses and have plenty of athletic ability.


The blue roan is more common in the Welsh Pony and Cob breeds of horse. Early types of Welsh ponies and cobs existed before 1600 BC in Wales. They are very versatile with an excellent temperament, suitable for children right up to adults. Over the years, they have been used as pit ponies to working on farms, riding, and show ponies. 


Developed in the United Kingdom, the Hackney is known for its high stepping action and ability to trot rapidly. They are considered as one of the smartest horses and are excellent driving horses. They were highly desirable to pull carriages throughout the 19th century amongst high society.


The Morgan is one of the earliest breeds developed in America, having many jobs throughout decades. Known for harness racing, coach horses, and as Cavalry horses in the American Civil War. Today, they cross a range of disciplines, dressage, and show jumping.


Percherons are black or grey but they do accept colors like blue, bay, red roans, chestnut, and bay. The Percheron Association of America has set strict standards for the breed. But the rules for registrations have been amended and are more accepting the past few years. The association registers about  2,500 horses every year. Percherons are versatile horses from France. They are both amazing riding and draft horses with a calm demeanor but very alert and willing workers as well. Standing between 15 and 16.3 hands tall, they are very powerful. Percherons are renowned for their stamina and intelligence.


When a blue roan gets a cut or scrape that scars then the hair will grow back black over it without any white hairs which creates a black mark in their roan coloring. This is a contrast to most other colors which would usually scar with white hairs.

  • Brabant
  • Blue Horse Breed
  • Italian Heavy Draft
  • Rhenish-German cold-blood
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • Standardbred
  • Spanish Mustang
  • Peruvian Paso
  1. Blue
  2. Silver
  3. Steel
  4. Blue Steel
  5. Frosty
  6. Rain
  7. Storm
  8. Lightning
  9. Skye
  10. Breezy


True blue roan horses typically cost anywhere between $800 to $4000. They shouldn’t be more expensive than other similar breeds of horses. A funny but curious question that we get a lot of is, do horses have eyebrows? They don’t have eyebrows like us humans. But horses have an expression that raises the inner corner of the eye.


With the uniqueness of this blue horse breed, their rarity, and beauty, roan stallions are truly one of a kind. The blue roan is undoubtedly the most stunning color of all the roans. The genetic makeup of a true roan equine plays a critical role in their authenticity. It’s important to understand the distinctions of a roan horse to fully comprehend its innate magnificence.

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