- COAT COLOR: Clear gold
- MANE AND TAIL: White
- SKIN: Dark
- MARKINGS: White acceptable on legs and face
- RELATED COLORS: Cremello
The word palomino comes from a Latin word meaning pale dove. Beautiful golden horses with white manes and tails occur in many breeds around the world, and have appeared in myths, legends, and art for centuries. In Japan and China there are depictions of Palominos going back 2,000 years. They appear in very old tapestries and artifacts from both Europe and Asia. Crusaders brought home stories of desert chiefs riding them. Because they are beautiful, and because gold has always represented great worth, in many places Palominos were the horses of choice for emperors, kings, and queens.
In the early sixteenth century, Palominos were known as Isabellas (named for Queen Isabella) by the Spaniards who first brought them to North America. Queen Isabella favored golden horses. She sent a Palomino stallion and five mares to Mexico in order to establish golden horses in the New World. The color became particularly popular in Mexico and California.
The golden color is caused by the action of a single copy of an incompletely dominant gene that dilutes the body color of what otherwise would have been a sorrel foal. The genes for color and for dilution are separate. If a single copy of the dilution gene is carried by only one parent, the foal may or may not inherit it and has a one in four chance of being a Palomino. If each parent carries a single copy of the dilution gene, it is still possible for the foal either to inherit it or not, but the chances increase to 50 percent that it will be a Palomino. If the foal inherits one copy of the dilution gene, it will be a Palomino. If it inherits two copies of the dilution gene, it will be born a cremello.
Queen Isabella of Spain particularly loved the golden coat and white mane and tail of the Palomino.
A foal inherits the genes for palomino coloring from its parents. If the dilution gene is not present, the foal will be a sorrel. With one dilution gene, the foal will be a Palomino; with two copies, it will be a cremello.
Cremello is an extremely pale yellow that is often confused with albino, but it is not the same thing. A true albino has no pigment at all, while a cremello has highly diluted pigment. The action of the dilution gene lightens whatever color is present; it does not remove the color. Since a cremello has two copies of the dilution gene, and it must pass one on to its offspring, a cremello crossed on a sorrel- or chestnut-colored horse guarantees dilute color in the foal, although the color may be either palomino or cremello.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the Palomino Horse Breeders of America (founded in 1935):
- The PHBA accepts horses of fifteen breeds for registry.
- 1800–1900 new registrations are accepted each year.
- The highest percentage of Palominos is Quarter Horses, followed by Paints and Appaloosas.
- The association does not recognize pony and draft breeds.
The Palomino coloring is passed on from parent to foal depending on the presence of the dilution gene.
Parent + Parent = Foal
Dilution + Non-dilution = 25% chance Palomino
Dilution + Dilution = 50% chance Palomino
According to the rules of the Palomino Horse Breeders of America (PHBA), “The ideal body coat color is approximately the color of a United States gold coin.” The mane and the tail must be a minimum of 85 percent white with no more than 15 percent black, sorrel, chestnut, or other colored hair.
Black or brown dorsal stripes, shoulder stripes, and zebra markings are not allowed.
Both eyes must be the same color and have black, brown, or hazel irises, although blue or glass eyes are permitted on geldings or spayed mares or if they are accepted by the horse’s breed of origin. Palominos may have white on the leg and face, within very specific restrictions. The skin must be dark without pink spots,
The PHBA recognizes Morgans, Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, Arabians, Racking Horses, Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walkers, Mountain Pleasure Horses, Rocky Mountain Horses, Missouri Fox Trotters, Morabs, Paints, Pintos, Appaloosas, Holsteiners, and Quarabs (Quarter Horse–Arabian crosses). Horses registered with these breeds must meet the appropriate qualifications regarding body color and the presence of white markings to be registered as Palominos.