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Mustang Coat Colors Demystified: Wild Horse Coats

herd of mustang horses
Written by Holly N.

Common Coat Colors in Mustang Horses

Watching a herd of mustangs in the wild can evoke a lot of emotions. A sense of awe, admiration of their strength and agility, and an appreciation for the huge variety of coat colors they come in!

It’s pretty inevitable to see a few bays and a couple of grays in the mix. But, if you look closer, you might see palominos, roans, duns with stripes, and really cool paints. You might even see something exceptional, like the striking brown and white of the famous wild mustang Picasso.

Mustangs come in a variety of different colors, with some sporting a solid-colored coat and others daring to be different with patterns, spots, blazes, socks, and vivid splashes of color. Although bay, gray, and black are among the most common colors, you can expect to see duns, palominos, roans, and pintos.

mustang horses with mountain backdrop

Source: Canva

Mustang Breed Characteristics

Mustangs are typically smaller horses characterized by their muscular build, intelligence, and stamina. Typically standing between 14 and 15hh, mustangs have short backs, well-proportioned bodies, strong legs, and narrow chests.

They make excellent riding horses that excel in a variety of events, including endurance and dressage.

Mustang Origins

It’s long been believed that the Mustang’s origins lie in the genes of the Spanish Barb horse, brought over to the USA in the 1500s. These strong, working horses played a vital role in the Spanish colonization, aiding their war effort, providing transport, and working the land.

Not only did the Spanish Barb give the Mustang its stamina and surefootedness, but also its wide array of coat colors. The Spanish Barb is “said to be the most colorful breed,” displaying all solid and roan colorations, including dun, buckskin, sorrel, gray and black.

Breed Influences

Although heavily influenced by the Spanish Barb, the mustang also inherited traits from various other breeds and types of horses, including the Arabian, Thoroughbred, and Quarter horses.

Physical Characteristics

Today’s mustang is a small, compact horse with a muscular build, strong legs, and durable hooves. Growing up in a harsh environment demanded much of these little horses, who need intelligence and speed to survive.

They are nimble, agile, and can navigate the most challenging terrain.

Although their personalities vary, Mustangs are known for their intelligence and trainability. They can be very calm mounts or highly reactive, depending on their upbringing and breeding.

pinto mustang

Source: Canva

Most Common Mustang Colors

  • Bay – brown or reddish brown coat with black points

  • Brown – brown coat with brown mane and tail

  • Black – black all over, usually with some white markings

  • Gray – while gray horses may vary from dark to light, even appearing white, they have black skin, which makes them technically gray in color

  • Dun – golden or tan coat with black markings, including a black dorsal stripe and sometimes tiger-like striping on the legs

Rarest Mustang Colors

  • Sorrel – lighter copper red body with lighter mane and tail (such as flaxen)

This video features bay and sorrel mustangs.

  • Palomino – golden yellow coat with light cream mane and tail

  • Chestnut – reddish brown coat with the same color or slightly lighter mane and tail

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the rarest Mustang horse color?

Chestnut and sorrel are both rare in the Mustang horse, but occur more frequently within certain areas and herds than others. For instance, there are very few chestnut or sorrel horses in the Pryor Mountain Mustang herd, but are more common among Spanish Mustangs.

A true white horse (white hair and pink skin) is also very rare, not only in Mustangs but in the general horse population as well.

Q: What is the most common color of Mustang horses?

Bay, black, and gray are among the most common coat colors of the Mustang horse.

Q: How can you tell if a horse is a Mustang?

Mustangs are small, warmblood-type horses with wide foreheads and small muzzles. The best way to identify a Mustang is to look at its feet! Mustangs have hard, durable hooves that easily distinguish them from other breeds, and if that doesn’t help, hop on its back and see if it gives you the ride of your life—if it does, it’s probably a Mustang!

Mustangs born in the wild will have a brand on the left side of their neck. This brand indicates when and where the animal was gathered. These brands are a definitely an easy giveaway when trying to identify a Mustang horse.

Q: Do Mustang horses have stripes?

Some Mustangs, particularly the Kiger Mustangs, have distinctive markings, including a dorsal stripe running along their backs, a jack stripe, and zebra stripes on the legs. These so-called primitive markings were evident in the Mustangs’s ancient ancestors and, scientists believe, helped camouflage them and protect them against predators.

Q: Can Mustang horses be any color?

Yes, Mustangs can be any color, color combination, or pattern.

Q: What do Tiger stripes on a horse mean?

On a horse, tiger stripes are horizontal stripes above the knee or hock. Also known as leg barrings, they are usually darker than the rest of the horse’s body or the same color as their manes and tails. Tiger stripes are most commonly found on dun horses and are visible from birth. Some parents pass down a particular pattern of tiger stripes to their offspring.

horses crossing shallow river

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Mustangs are a colorful bunch, so whether you prefer a black horse, one with Appaloosa-like spots, or a Palomino, you’re likely to find the horse of your dreams in a herd of Mustangs. Not only do they come in a wide range of colors, but Mustangs are also strong, hardy, and intelligent, making them suitable mounts for a wide variety of disciplines.

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About the author


Holly N.

Holly started riding as a six years old in the UK and competed regularly in local events, including showjumping, cross country, showing, working hunter, and gymkhana. She now lives and rides in South Africa, working as a trail guide with Wild Coast Horseback Adventures. Her interests are primarily in the areas of DIY horse ownership, trail riding, barefoot horses, endurance, competitive trail riding, and South African breeds.