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Curious Colors

Horses come in a wide variety of colors, and we never seem to question why horse colors have bizarre names.

Well, I’ve had enough and I’m going to get to the bottom of these ridiculous names.

Surprise, surprise

This was supposed to be simple. Pick a few colors, decipher the word origin and then write about it. Needless to say, I have found all sorts of interesting information that goes along with all these curious color names. I should be able to get 100 articles out of one clever idea. To be fair, this was my friend’s idea, not mine. 

I’m aware there are colors within colors, but for this article, I’m only going to decode the umbrella term, as it were. I will get to all the colors and sub-colors, eventually. 


This is one of the most unique names, at least to me, which is why it’s at the top of the list. 

As we know, palominos have a blonde or cream-colored coat with a pale mane and tail, but why that word and where the dickens did it come from?

The word palomino has only been around since 1899, which seems oddly specific and makes the word relatively young. It does, however, go all the way back to the Latin word palumbinus which means, and this is a little unexpected, “wood pigeon”. 

I searched for images of wood pigeons and was unable to draw a direct line from said pigeon in a brown coat to said palomino in a blonde one. But if we look at the Spanish meaning of the word then we are given the meaning of, “young dove” and upon that image search, I can now see a vague color correlation. 

Pigeons and doves come from the same Columbidae family so I suppose I can understand, sort of, how we have a horse color of palomino, but it does require a little stretch of the imagination. 

There is also a palomino grape if you’re interested, of similar color. 

It’s believed in the world of Proto-Indo-European linguistics that the root pel, is thought to be the ancestral origin to the pal of palomino, which means “pale”. I can run with that. 


Here we have a color breed and the word Appaloosa has always intrigued me because it’s fun to say. They are probably the most recognizable horses due to their striped hooves and bedazzled spotted coats. There are many different designs and colors of Appaloosas, but today we are just going to discover how they received such a winning name.  

The breed has been around for several hundred years and has been the mount of choice for many Native American tribes. 

It was the Native American Nez Perce people who gave the breed their name as they lived near the Palouse River in Idaho. Naturally, the Nez Perce people referred to the spotted horse as a Palouse horse. This eventually morphed into Apalouse and from there, it turned into Appaloosa, which is a nice tidy explanation. 

The Appaloosa has been Idaho’s official state horse since 1975.  


This is probably the blandest color name of all the color names out there and given to the most common color we have going. But the etymology is interesting.   

Now, you’ve got your blood bay, dark bay, light bay as well as your basic bay, wild bay, seal bay, cherry bay and golden bay. If I’m honest, and I always am, I’ve never heard of a wild, golden or cherry bay, but I don’t mind adding them to my list. 

The thing that all these bays have in common are black manes, tails and legs. Where they differ is the hue of their coat color. A bay is not just a bay. 

So why do we call horses bay when their color has nothing to do with a watery inlet, the deep howl of a dog, a leaf you cook with or an opening? Because bay also means “a reddish-brown color” and has done so since the 1300s and stems from the Latin badius which means “chestnut-brown.” 

Solid answer and so simple.

Whilst researching the above word I came across the name Bayard which, apparently, is a “moch-heroic” name for a horse back in the 1300s. This comes from the Old French word Baiard which was the name of a magic bay horse given to Renaud by Charlemagne of the legends. The name Baiard came from the Old French word Baiart meaning “bay-colored”. 

Another solid anwer.

That’s it for Now

I seem to have opened a treasure trove of information here with the simple idea of researching the curious color names we give horses. Which, frankly, I’m rather pleased about. 

Sources: ; ;

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