Everything About Bay Colored Horses (Detailed Guide)

A bay horse while common is one of the most versatile and beautiful horse colors.

If you’re looking to bay horse facts, our guide will fill you in on all the characteristics, origins, and shades you will come across. 

You will probably be surprised to find out just how many shades of bay there are!

So, if you are ready, let’s get started!

READ MORE: Palomino Horse Facts

Types of Bay Horses

Bay is one of the most common coat colors. When watching English riding competitions in showjumping, dressage, eventing, or hunters, the majority of horses you will see will have some sort of bay-colored coat.

However, one thing you will notice, that might cause some confusion is that bay isn’t one distinctive color.

It comes in many different brown shades. Each of these shades falls in the sub-category, that has its own name.

Blood Bay

blood bay horse

Blood bay is the least common shade of bay and the easiest to mistake for a standard bay. However, with a little understanding, you will see that a blood bay is quite distinctive.

The name comes from the color, which is rich with red tones, almost like a very dark chestnut.

The red tint mixed with brown can sometimes give a blood bay a purple sheen.

Many will agree that blood bay is one of the most beautiful coat colors. All bay horses have black points.

This means that a bay horse will always have a black mane and tail, as well as black on its legs up to the knee or hock.

The black is only broken up by white markings if the horse has them. Black points are very distinctive on a blood bay horse, which adds to its striking appearance.

Standard Bay

Cleveland bay horse

As the name implies, a standard bay is the most common shade of bay. It is sometimes referred to as classic bay.

The horse will have a medium shade of coat color, lighter than a dark bay and with less deep red than a blood bay.

The hair is a mix of brown and red tones. Black points are of course present and the main coat color is made up of the same shade with no variation.

Dark Bay

dark bay horse

Dark bay is the second most common type of bay coat. Essentially, you will see a horse with very dark hair.

These horses can have such dark coats that they can look black. The blacks points are present, but it is sometimes hard to distinguish them against the body coat color.

There can be several shades of dark bay.

To tell if a horse is dark bay or black, you need to take a closer look at the hair.

If the horse is bay it will still have some red tints and lighter hairs on its body. These are mostly found around the eyes and muzzle.

You can also tell by pushing the hair up and looking at the color that is closer to the skin, as this will show up lighter with a reddish tone.

One interesting fact about dark bay horses is that the shade changes from winter to summer.

In the winter the coat will appear darker, as the hair is longer and the red tone is more hidden.

If you body clip a dark bay horse in the winter it will look lighter. The coat will darken as the hair regrows.

It is also common for a dark bay horse to have dapples. This is because dark bay horses have two-toned hair.

The dapples will show as lighter brown shaded rings on the body, particularly on the haunches, upper sides, and back. Dapples can be the result of genetics or a sign of a healthy horse.

Bay Roan

bay roan horse

A bay roan is one of the more unusual colors you will come across.

When a horse is this color it is influenced by the roaning gene. The base coat is still bay but the horse also has a  dominant roan gene.

When a horse has a roan gene it creates white hairs that run through the coat. However, unlike gray horses, a roan will not continue to get lighter as it ages. 

A bay roan will have black points like every bay horse. If a horse is a red roan it will have reddish points, and not black.

One interesting fact about a bay roan or any shade of roan is that when it gets a cut, the hairs grow back black.

In a regular bay, black, or chestnut horse, the hair will grow back on the damaged area in white.

Copper Bay

copper bay horse

Some people might confuse a copper bay with a blood bay. However, there is an obvious difference when you look closely. A copper bay is lighter than a blood bay.

And while this shade also contains a high concentration of red tones, it is not a deep as a blood bay.

Instead of an almost mahogany shade, a copper bay will have a more orange, rust color.

Sandy Bay

sandy bay horse

Sandy bay is an interesting color that you don’t see too often. In fact, at first glance, it doesn’t look bay at all and resembles a buckskin horse.

These horses have black points on the legs and a black mane and tail. They can also have a lot of dappling.

What makes this color of bay so interesting is the coat color genetics the horse possesses.

The color is light and almost yellowish in tone. The reason for this is that the horse not only has the gene for a bay, it also has a dilution gene; specifically a creme gene.

The creme gene dilutes the coat, which lightens it significantly.

Bay Dun

bay dun horse

Similar to the sandy bay, a bay dun is easy to confuse with a true dun. These horses have a bay gene and a dun gene. A bay dun will sometimes display some of the characteristics that distinguish a horse a dun.

This includes a dark dorsal stripe and leg stripes. The coat will be duller than a true dun and can come in various shades of yellow and tan.

Champagne Bay Horses

champagne bay horses

Champagne bay is a stunning, rare color. To get this color, the horse must have a black base and the champagne modifier gene.

There are different types of this color, another can happen with a horse that has a red base gene.

Wild Bay

wild bay horse walking towards the mountain

A wild bay is a light shade that can almost resemble chestnut. What is unique about this type of bay coat is the black points.

On most other types of bay horse, the black points reach up to the knees and hocks, but on a wild bay, these only reach the fetlock.

A wild bay has a slightly different agouti gene, ‘A+’. 

Brown Horses

brown horse climbing a mountain

Technically, there is no official color ‘brown’ for horses, though it is easy to look at a horse and make this assumption.

If you see a brown horse it is either a shade of bay or chestnut, particularly a liver chestnut.

CHECK: What Types of Horses Are There?

Bay Horse Facts

Now that we’ve covered the main shades of bay, let’s take a look at bay horse facts. What is the gene the produces a bay coat?

Base Horse Coat Color

All horses have one of two base coat colors, red or black. These base genes are then influenced by others to create the horse’s coat color.

For a horse to be bay it has to have an ‘E’ alle gene as well as an agouti gene.

There are two types of agouti genes, the dominant ‘A’, and the recessive ‘a’.

For a horse to have a bay coat is must have at least one ‘A’ gene. It is the ‘A’ gene that controls black points on a horse.

This gene is what restricts the black points to the legs, mane, and tail. It is dominant over the black gene ‘E’.

Some bay horses can have two copies of ‘A’ or an ‘A’ and an ‘a’. If a horse gets to ‘a’ copies from its parents it will not be bay, but black.

To sum it up,  that is bay in color will have one of the four genetic makeups: EE/AA, EE/Aa, Ee/Aa, Ee/AA.

To complicate matters more, a red bay horse can have the following genes: ABCee.

An interesting fact about horse coat color genetics is that a chestnut horse cannot have black points.

This is because a chestnut horse’s base color is red. Even if a horse inherits an ‘A’ gene from one of its parents, it will have no black.

This is because the ‘A’ agouti can only influence black hair. If there is no black hair to affect, then the gene becomes redundant. 

The only way to create true black horses is for it to have a black base color and if it receives two ‘a’ genes, one from each parent. Both black and bay horses have black skin.

Wild Coat Markings

Wild coat markings are patterns that people often associate with primitive horses. They are black markings like leg strips and a dorsal stripe.

These patterns are mostly seen on dun horses. A dorsal stripe is a dark stripe the run from the withers over the spine and to the head of the tail

Primitive markings provide camouflage and help a horse blend in with its environment, making it harder for a predator to spot it.

These markings are also controlled by the ‘A’ agouti gene.

But it is also influenced by ‘B’ and ‘C’ genes. Essential ‘A’ is a wild pattern gene and it affects bay horses. Over time the ‘A’ gene carried by a bay horse has evolved.

The wild pattern is not expressed in a bay horse, but the agouti still restricts black to certain areas of the body.

The primitive patterns come from ancient wild horses.

Bay Horse Breeds

Bay is one of the most common horse coat colors. It shows up in several breeds of horses. However, it is more common in some.

We’ve put together a short list here for you.

  • Clydesdale
  • Holsteiner
  • Thoroughbred
  • American Quarter Horse
  • Ardennes Horse
  • Arabian
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • Morgan
  • Cleveland Bay
  • Oldenburg
  • Dartmoor Pony
  • Dutch Warmblood
  • Belgian Warmblood
  • Standardbred
  • Shire Horse
  • Akhal Teke Horse
  • Andalusian Horse
  • Mustang Horse

Cleveland Bay Horse

Since we are talking about bay horses, we want to introduce you to Cleveland Bay. This is one of the most critically at-risk horse breeds.

The Cleveland Bay horse originates in English and is a beautiful, athletic horse with a wonderful temperament.

It was a popular carriage horse and once was called the Yorkshire Coach Horse.

It is lighter than a draft horse and was once used by several European warmblood studbooks to help refine their breeds.

The Cleveland Bay is a very versatile breed, that unfortunately could face extinction due to its low popular numbers.

This horse is aptly named as it only comes in the color bay. White is not even accepted, so you will never see a Cleveland bay with white socks.

The most white, you will ever find in this breed is a very small star on the face.

CHECK: The Smallest Breed of Horse

Horses That Can’t Produce Bay

Not every horse can produce a bay color. This again comes down to genetics. If you breed two chestnut horses, sire, and dam, it is impossible for the foal to have a bay coat.

These horses will pass on ‘ee’ and a red base color. Two chestnuts will always produce a chestnut.

However, if you breed a chestnut horse to a bay one, you can get a bay, black, or chestnut. That is if they both have a black horse in their lineage.

If you breed a bay to a gray, then you can get either color with the resulting foal. 

Famous Bay Horses

Looking at the history of famous horses, you will find that many of the most legendary are bay. Let’s take a look at famous bay racehorses first.

Famous Bay racehorses

One of the most famous living racehorses with a bay coat is American Pharoah.

This magnificent Thoroughbred stallion is the 2015 Triple Crown winner. He is a standard by that has a lot of red in his coat.

Looking at female horses, we have to include Zenyatta. Zenyatta is one of the most successful fillies to ever hit the racetrack.

She is the first mare to ever win the Breeders Cup Classic, outrunning colts. She is retired to stud and is a dark bay.

Going further back in history we can’t leave out Native Dancer.

This horse is a legend and is considered the most influential and successful sires of Thoroughbreds in the last 100-years.

You will find him in the pedigree of thousands of racehorses. He was a standard bay.

Famous Bay Showjumping Horses

Bay horses are very common in the showjumping ring. Here will take a look at some of the legends in the equestrian discipline.

First up is the stallion Big Star. With his rider, Nick Skelton of Great Britain, Big Star took home the individual gold medal at the 2012 Rio Olympic Games.

Big Star is now retired as a breeding stallion. He is a Dutch Warmblood and a standard bay, boarding on dark bay.

Touch Of Class is our next showjumping legend. This little mare defied all the odds to reach stardom at the highest levels of the sport.

Standing just under 16 hands tall, this very petite, standard bay, Thoroughbred mare consistently beat the competition, culminating with a team and individual gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Next, you have to learn about Stroller. There has never been another horse quite like this one.

Stroller was not only special because he won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games, or won the Hickstead Derby, he is remarkable due to his size.

Technically Stroller was a pony and only stood 14.1 hands tall. Stroller was a bay Thoroughbred crossed with a Connemara pony.

Famous Bay Dressage Horses

We can’t mention famous dressage horses without talking about the dark bay Valegro, aka, Blueberry.

Valegro has a legion of fans around the world, especially after he and his rider Charlotte Dujardin won Olympic gold in front of a home crowd in London 2012.

Valegro retired at a young age after winning so much, he had nothing else to prove.

The next horse is Ravel, who represented the United States with rider Steffen Peters. He is the most successful American dressage horse in history.

Ravel is a very dark bay, he looks almost black.

Next, we come to Nip Tuck another team Great Britain horse, ridden by Carl Hester, who happens to be Charlotte Dujardin’s trainer.

Carl competed on the team with Charlotte at the London 2012 Olympics.

Nip Tuck is a standard bay with some white markings and took part in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

FAQs

WHAT MAKES A HORSE BAY?

A horse has a bay coat is it has a specific combination of genes. It must have a black base coat and a dominant agouti gene that restricts the black hairs.

IS BAY A BREED OF HORSE?

stunning Dutch warmblood horse under a tree

No, bay is not a breed of horse. It is a color that is one of the most commonly seen in horses. Nearly every horse breed can have horses with bay coats.

CAN A BAY HORSE HAVE A BLACK FOAL?

Yes, a bay horse can have a black foal. Because all bay horses have a black base coat the resulting foal will depend on what agouti it received from its parents. If the bay parent has Aa, it can pass the recessive ‘a’ to its foal. If the foal gets ‘a’ from its other parent, which also has a black base, it will be black.

ARE BAY HORSES BORN WITH BLACK LEGS?

All bay horses have black legs, which they are born with. However, when it is born, the black leg hair is not visible. Bay foals have light, almost tan hair on their legs. When they shed their foal coat the black legs are revealed.

WHAT ARE BAY HORSES USED FOR?

Irish sport horse showjumping with an equestrian

Bay horses participate in all equestrian activities. Since the color is so common across all breeds, you will find them everywhere. Bay horses take part in showjumping, eventing, dressage, reining, cutting, ranch work, driving, and farm work.

IS A HORSE BAY IF IT HAS A BROWN MANE?

No, for a horse to be bay it has to have a black mane and tail. This also applies to horses with black coloring; there will always be black in the mane and tail.

Conclusion
We’ve covered just about every type of bay coat you will see. As you see, this color is present in every sphere of equestrian sport and doesn’t represent one breed more than another.

From Arabian horses a draft horse breed like the Clydesdale, you will see dozens of shades of this common color.

Resources

a bay horse with white markings on the face

What is your favorite horse color? Do you have any questions about bay horse facts or origins? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
Find her on FACEBOOK

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