Horses have several distinctive face markings.
What I love about them the most is that each is individual to the horse.
No two markings are exactly the same, much like your fingerprints are unique to you.
Let’s dive right in!
READ MORE: What Are the Basic Hose Coat Colors?
11 Types of Horse Markings With a Chart
Horse facial markings are characteristics that give each horse its own identity. They are so unique that they are detailed on registration papers and help identify that horse. Individual horses have their own personal set of markings.
There are nine distinct face markings for horses but they are never exactly the same. Plus a horse can have a combination of markings.
It can be great fun working out what one or combination a horse has once you have an understanding of them.
|Blaze||Wide long strip fitting between the eyes||Starts on the forehead and runs the length of the face|
|Snip||White spot in the nostril area||The muzzle of other horse|
|Star||White spot of varying size and shape on the forehead||On the forehead or between the eyes|
|Stripe||Thin, long white stripe between the eyes||Starts on forehead and runs the length of the face|
|Ermine||Small dot of color withing white marking||Within a blaze or star|
|Lip markings||White marks in the lip area||Around the lips|
|Medicine Hat||Patch of color on top of the head/face and ears. White face||Top of the face and head|
|Apron||White that wider over most of face below the eyes||Starts thinner on forehead and expands down side of face below the eyes|
|Badger||White line that forms what looks like a reverse blaze||Can start on forehead and goes around near nasal bones|
|Combination||Combination of any of the above markings||Various locations on the face|
Marking 1. Blaze
Weatherbys, who is in charge of registering and ensuring DNA tests are carried out for all Thoroughbreds in the UK and Ireland, defines a blaze as a white marking that runs from the forehead right down to the muzzle. 
It is also fairly wide with the top part of the marking covering a large portion of the forehead and as wide as the bridge of the nose.
A blaze, while similar to a strip (or stripe), which I’ll get to in a bit, is distinguished by its width. A blaze can have a variety of shapes from quite symmetrical or quite misshapen.
Since the white of a blaze runs down over the muzzle, these horses will have pink skin on their noses. And while super cute, leaves the nose prone to sunburn. Ouch! So, it is something you need to keep an eye on during the summer.
For a quick and easy-to-follow introduction for horse facial markings, check out this video. It is simple and not detailed but a great visual.
Marking 2. Snip
I find horses with a snip face marking pretty adorable. The snip is confined to the nose area and can vary in size and intensity. To be a snip the white marking must sit somewhere between the horse’s nostrils.
These horses can also have some pink skin on their nose, but it is often a smaller area than you see with a blaze.
If you want a great full introduction to horse colors and the different markings they can have, I found this video very well done. It starts to talk about face markings about half-way through if you prefer to focus on that.
Marking 3. Star
The star is one of the most common face markings you will see on horses. There are several different types of stars. It can be as small as a little white dot! Plus despite the name, they actually aren’t the shape of a star.
One of my favorite types of star markings is those that look like a heart. Pretty cool, no?
A star is located on the horse’s forehead between the eyes. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) defines a star as “Any white mark on the forehead.
Size, shape, intensity, position, and color markings (if any) on the white to be specified. Should the markings in the region of the center of the forehead consist of a few white hairs only it should be so described and not referred to as a star” 
The Jockey Club, which is the American equivalent of Weatherby’s has a great breakdown of the different types of stars, which I’ll detail for you here. 
Small star – a small star is exactly that! Small. This white marking is no wider than 1 ½ inch.
Large star – you can quickly guess that a large star is wider than a small one (above). But the Jockey Club specifies it as at least 3 inches wide.
Diamond star – as the name implies this type of star has the shape of a diamond.
Diagonal star – A diagonal star is fairly thin and sits at an angle on the horse’s face, pointed towards either the left or right ear.
Horizontal star – similar to a diagonal star in width but the points lay horizontally and level with the eyes.
Vertical star – A vertical star sits on the forehead and has an “up and down.” shape. 
Curved star – A curved star will often have a crescent moon shape. It can face either left or right. It also might remind you of the letter ‘c’.
Heart star – one of my favorites! A heart shaped star looks like a beautiful white heart sitting on the horse’s forehead.
Triangle star – A triangular star is as the name says, a white mark in the shape of a triangle.
Irregular star – An irregular star is a white mark on the horse’s forehead that doesn’t fit into one of the other specific shape designations.
Pointed star – A white mark that has one or more distinct points. When doing a marking sheet for a horse the direction of the point must be noted if there is only one.
Mixed star – A mixed star is sometimes a little tricky to distinguish as it is a mixture of white hair and main coat color hair. It is sometimes called a Faint Star.
Bordered star – This white marking has its own frame. The border of the white marking is made up of both white and coat color hairs.
For another perspective, here is another look at some of the face markings you find on horses. It has cute photos and illustrations.
Marking 4. Stripe
A stripe, also called a strip is very similar to a blaze but it is thinner. It starts on the forehead, where it is often the widest, and extends down the face over the muzzle.
When a horse has a stripe they can have a small area of pink skin on their muzzle, but less than a horse with a blaze.
Strips can be continuous or broken into two sections. While Weatherbys doesn’t have several subcategories for a stripe (though requires a description), the Jockey Club makes some distinctions.
Thin strip – this is a white line down the horse’s face that is only about ½ inch wide.
Wide strip – A white line that runs down the front of the face that ranges from 2 to 3 inches wide.
Broken strip – This can be a thin or wide strip but instead of continuous, it is broken in at least one place.
Tapering strip – It’s easy to figure out this distinction from the name. It means that the white line gets continually thinner as it stretches down the face. The thinnest point is over the muzzle.
Irregular strip – Most strips have a continuous width and is fairly straight but an irregular one can change wides and look wavy.
Marking 5. Bald Face
Bald face is a rather odd name in my opinion but I can see the connection. This is a pretty cool facial marking, especially on ponies with adorable dish faces. Black horses with this marking are particularly striking.
This white face marking is much wider than a blaze. It starts on the forehead and is wider than at least one eye. Just like a blaze it stretches down over the muzzle.
It is common for bald faced horses to have one blue eye. And while beautiful it can come with some genetic disorders such as deafness. Bald face horses are also at risk of sunburn due to the pink skin on the sensitive area of their muzzle.
Some breeds of horses are more likely to have a bald face. This includes the Paint horse and the majestic Clydesdale.
Marking 6. Ermine
An ermine is a dot of the main coat color that falls in the middle of a white marking. They can turn up on face markings, such as a blaze or in the white socks on the legs.
An ermine can have a circle or wavy splash shape.
My own horse has loads of ermine spots in her white leg socks. I call them her freckles. Wherever the ermine is located is adds to the uniqueness of the horse.
Marking 7. Lip Markings
Lip markings are white marks found around the lips. This might be the only white a horse has on its face or part of other markings. The mark can be very small or larger and oddly shaped.
Marking 8. Medicine Hat
The medicine hat horse will have an almost entirely white face with a patch of main coat color at the top of their head and over their eyes. It looks like they are wearing a hat.
It is one of the more rare types of facial markings. To the Native Americans, horses with this marking were extra special. 
The legend is that they had magical powers that would keep their rider safe in battle. It also said that these horse special powers could warn of danger. If the horse had at least one blue eye, it was said that it held a strong amount of magic.
This is a beautiful video featuring the wild stallion Shaman, who has a medicine hat. Enjoy the wild horses and stunning scenery of Shaman’s home.
You will rarely see a horse with a medicine hat and of the breeds of horses it is most commonly found in the Paint. Producing a medicine hat is one of the big breeding goals for some horse people.
However, a responsible breeder will perform a genetic analysis prior to selecting two horses to breed together, to avoid a dangerous genetic variation that could result in the death of the foal.
Marking 9. Apron
An apron face marking is white the spreads out once it’s below the eyes. The white starts on the forehead, not much different than a blaze.
However, after the eyes, it spills out down the sides of the face, over the nasal bones, and can cover the entire muzzle. These horses can have a lot of pink skin on their face, so you need to take extra care with sun exposure.
Marking 10. Badger
A badger horse face marking is quite unusual looking and rare. With this marking, the white is a line that frames a shape similar to a blaze. However, the blaze area is actually the horse’s main coat color.
One way to think of this marking is a reverse blaze. The white line can vary from thin to quite wide. It often runs along or just below the nasal bones.
Marking 11. Combinations
In addition to one of the face markings I’ve described above, a horse can have a number of combinations of markings.
For example, a horse can have a star and a snip. The area between the two marks is filled with the base color, be it chestnut, bay, or black.
Horse Facial Marks FAQs
I’m sure you saw many of the horse face markings I’ve talked about here before but weren’t sure what some of them are called. Now you have all the info you need to identify them in the future.
Though, questions always come up. I’ve put together some questions I’ve been asked in the past to hopefully give you more details.
How many horse face markings are there?
There are at least nine horse face markings. But don’t forget, each is unique to the horse, like snowflakes, thus in reality their endless amounts!
What is the rarest horse marking?
The rarest horse marking is a close race between the medicine hat and the badger face markings. Check our guide of rare horse colors to know more.
What are the markings on a horse’s nose called?
The markings on a horse’s nose are called snips. A snip can be a small white mark or take up the width of the nose area.
What is the most common horse marking?
The most common horse marking is a star. Stars can vary in shape and size but are always located on the horse’s forehead.
What is the difference between a blaze and a stripe?
The difference between a blaze and a stripe is that a stripe is thinner than a blaze. Otherwise, they are much the same as both stretch the length of the horse’s face.
Does a gray horse have face markings?
Yes, a gray horse can be born with any of the face markings I’ve covered here. But as the horse turns white with age the markings are very hard to see.
On the grey horses that I have had, you can see their face and leg markings when they are wet or clipped. This is because the markings have pink skin compared to a gray horse’s black skin.
Are markings used for horse identification?
Yes, taking note of markings in the modern horse population is one of the most common methods of horse identification. For registering most modern horse breeds a marking sheet is done and submitted for their papers.
Are face markings genetic traits in horses?
Markings in horses are genetic traits in horses. The KIT, MITF, and MCIR genes are the major genes that affect if a horse will have white markings.
I hope you are now an expert in horse face markings! It’s pretty easy when you know what the differences are. You don’t have to be a horse owner to know them. These are natural markings that a horse is born with and they will not change as the horse ages.
Horses can get more white markings during their life but they are due to things like scars from an injury. Facial markings are just some of the features that make a horse beautiful.
Not all horses have white face markings. In fact, some horses have no white on them at all including white leg markings. They can be solid bay, black, or chestnut, which makes them unique in their own way.
In addition to the face, there are other distinguishing markings on horses. These include a dark spot, hair whorls, and a dent.
These dents are sometimes called ‘The prophet’s thumb print’. Dark body spots are common on chestnut horses. But more on other markings another day.
- 1. Wynne-Powell R. Introduction. Mac OS X for Photographers [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2022 Jan 10]. p. 2–9. Available from: https://www.weatherbys.co.uk/Weatherbys/media/PDFs/Identification-of-Horses-Booklet.pdf
- 2. FEI Fédération Equestre Internationale Identification of Horses with the narrative and the diagram [Internet]. 2007. Available from: https://inside.fei.org/system/files/ID_of_horses_2014.pdf
- 3. Jockey Club Interactive Registration [Internet]. www.registry.jockeyclub.com. [cited 2022 Jan 10]. Available from: https://www.registry.jockeyclub.com/registry.cfm?page=headmark
- 4. Leigh L. Medicine Hat [Internet]. Wild Horse Education. 2021 [cited 2022 Jan 10]. Available from: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/12/24/medicine-hat/
What are your favorite horse face markings? Let us know below!
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.
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