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The Cowboy & the Small Town Girl

Part 4: A Brand New Color Wheel


Did I mention that being a non-cowgirl married to a cowboy wasn't easy? Cowboys speak a whole other language-- even when it comes to colors. I was an artist. I knew colors. But I didn't know cowboy colors.


"Isn't that a beautiful beige horse?" I commented to my husband in the early years of our marriage.


"Dun," Jack said.


"Done what?" I asked, thinking we were really conversing here.


"It's not a beige horse, it's a dun-colored horse," he corrected me. "In fact, it's a buckskin or lineback dun since it has a black mane and tail and a line down its back. If it had horizontal stripes from the knees down, it'd be a zebra dun. If it had a lighter colored mane and tail, it would be a palomino."


"That's what those silver-saddled horses are in the opening ceremony of the San Antonio Rodeo, right?"




"So then, what color is that rusty brown horse with the light-colored mane and tail?"




"Or that dark brown horse over there?"




"Or that almost white horse?"




"Okay, then what is that almost black horse?"




"Now I'm really confused."


"And sometimes a gray is called a flea-bit or blue roan, but more often a roan is a sorrel or chestnut or bay sprinkled with gray or white."


"So a horse can't simply be polka-dotted then."


"Of course not, Donna. That would be an Appaloosa or a dappled horse."


"I had a dappled dress once."


"It doesn't work that way."


"Well, what is a bay?"


"It's a reddish-brown horse with a dark mane, tail and lower part of the legs. But a horse can also have a blaze or piebald face, or have stockinged legs or sock feet. And there's also pinto or paint horses."


"Of course," I said, totally confused. But I thought I might be onto something when I said, " So... our son is a dun and our daughter is a chestnut?"


"How'd you come up with that? Van's tow-headed or cotton-topped, and Vanessa's hair is..."


"A bay? A sorrel?"


"No, Donna," he said exasperatedly. "Her hair's brown."


"Well, then, what color are those orange boots in your closet?” I knew I’d pressed the “Gone too far button” with that question since he bled maroon.


But that's another story.


*  *  *




Appaloosa: distinguished by mottled skin and a patch of white hair over the rump and loins that is blotched or dotted with a darker color


Bald Face: a very wide blaze, extending to or past the eyes. Some, but not all, bald faced horses also have blue eyes


Bay: a reddish brown with the mane, tail, and points black; slightly darker than chestnut brown.


Blaze: a wide, white stripe running down the face of a horse, but between the eyes: a strip or streak is a narrower stripe 

Buckskin dun: a light, yellowish dun horse with dark mane and tail, and can have dark legs up to the knees

Chestnut: a reddish brown with mane, tail, and points the same color or slightly lighter

Dappled: usually cloudy and rounded spots or patches of a color or shade different from their background

Dun: a brownish gray to beige color; the American Quarter Horse Association says that the dun gene is a “dominant modifier and can appear on both black- and red-based horses, adding the dun characteristics of a dorsal stripe, dark tips on the ears and lower part of the legs.” 

Flea-bitten gray: dark spots scattered throughout the gray color

Lineback dun: a buckskin dun with a dark dorsal stripe along its back

Paint or pinto: a mottled-colored horse characterized by large splotches of contrasting  


Palomino: a light tan or cream color with flaxen or white-colored mane and tail

Piebald: marked by two different colors, usually referred to a horse's face when white covers 

        most of it and surrounds at least one if not both eyes

Roan: having the base color (black, red, gray or brown) muted and lightened by specks of 

        white hair mingled throughout; a gray roan is sometimes called a blue roan

Snip: white markings on a horse's nose

Sorrel: a chestnut or bay-colored horse with light-colored mane and tail; also brownish 

        orange to light brown with light-colored mane and tail

Star: larger than a snip; white markings on a horse's forehead

Stocking: white marking that extends at least to the bottom of the knee or hock, 

        sometimes higher; a sock is white marking that is shorter than a stocking foot

Towheaded, cotton-topped: flaxen or white-headed

Zebra dun: dark stripes from the knees down on a dun horse

Whew. No, that isn't a color, but for all I knew at the time, it could've been.

Donna Van Cleve

November 2020


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