Horse markings come up in many FunTrivia games, so here's a chance to keep them straight. Descriptions are all well and good, but I need pictures! Do you know a stripe from a blaze? A snip from a star? If you didn't before, you will when it's done!
A label quiz
Estimated time: 4 mins.
Bald FaceLip MaskingBlazeCrescentSnipInterrupted StripeIrregular BlazeStar and StripeStripe and SnipFaintStripeStar* Drag / drop or click on the choices above to move them to the answer list.
Quiz Answer Key and Fun Facts
A blaze is a band of white which covers the whole bridge of the nose, from the forehead to the nose itself. Much wider than a stripe, it extends between the bone ridges. A horse named Nelson was a chestnut-colored beauty with a white blaze, owned by George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Unbridled, the winner of the 116th Kentucky Derby (1990), also had a blaze.
The blaze is the most common white marking among horses.
When the band of white down the front of a horse's face is is more or less even and not very wide (only an inch or two), then it's a stripe (or a strip, but stripe is more common in the 21st century so as not to confuse it with "snip"). Often a stripe will end in a pink area on the nose (called "fleshmarkings").
3. Stripe and Snip
When a stripe extends to the white markings on a horse's nose, it's a combination stripe and snip.
The white color in the hairs of a horse (and other mammals) comes from a lack of pigment cells, or melanocytes, which produce melanin, the pigment that colors skin, eyes, hair, etc. In other words, it's a lack of melanogenesis, rather than the production of a "white color".
4. Irregular Blaze
A marking is "irregular" when it is not in a straight line but is notably crooked, or the shape is odd or otherwise out of the ordinary.
A particular kind of irregular blaze, called a "badger face" or "reverse blaze", describes a coloring which looks like white stripes or streaks (or some other shape) down the side of the horse's face, with the horse's dominant coat color down the middle. Or think of it as a painting a bald face on a horse, and then painting the the dominant coat color again somewhere in the middle.
5. Interrupted Stripe
Just as it sounds, a stripe down a horse's face is not continuous but is broken somewhere along the way, but it is still in a fairly straight line.
A blaze (which is essentially a wide stripe) may be interrupted too. When it is, the areas of interruptions are called "ermines", particularly if they are black rather than the horse's dominant coat color. They are named after the fur worn by royalty that is white with black flecks, either made of the winter coat of the stoat (the ermine) or made to look like such a coat. Such "ermines" on a horse may be round or irregular in shape.
6. Bald Face
To be "bald", the blaze must go extend all the way to or past the eyes. And further, blue eyes are often associated with a bald face (but not required to be called "bald"). If the bald markings are strictly below the eyes, this is called an "apron".
Bald-faced horses are prized in many Native American cultures, though they tend to be more subject to sunburns.
Bald faces are fairly common in the pinto horse, which is not a breed but a coat color made of large patches of white and any other color. The American paint horse (APH), which is a breed of pinto horse with thoroughbred or quarter horse bloodlines, also has an above-average occurrence of bald faces.
A faint is a small spot of white on a horse's forehead (between the eyes) without any pink skin underneath. It might even be just a few hairs. It's often small enough to be hidden by a curly forelock. Some equestrians call it a "faint star", and if the white hairs are very few, it can be called a flame.
A star is a patch of white, bigger than a mere spot, between a horse's eyes, typically with pink skin underneath. It's a little too big to be hidden by a forelock.
Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's steed and perhaps the most famous horse in world history, was a large black beauty with a large white star. He was named, however, for the ox-head branding stamped on his hindquarters -- from Greek words 'bouc' ("ox") and 'kepahli' ("head"). Such branding was common in ancient times.
9. Star and Stripe
When the top of a stripe is significantly wider than the bottom, it is considered a "star and stripe" combination.
Horse markings are governed by genetics. Chestnut horses will tend to have more significant markings than bay or black horses. Bay horses are a common coloring of a thoroughbred: reddish-brown to brown body, black points on the legs and ears, black mane and tail. The points are required; lacking them, it's literally a horse of a different color.
Stars that have an unusual shape are called "irregular stars", and some stars take on a distinctly crescent shape (thought it may be uneven).
A heart-shaped star is also possible. Rachel's Valentina, the second foal of Rachel Alexandra (winner of the 135th Kentucky Oaks in 2009 and also 2009 American Horse of the Year) was named for such a marking on her forehead.
A white marking on the muzzle, between the nostrils, is a snip.
Paynter was a thoroughbred horse whose promising career in racing was cut short by nearly fatal colitis and laminitis. The celebrity horse's struggles to live gained quite a following on social media in the 2010s. He had both a star and a faint snip and though he survived, he never raced again.
12. Lip Masking
Lip masking often indicates that a horse has sabino coloring, which is a particular pattern of white spotting in horses. Like pinto, it doesn't describe a bread but coat coloring. This goes beyond the face to having a pattern of white belly spots and "lacy" marks throughout the body, along white coloring on the legs extending from the hoofs to above the knees. While the genes that determine sabino color in most horses are generally known, it is not known why this pattern appears in Clydesdales.
Don't confuse "lip masking" with a "fly mask", which is not a horse marking but a semi-transparent fabric covering for the eyes, jaws, and ears of a horse to protect it from flies, mosquitos, and other biting insects.