Horses’ coat colours and patterns have evolved over millennia. Since their domestication, horse colour trends and fashions have come and gone; breeders have carefully paired mares and stallions to produce a particular coloured foal; and today there’s even an entire branch of genetics devoted to coat colour.
So what is the current fashion, and does it factor into how judges evaluate a horse’s performance? Anna Fisker Hansen, BSc(Hons) Equine Science, who is completing her research masters in equitation science at Plymouth University/Duchy College, here in the (U.K.), recently conducted a study to address this in one subset of the U.K.’s horse population: young horses being evaluated as future performance horses. She presented her findings at the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held in Vancouver, Canada.
Based on feedback from participants of the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) young horse evaluations—which look at more than 400 horses under the age of 3 each year—Fisker Hansen said she hypothesized a negative bias toward piebald or skewbald horses.
“The premium scores awarded at the Futurity can influence the worth of a horse, thus any bias in scoring could have economic implications,” Fisker Hansen explained. “This is noteworthy, as unwanted horses have majorly increased in Britain, affecting equine welfare.”
In her study Fisker Hansen combed through seven years (2008-2014) of Futurity data on 4,001 horses. She grouped them according to colour: bay (2,218), chestnut (773), black (345), spotted (298), block-coloured (241), and dilutions, such as buckskin and palomino (126). She also surveyed 65 British equestrians about their coat colour preferences through social media.
Based on the BEF data, Fisker Hansen found that block-coloured horses had by far the lowest mean premium scores compared to all solid-coloured horses, and spotted horses had the second lowest mean premium scores.
“These results mirror those of the questionnaire, with block-coloured and spotted chosen as the least favorite horse colours by a significant number of respondents,” she said. “This suggests a negative bias of block-coloured and spotted horses influencing subjective evaluations of potential sport horses.”
She concluded that while further analysis is needed, breeders might take this bias into consideration to avoid overbreeding low-value horses in an already saturated market.
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