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Eye Color in Horses

Most horses have brown eyes but other eye colors are seen. These eye colors can include blue, green, yellow, amber, or hazel. Most variation in eye color is the result of a white pattern or dilution.

Blue Eyes in Horses

Blue Eyes and White Pattern

Blue eyes in horses (and other mammals) are caused by a reduction of pigment (melanin) in the eye. This causes light to reflect differently from the eye making the eye appear blue. Blue eyes and partial blue eyes in horses are most often associated with a white pattern. They most often occur when the white pattern passes near the eye removing pigment from all or part of the eye. The white patterns that are theorized to cause blue eyes are the Splashed White Patterns (SW1, SW2, SW3) and Frame (LWO). These patterns like to cause large bald (all white) faces which often include or pass near the eye thus causing the majority of blue eyes. One interesting variation to this scenario is the horse who has a blue eye with only a minimal amount of white. This type of blue eye is still thought to be caused by a white pattern however, the exact mechanism that causes blue eyes without associated face white is unknown. It should also be noted that even if your horse carries Frame or Splashed White this does not guarantee blue eyes or blue eyed foals. Many Splashed White and Frame Overo horses do not have Blue eyes and the variations in expression of these white patterns and the blue eyes associated with them is not understood. Tobiano, Sabino, and the Dominant White family of patterns tend to want to retain color in the eye area thus blue eyes are rare with these patterns unless Slashed White or Frame is also present.

blue eyed horse

A blue eye caused by a white pattern

Partial blue eyed caused by a white pattern

Partial Blue eyed Caused by a White Pattern

minimal frame with blue eye

A very minimal Frame (LWO) with a blue eye

Blue Eyes and Dilution

The dilution in horses that most often causes blue eyes is the cream dilution. The cream mutation is found on the gene Membrane Associated Transporter Protein (MATP). This gene is associated with a form of albinism (color dilution) in humans and also with diluted color in many other mammals. The mutation in horses is incompletely dominant and results in palomino, buckskin, and smokey black when only one copy of the mutation is present. When two copies of the dilution are present it causes more extreme dilution resulting in loss of pigment in the eye. This reduction of pigment usually results in the eyes being light blue although green, hazel, and light yellow have also been observed.

Blue eyes may also result when the cream gene is present with another dilution genes. These include the pearl gene and the champagne gene. If either of these dilutions is present as well as cream, blue eyes can result.

blue eye in a double dilute

Blue eye in a horse homozgyous for cream

blueish eye in a cremello

A bluish-green eye in a cremello horse

striking blue eyes in a perlino

Striking Blue Eyes in a Perlino

Amber and Hazel Eyes in Horses

Amber and Hazel Eyes and Dilution

Amber and Hazel eyes in horses are most often caused by a dilution. The Champagne dilution almost always results in Amber eyes in adult horses although green and blue-green have been reported. The pearl gene also results in Amber Eyes in adult horses. Although, green eyes have been reported in champagne horses they are very rare.

amber eye in a champagne horse

The Amber Eye of A Champagne

amber champagne eye

Another Example of Amber eyes in a Champagne

light color eye of an Classic Cream Dun

The light colored blue/green eye of a Classic Cream Dun

Amber Eye Color or “Tiger Eyes” in Paso Fino Horses

Yellow eyes are sometimes found in Paso Fino horses without any accompanying coat color dilution. These yellow eyes are often referred to as “Tiger” or “Goat” eyes. Pedigree research had led to the belief that a recessive mutation was responsible. Further genetic research by Elizabeth J. A. Kowalski has led to the discovery that ECA1 is the probable locus responsible. Research for the causative mutation is ongoing. It is possible that this gene mutation could be responsible for yellow eyes in other horses of Spanish descent.

tiger eye in a paso fino

Tiger Eye in A Paso Fino

Green Eyes in Horses

Green eyes are the rarest eye color in horses. They are most commonly found in pearl or cream and pearl horses but even then are uncommon. Horses that are homozygous for cream (Cremello, Perlino, and Smoky Cream) or are Cream and Champagne are occasionally seen with Green or Greenish-blue eyes. In homozygous cream horses, they are sometimes seen along with slightly darker than average skin pigmentation.

bluish eye of a cream pearl horse

The blue-green eye of a horse with both cream and pearl

green eyed horse

A Green eyed Buckskin Pearl Stallion (cream + pearl)

For more examples of different eye colors in horses see our Horse Eye Color Gallery

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