The Breakdown on Superstitious Equine Markings

Posted by Allie Layos
Portrait of the piebald horse in the forest

When it comes to equine colors and markings the horse industry is full of superstition, but is there any truth to it?

Among the dozens of old sayings that have been passed down from one generation of horse lovers to the next, many deal with horse colors and markings, and they are often contradictory.

Many horse owners tout the seemingly sound advice that "a good horse is never a bad color," yet these same people can often be heard spouting theories about horse colors and markings. Black horses are often said to be safe but difficult, and then there's the vague warning that we're supposed to "beware the chestnut mare."

Chestnut horse in a pasture with golden back light.

But despite the warnings against black and chestnut, if there is one color that seems to trump all others when it comes to determining equine personality, it is white. Though it may be eye-catching, for decades an excessive amount of white hairs on a horse's body has been thought to denote a horse that is "crazy," unpredictable, or unsafe.

This superstition doesn't only address a horse's main coat color, but white in other places, like a constantly visible large amount of white sclera around the iris, or excessive white markings on the face and legs. According to the theory, the horse's level of unpredictability is directly proportionate to the amount of white on its body.

There is even a catchy poem about white leg markings:

One sock -- buy him.
Two socks -- try him.
Three socks -- doubt him.
Four socks -- do without him.

Horse in White Socks

While there are a few version of the poem, all the versions point toward the same idea; the higher the number of white socks a horse has, the less reliable he'll be. Though a bit harsh, one of the versions even adds a fifth line, which addresses white on the face as well:

Four white feet and a white nose -- knock him in the head and feed him to the crows.

Those who have this aversion toward white usually address the fact that it doesn't apply all breeds and types. The genetic makeup of Appaloosas and Paints generally includes more visible white in the eyes and in facial markings, and Paints and pintos can have large white spots and white marks all over their body.

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So can a horse's coloring or markings really tell you about its personality? Many people who have spent their lives around horses swear by it, but there is no scientific evidence to prove it, and there have probably been just as many champion horses with four white socks as without any at all.

Still, there's no harm in test riding that white-legged horse an extra time ... just in case.

What color horse do you have? Show us in the comments below!

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The Breakdown on Superstitious Equine Markings