The Reds: Chestnut & Sorrel

Many registries try to separate sorrel and chestnut, but genetically they are the same, varying only according to other modifiers (like sootiness or pangare as well as nutritional variations).

Red (Chestnut and Sorrel) includes all red to red-brown horses with non-black "points" (manes, tails, and lower legs) which may vary from almost black to almost white. UC Davis says both sorrel and chestnut are confusing terms that ought to simply be replaced with "Red."

RED is totally recessive. Sorrel/Chestnut horses are homozygous recessive. Regardless of what color their parents might have been, they do not carry any other color-modifying genes, with the exception of those that have no effect on red (Agouti/Bay and Silver). They may carry the white spotting patterns on their red base.

Although in common useage, we say that Red is "caused" by a recessive gene. But in fact, Red is caused by the same gene that causes black--it's just caused by carrying two recessive alleles of the Extension gene, whereas black is caused by carrying at least one dominant allele of the Extension gene.

For a Complete discussion of RED see Equine Color's Red Page.


Use of the terms depends on which tradition one is coming from: People associated with European breeds or "English" equestrian sports prefer chestnut, whereas sorrel is the more common term in Western traditions.

PMU Mare & Foal

Interesting chestnut mustang with silver grey mane and tail. The genetics of point colors are not well studied or understood as of yet. Or is it a chestnut at all? Could it be a Silver? In some cases, only a genetics test can determine this for sure.

Red BLM wild horses

also refers to
"Belgian Sorrel"
which is a specific pattern of red or splotchy/roanish ("mealy factor") red body with light mane and tail and light lower legs, found typically in Belgians, and caused by the Pangare gene.

My husband, Michael's old team of Belgians from back in the 1970's and 1980's (They're now in Horse Heaven)


Liver Chestnut is a red-based color pattern that closely mimics Bay, Black, and Silver.  Liver Chestnut horses are dark red to almost black in body color, with dark manes and tails. Their legs may be the same color as their bodies, or they may be darker, again mimicking Bay. If you see a Bay-like horse whose points are dark but not quite black, or a Bay-like horse with black mane and tail but legs that are not black, that is a Liver Chestnut.

Liver Chestnut

Dark Liver Chestnut horse from
So-called " Flaxen-Maned Liver Chestnut" horses are usually actually Silver Dapples.

True Flaxen Chestnut

Silver Dapples pony

RED base color, when acted upon by the various genetic modifiers, create the following colors: Palomino, Cremello, Red Roan and Red Dun.

A Quick Overview of (Horse) Genetics   l   Horse Color Genetics2 with Charts   l     Equine BASE COLORS    l    The Dominant Color Genes   l    The Dilution Genes     l     The Recessive Color Genes    l    Miscellaneous Color Issues

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Color genetics are the same for all horses, regardless of breed or ancestry.

Since this is a Mustang website,
I use and prefer pictures of wild, or formerly-wild horses wherever possible.