Horse colours

Ragnelle

New Member
I just caught up with the last episode (175) after falling behind a bit, and this might be more a comment than a question, and perhaps not too important, but, being a horse nerd, it was important to me.

On the question of Shadowfax's name, Cory Olsen commented that Shadowfax is grey, not white. And that is correct. But "grey" in horse colours can be anything from a dark grey to a coat that anyone other than an equestrian would call white. A grey horse is a horse that turns grey early in life - just like som people get grey hair earlier than others. And like the grey hair of human being can become all white, so does the hair of grey horses. It is true that some greys are constant -- that is, they don't get lighter with the years-- but most turn lighter the older they get.

The difference between a true white horse and a grey is the the color of their skin. A grey will have dark skin under the hairs while a white horse will have pink skin. It is easiest to see around the mouth and eyes. You can see it in the horses that played Shadowfax in Jackson's movies; both have dark skin around the eyes and mouth (though one has some pink, a sign that it has a white marking) and are therefore greys.

I have tried to search to see if later decsriptions of Shadowfax gave any more hints as to how light or dark is coat is, but did not find any. There is a horse colour called silver, it is a dilution gene which affects the black colour, but it will typically give a black horse a chocolate colour, not grey, so I don't think that is what Gandalf meant when he describes him shining as silver.

Horses can get a metalic gleam to their coates (I know one Chessnut who looks like pollished bronze in the sun, though it is most often seen in the Akhal-Teke breed), so while I do agree that Shadowfax is meant to be special and mythic, the description is not of anything that can't be seen in horses today, however rarely. As a horse lover, it actually makes Shadowfax seem greater to me than if his colouring had been unrealistic. Rather than detracting from the mythic status of the horse, it adds to it that the colour is possible.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I had an Arab horse, who looked white to all uninformed and non-horsey acquaintances. The number of times I had to correct them - "No, he is grey," was tedious.

Shadowfax is a grey horse. That means he looks white.

Here is Elizabeth Thompson's painting, 'Scotland Forever', depicting the charge of the Scots Greys at the battle of Waterloo. The Scots Greys were so named because their horses were all Greys. What color do you think most people would call most of these horses?

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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Ragnelle,

By the way, kudos to you for spelling 'colours' in the English, rather than the American way. JRRT would surely approve!
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
Ooh I'm happy that horse nerdery chimed in here. I knew there was *something* going on with white/grey for horses, but I didn't remember exactly what it was.
 

Ragnelle

New Member
Flamifer: English is my second language, and the British spelling was what we were taught so I tend to stick to that.
That paining is a good illustation! It shows the differences that can be in greys, with some rather dark grey, some dappled, and a lot who most would call white.

Amysrevenge: It is a very common to confuse that, and usually only equestians will remebemer it. White is very rare for horses, though, so if you see a horse that looks white, it is a safe bet that it is a grey. Grey is a very common colour since it is a dominant trait and is laid above the other colouring, Since horses usually are registered as foals, you can have a horse that looks all white, but is (correctly) registred as black. It can get confusing.
It also means that a herd of all greys can get offspring that are not grey. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna use only Lippizan horses, who famously all are greys, but they usually also have one or two of the stallions who are black or bay. It is rare for them to turn up.

"Fax" or "Faxi" is still often used in horse-names for the Islandic horses.
 
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