Redheaded horses, specifically mares, have a reputation for being hot and sensitive, but while this stereotype may be true, there's limited research to back it up, says Dr. Robin Foster. Equine coat color is determined by 11 or more different genes, with two genes controlling the four basic coat color: chestnut, black, brown and bay, reports The Horse. The other genes modify the basic coat colors.
The same genes that determine coat color also affect a horse's behavior, neurologic function, health and physiology. Very few studies have investigated the correlation between coat color and behavior; one that has noted that chestnuts horses are more likely to approach unfamiliar animals and objects, but they were not more likely to have difficulties in training. It was hypothesized that chestnuts may seem hotter because they put themselves in dangerous situations.
In another study, Icelandic horses proved that silver-colored horses are more cautious in new situations, but they were not more reactive in fearful situations. One potential explanation was that silver coat coloring may also cause eye abnormalities and hearing issues, so the behavior may be related to sensory problems more than coat coloring itself.
In other animals, darker coat coloring is linked with greater aggression and resistance to stress, as well as sexual activity. Light coloring has been linked to tameness and domestication. In horses, the light-chestnut coat color has occurred through domestication, so chestnut horses may be tamer than dark-colored horses.
Dr. Foster notes that the stereotype of chestnut horses being hot may be the result of “confirmation bias,” meaning that people remember incidences that support their beliefs and discount examples that don't support their belief.
Read more at The Horse.
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