International Champagne Horse Registry

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Identifying the

The adult has pink skin
with abundant dark freckles

Champagne is a color-modifying gene, like bay or dun,  and not a term for all shiny, light or strangely-colored horses.

For links to all known DNA color testing labs,
click here.

Also, see THIS ARTICLE,   which includes this fact: 
since the champagne gene has been determined to be a North American mutation, which occurred sometime in the mid 1800's,
an equine must have at least one ancestor (parent, great-grandparent, etc.)
  of North American bloodlines to be recognized as champagne.

Champagne vs. non-Champagne characteristics

Memorizing this one sentence will save a lot of time:
"The adult champagne horse will have pink skin with abundant dark freckles."
The skin will be this color everywhere except under pure white markings. 
For FOAL champagne colors click here.
Also, the coat, mane & tail colors will be diluted (not dark black or chestnut.)

Some of the pictures below are full-sized;
those with beveled edges or blue borders are clickable to enlarge.

By studying the pictures on this page, and elsewhere on this web site, you may be able to determine by a visual examination, alone, whether your horse is a champagne color.  However, it's best to let an expert examine your horse, even if by photographs alone, and look at its ancestors and any foals it has produced. 

because it is a dominant gene.

If all of that still leaves a question, there is now a DNA test for it!






The skin on the udders of champagne
mares is pink everywhere.
Skin under tail of champagne stallion
(all above are champagne horses)

The pink skin of a Champagne horse is "pigmented pink" -- not the pigment-free, paler pink color found under all white markings of all horses.  Champagne skin may tan.

That pink skin has ABUNDANT, DARK freckles, except in newborns.  (We don't call them mottles, splotches, specks or blotches, to avoid confusion with other types of equine skin pigmentation.) 

Champagne skin is this color EVERYWHERE that there is colored hair on the horse. 
There are usually fewer freckles under the main body hair.

It's easiest to identify -- and the most freckles appear -- in these places:

around the eyes,
on the muzzle,  &
around the private parts.

Left: various examples of champagne skin; facial and private parts.

Right, from top: Palomino skin - around eye & on muzzle, on chest, and under tail;   a perlino dun; Appaloosa skin; cremello skin; palomino udder and teats.

Note:  since the discovery of the PEARL gene, this skin coloring alone is not sufficient to prove that a horse is a champagne, since pearl and cream-pearl horses also have similarly-colored skin.  The horse also must have a champagne parent, since champagne is a dominant gene. 
Pearl is not dominant, but recessive,
which is how it was discovered.
The picture immediately below is of the muzzle of a PEARL dilute. Click to enlarge.

And here is a photo of a cremello:

Cremello - click to see "dark specks"
 rather than freckles.

The skin on the muzzle and around the eye of a mature Palomino will usually be dark gray or black,
 except where white markings are present.
Occasionally, Palomino horses with sabino roaning
may have pink skin in places, as do the two above.

Perlino Dun
Appaloosa skin

Appaloosa skin

The teats on the udder of a
Palomino mare are dark.





Amber Champagne

Classic Cream Champagne


The pigment of the body, leg, mane and tail hair of a champagne horse will all be diluted.  "Dilute" is what milk does to the color of coffee -- it lightens it.  But not every diluted-color horse is a Champagne (see examples).

Left, upper: an amber champagne,
the result of Champagne on a bay base. 

Left, lower: classic cream, the result of champagne plus cream on black.

Right, upper: a buckskin, the result
of CREAM on a bay base. 
Her points are true black.

Right, lower: silver buckskin,
bay + cream with a silver (Z) gene added.


Silver buckskin

Champagne horses may have darker coats in winter than in summer, unless they also have a cream gene. 
Horses with a cream gene tend to have a lighter coat in winter.

Gold Champagne

Gray Champagne

Gray Champagne


Shine is not taken into account, because many non-champagne horses' coats are extremely shiny or iridescent, and many champagne horses' coats do not show any unusual shine. 

Of course, champagne is not just a catch-all name for light colors, either.

Left, top: gold champagne, the result of  the gene acting on a red (chestnut) base.  

Upper right: Lewisfield Sun God, a very shiny chestnut Arabian. 

Center right: a very light-colored, shiny palomino (click to see the shine).

Lower right: a very shiny dark cremello (click to see the shine).


Many champagne gray horses are more colorful than their non-gray or non-champagne counterparts.  They tend to be born darker, have darker freckles, and can have so many flea-bites after graying out that, from a distance, they appear to be colored.

Left, center and lower: gray on champagne

Bright Chestnut

Light, Shiny   Palomino

Dark, Shiny Cremello

Gold Champagne
above & below: Classic Champagne


Reverse dappling may be found on
Champagne colored horses, depending on the time of year, etc.  (Reverse dappling is the appearance of dark spots with lighter, surrounding "lacing".)

However, it also may occasionally be found on dun and other colors.

Left: three champagne horses with
reverse dappling. Click to see the
dapples clearly.

Right, upper: dun with reverse dappling.

Right, lower: normal dapples on a bay.

Center column, below: click to see
dapples on a cream champagne,
caused by the cream gene.

"Frosty" roan mare with reverse dapples

Normal dapples on a sooty bay, for comparison.  Normal dapples are light spots, with a surrounding dark "lacing" or "net" effect.

We would appreciate a picture of reverse dapples caused by dun. 
Please let the webmaster know it's for the ICHR "Identification" page.

Amber Champagne


Every mysterious color is not automatically champagne.  When coat colors are mysterious, one must look further to determine the genetics of the horse. 
Compare these two horses:

Left: an amber champagne mare

Right: formerly a "mystery color", 
this Palomino turned this color
in his later years. He has dark skin,
and DNA tests prove he is a palomino!

"Sooty"   Palomino
Dark Gold

Left: this was once a "mystery color". But it is now known that here are some Gold champagnes with this unusual
"Dark Gold" coloration.

Right: red duns may look a little similar,
but duns have dark skin, and stripes.




Red Dun







The visible skin touching, and all around, the eye of a champagne horse will be pigmented-pink with abundant dark freckles.  Though a few other genetic combinations can produce pink, freckled skin, they're usually different in quality or quantity (see examples at right.) 

Sometimes the skin around the eye of a champagne colored horse can be almost all dark, due to the abundance of freckles.

MOST horses have very dark (black or charcoal gray) skin around their eyes, except for under white pinto/paint/Appaloosa markings, and double-cream and pearl dilutes.

Left: various champagne eyes

Right, upper: dark eye skin typical of most non-champagnes

Right, lower: pink areas due to the depigmentation found in some gray horses as they age.

palomino (fine light hairs around eye, not light skin)

gray depigmentation/vitiligo

DOUBLE-CREAM "dark specks":

The skin around the eyes of a double cream dilute, like cremello or perlino, will be a slightly different shade of pink, and have just a few black "specks" rather then typical champagne "freckling".  Compare these pictures to become familiar with the difference.

Left: champagne plus cream

Right: double cream dilutes.

both cremellos


Often, horses with one cream gene will be born with pink skin.  It usually darkens to black within weeks.

Left: Champagne eyes, older and younger

Right: a smoky black mare's
eye with pinkish skin and
 some "speckles".


See the champagne foal page for more information.




Gray on a champagne horse often produces darker colors in both coat and skin.  Gray on a non-champagne is sometimes accompanied by depigmentation, or loss of pigment/color in skin on the face, not to be confused with the darker-pink champagne skin with freckles.

Left: gray on champagne

Right: non-champagne
gray depigmentation

gray depigmentation/vitiligo


Appaloosa skin has various degrees of depigmentation.  The pigmented part of a champagne + Appaloosa horse's skin will be pink with freckles, in addition to the non-pigmented pink areas common to Appaloosas.

Left and below: Appaloosa PLUS champagne.  The two pictures of the mare, below, show that nothing in horse color is "etched in granite"... she really is champagne!

Another Champagne & Appaloosa eye, below, courtesy of Julie Yatsko.


eye.jpg (13356 bytes)
white sclera
Sorry, no larger versions of these are available

Appaloosa eye skin


Pearl is a newly-identified dilution gene, believed to be an allele of cream,
which, in its homozygous form or combined with cream,
produces dilute colors with pink skin and often more-muted freckles.

But, as you can see from these photos of two different horses with pearl dilutions,
either a DNA test or parentage/offspring study may be needed to differentiate pearl and pearl-cream from champagne.

A young Palomino + Pearl

Pearl; the very light skin is just under white markings (an extended blaze)





champagne_muzzle.jpg (35508 bytes)

As described above, champagne skin is pink with abundant, dark freckles.

Left: typical champagne muzzle skin

Right, above: "pink-skinned Palomino" muzzle

Right, below: normal palomino muzzle

(in most other pictures this horse's muzzle skin appears black.  Perhaps he was very young here. He is incorrectly advertised as a gold champagne.)
Asti4ichr3.jpg (96104 bytes)

Left: Amber champagne

Right: buckskin

angel2-muzzle2.JPG (47832 bytes)

The pink skin of a "double cream" (cremello, perlino, etc.) is a slightly different shade than champagne skin, and it has sparse black "flecks".

Left, top: gold cream muzzle at 4 months. Look closely under the hair for the freckles.

Left, below: older gold cream filly

Right: adult cremello muzzle


Left: Amber champagne

Right: Appaloosa, gray

              Appaloosa                       Gray                  
Thanks to Supanee Chaiwiroj of Thailand
for the pictures of gray pigment loss.
Champagne Showcase - muz.jpg (34928 bytes)

 Freckled skin is much harder to see through heavier winter coats.

Left: classic champagne
muzzle in WINTER.

Right: muzzle of a smoky
black (one cream on black)

stc2.jpg (84929 bytes)

Here is an example of why it's so important  to use pedigree as well as appearance (and DNA testing where possible) to determine a horse's true genetic color identity.

Left: champagne muzzle

Right: Pearl + cream dilute





 Boo Boo - ppp.jpg (53020 bytes)
 Annie13.jpg (7390 bytes)
Sweet Champagne - b.jpg (96544 bytes)

Left: under-tail shots of typical champagne skin, mares

Right above: under-tail shot
of typical double-cream skin, mare

Right middle: under-tail of
palomino mare

Right, below: under-tail of
palomino gelding

1yrvanppp.jpg (30988 bytes)



appypagne.jpg (17701 bytes)

As on the face, skin of a champagne that is also appaloosa will be a pigmented pink color with abundant freckles, with typical Appaloosa un-pigmented areas, also.

Left: under tails of
       champagne Appaloosas

Right: private parts of Appaloosa

App - b.JPG (51440 bytes)

App - s.JPG (79919 bytes)

Madame Ginger of HUKFarms-u.jpg (170741 bytes)

When it comes to UDDERS, some cream dilutes have pink, freckled, skin there, but the teat color is dark on a single cream dilute (palomino, etc.), and light on a champagne. 

Left: the skin on the udders of two champagne mares

Right top: skin on the udder of 
a smoky black mare
(one cream gene on black)

Right middle: palomino mare

Right bottom: private parts of a
palomino stallion

stc4.jpg (63272 bytes)




Horses can now be tested for most color genes to find out their true genetic color identities.  This is very useful for those who wish to breed for certain colors (or to avoid certain colors.)  Several labs currently offer tests for black (black or bay) or red (chestnut) pigment, agouti (bay, brown or solid black), silver, pearl, and cream, in addition to the three paint gene tests available (tobiano, sabino-1 and frame/LWO).  And a champagne test is now available!

Color Test Links


PEARL colors were addressed briefly, above. During the course of examining horses to be registered with the ICHR, some horses were discovered whose colors could not be explained by any then-known genetic color combination.  They looked somewhat like champagne colors, but several important characteristics were wrong.

When these unexplained colors were thoroughly researched, they turned out to have distinct genetic signatures, 
different from any currently catalogued!  There is now a test for the PEARL gene.

You can read more about Pearl HERE.

The founders and friends of the ICHR continue to research unusual and undocumented colors in horses.  You may join the ICHR list as a launching point to learn more
(see the Yahoogroups button, below.)

a group of owners of horses with this new dilution agreed upon it; and later, U.C. Davis also agreed to use the name.

If you still find it impossible to tell what is a champagne color, and what is not, after studying this page,
just remember: it takes years of study and experience, including some scientific training (usually),
to become a horse color "expert". 
Don't give up;  join the Yahoogroups ICHR discussion list (see button, below) ;
learn from the experts!

* If the horse has also been proven to have two cream genes, or cream + dun on chestnut, plus champagne, it may not have many visible freckles.  Any it does have may be rather pale.  Also, homozygous champagnes tend to have fewer freckles.

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by Barbara A Kostelnik (see )
Please remember that all graphics and text on this site, as on all of the WWW, are automatically copyrighted,  including the exhaustive
pedigree and color research 
that our president, Carolyn Shepard, has done.
If you'd like to use something from this site, 
please email us for permission.

Emailing ICHR:  Horse color questions will not be answered without the horse's breed and registered name, if any.  Due to the extensive research conducted by the ICHR, we are usually able to determine if a horse has champagne in its pedigree by recognizing the names of ancestors we have determined were champagne,
listed in the right column of each
entry in our
stud book.
ASK about "grade" horses,  please.

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