Does the U.K. Performance Horse Industry Have a Color Bias?

Researchers observed a negative bias of block-colored and spotted horses, which could impact subjective evaluations.
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Horses’ coat colors and patterns have evolved over millennia. Since their domestication, horse color trends and fashions have come and gone; breeders have carefully paired mares and stallions to produce a particular colored foal; and today there’s even an entire branch of genetics devoted to coat color.

So what is the current fashion, and does it factor into how judges evaluate a horse’s performance? Anna Fisker Hansen, BSc(Hons) Equine Science, who is completing her research masters in equitation science at Plymouth University/Duchy College, in the United Kingdom (U.K.), recently conducted a study to address this in one subset of the U.K.’s horse population: young horses being evaluated as future performance horses. She presented her findings at the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Based on feedback from participants in the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) young horse evaluations—which look at more than 400 horses under the age of 3 each year—Fisker Hansen said she hypothesized a negative bias toward piebald or skewbald (both terms to describe block-colored horses, what many Americans would describe as pinto) horses.

“The premium scores awarded at the Futurity can influence the worth of a horse, thus any bias in scoring could have economic implications,” Fisker Hansen explained. “This is noteworthy, as unwanted horses have majorly increased in Britain, affecting equine welfare

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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