Whether in a parade, a show ring or a Western movie, the palomino horse is a superstar. With its golden coat and creamy white mane and tail, palominos possess a near-magical beauty, all the more magical because the way it comes about is a genetic toss of the coin—a lucky accident.
The palomino isn’t a breed, it’s a color—a color as rare and precious as gold itself. The true palomino color is caused by a single color-diluting gene, usually working on a chestnut (red) coat. But the gene is rare and elusive. Even two palomino parents may not produce golden foals.
The color-diluting gene works on other colors, too. For example, on a bay coat, the gene will produce a buckskin, with a golden body but a black mane and tail. A double gene will produce a very pale horse, not a palomino at all.
I’ve simplified the explanation here. The reality is so complicated that breeding palomino horses is like throwing dice in Las Vegas. If some breeder ever finds a golden stallion that will always sire golden colts, then the palomino will become a breed instead of a color. Meanwhile, breeders wait with high hopes for foals to be born. Only about half of the expected palominos will turn out to be the real thing.
Palominos may appear by surprise among breeds like American Saddle Horses, Tennessee Walkers and Quarter horses. This accounts for the fact that palominos have been around for hundreds of years, long before the gene was known. They came to America by way of Spain (as did the ancestors of our wild horses).
A California rancher named Don Esteban is credited with owning the first known palomino in America. In 1800, as the story goes, he offered a reward for the most beautiful horse in the country. His peons looked at horses, but the ones they saw were covered with dust and mud. A little Indian boy saw a glint of gold. He captured the colt, washed it clean and presented it to Don Esteban for the reward. In the Mexican version of the story, Indians stole a pure white stallion and a buckskin mare from a hacienda. A year later the mare escaped and returned to her owner with a little golden filly.
Whatever the real story, palominos continue to be show-stoppers, and their golden color is a true treasure.
The hero in my January Desire does ride a palomino—but I really wanted an excuse to show you my new cover, which I love. The book isn’t available yet but can be pre-ordered on Amazon.
Here’s a link to more, along with an excerpt.
I can’t claim to be a horse expert. But if you can add to the information here, or if you’re a fan of palominos, we’d love to hear from you.