What Is A Sorrel Horse And What Do They Look Like?

A sorrel horse is a frequently used term to describe horses with a red or chestnut-colored coat that lacks any black pigmentation. The term is frequently debated within the horse community and horse associations as some prefer to separate chestnut-colored horses from sorrels while others consider them one and the same.

We’ve put together an ultimate guide on the subject. By the end of this article, you will have a firm grasp of the sorrel classification of red-colored horses.

What Do They Look Like?

Sorrel Quarter Horse
Sorrel Quarter Horse

So, you may be wondering, “what is a sorrel horse and what do they look like”? You are not alone when questioning this rather heated topic! Let’s explore the question.

This category of horses specifically refers to their coloring.

Physiologically, sorrel horses can be short, tall, strong, or weak. They can be male, female, and of any age. They also inhabit regions across the world, from remote islands in the Atlantic to the wild, wild west of America.

If you can think of any standard horse with somewhat of a light red color throughout its body and no black accents, it can be and often is defined as a sorrel.

What Color Is A Sorrel Horse?

Now, this is the question that raises somewhat of a fiery debate within the horse community. The dispute primarily takes place between the United States and the United Kingdom.  

Americans typically embrace the term using it to define any red-colored horse. While horse riders, racers, and breeders from the UK tend to either distinguish chestnut horses from sorrels or reject the term sorrel entirely.

Scientifically speaking, the color genetics of horses referred to as chestnut and those considered sorrel do not differ. The red hue is a base color caused by the recessive e gene and can be found in both these types of steeds. 

Therefore, through a biological lens, it is correct to use sorrel as an umbrella term for all horses with coats that fall onto the red spectrum. 

What Defines A Red Coat In Horses?

Now, what colors are on the red color spectrum? The colors that fall into this category can be difficult to classify as the color of the coat of a horse varies greatly depending on certain factors. 

For instance, how the steed’s hair is trimmed may impact its tone. The amount of time the horse spends in the sun and similarly, the temperatures of their region, may cause their hair to lighten or darken. And finally, the environment and diet can also alter the hue of a horse’s coat color.

All these factors broaden the red color spectrum, making room for thousands of shades of red within the sorrel family.

The most notable sorrels have copper red, brownish red, and chestnut coloring. While various shades fall between these. 

An additional defining factor is that to be classified as sorrel, the horse cannot have any black markings or pigmentations. Even a black mane and tail will mean the horse is not a sorrel. And is rather, simply chestnut, brown, red, or the like.

How Do Horse Associations Classify Red Horses?

The American Quarter Horse Association uses both sorrel and chestnut to define the category of horses with a red coat and no black markings.

On the other hand, the Jockey Club makes no mention of the term at all when referring to horses of red tones, choosing to define them by their chestnut coloration instead. 

Thus, how one may choose to define the sorrel horse or whether to use the term at all is truly a matter of opinion. An opinion that is likely influenced by the side of the pond you’re on!  

What Breed is a Sorrel Horse?

Believe it or not, sorrel horses are the most common classification amongst all registered horses in the American Quarter Horse Association. 

This is likely due to the fact that the defining factor simply distinguishes the color of the horse and therefore, the breed could be one of many.  

However, some breeds have more sorrels than others. You will usually find sorrel horses amongst breeds such as the Belgian Draft Horse, the Racking Horse, the Chincoteague Pony, the Tennessee Walking Horse, and a myriad of others we will discuss in detail below.

Sorrel Horse Breeds

Let’s get into some specific breeds of sorrels so you will know exactly how to spot one when you see it regardless of the size, shape, and style.

1. Belgian Draft Horse

You guessed it, this breed of horse is native to the land of beer and waffles, Belgium! 

Belgian Draft Horses often have coats that fall on the reddish spectrum and can, therefore, be defined as sorrels. These horses may appear lighter as many were interbred with horses of white and grey shades when color-specific breeding grew popular in the 1920s.

2. Argentine Anglo Horse

This breed originated from a need for a sport horse. Fifty years ago, breeders began mixing Argentine Crillios with English thoroughbred stallions to produce the perfect horse for sporting events such as Polo. 

You will see many reddish-colored Argentine Anglo horses running around the Polo field. You can spot them by looking for their large, strong, and overall, very impressive physiology. Not to mention, their chestnut hue. 

3. Racking Horse

The Racking Horse is an all-American classic. This breed can be thought of as the model horse. It is the kind of horse you see in films and paintings. The Racking Horse is strong, graceful, and generally, beautiful. 

The breed can be found in various colors. However, the chestnut red that defines the sorrel horse is prevalent along with bay and black hair.

4. American Paint Horse

The American Paint Horse’s origins can be dated back to 1519 when Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortes, first introduced the breed to American land. 

They can be distinguished by their two-tone coloring. One of these tones will always be white and the other could be one of the many common horse hues including the reddish, brown of the sorrel. 

For instance, an American Paint Horse could have white markings or white hair mixed with a red base color. Their name is derived from their large spots that somewhat resemble paint splatters. 

5. Bavarian Warmblood

This breed came onto the scene in the 1960s as an answer to the demand for a strong sporting horse in Southern Germany. 

They are strong and usually one solid color such as chestnut, red, or copper. 

6. Chincoteague Assateague Pony

On another note, the Chincoteague Assateague Pony is far less of a sporting star. They are classified as ponies as they fall below 14 hands, the cut-off that distinguishes ponies from horses. 

These short and stocky ponies run wild on Assateague Island, an untamed region off the coast of Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean. Many are reddish in color.

7. Tennessee Walking Horse

This breed can be noted for its unique “running walk” which is a distinct trot unmatched by any other breed of horse. 

The Tennessee Walking Horse was initially bred to be used on American plantations in the eighteenth century. They have since become favorites for leisure riding and are showcased at Western events because of their unique strut.

They can be in various colors, including red. 

8. Sella Italiano

The Italian government is behind the breeding of the Sella Italiano. Their initial goal was to breed a horse that would rival the large steeds of the English.  

The Sella Italiano can be noted for their noble stature, as well as how naturally muscular and slim they tend to be. Their coats are either bay, black, or red in color.

9. Mountain Pleasure Horse

The Appalachian Mountains are home to this American breed whose origins can be traced back over one hundred and eighty years. They are decedents of the horses of American settlers.  

The Mountain Pleasure Horse is typically a sturdy and calm breed used for a variety of purposes. They often have chestnut-colored coats. 

How Are They Bred?

As previously mentioned, it is the recessive gene or as some refer to it, the “red factor” that gives a sorrel horse its red hue. 

What does this mean? This means that the horse has two red genes otherwise it would not be red in color (as the other gene would always take over).

One reason this horse color is so common is due to the fact that two red parent horses will always produce offspring with a red or some shade of red coat.

How Do You Get One?

You can purchase a sorrel horse as you would any other horse. 

There are online marketplaces such as equinenow.com where you will find a range of horses and prices. 

There are breeds of all shapes, sizes, costs, and ages on this site. Both commercial and individual horse owners list their sorrels on marketplaces such as this one. 

You can also buy these horses in a more old-fashioned manner. At stables and farms that sell animals, you may be lucky enough to find one for sale. 

How Much Do They Cost?

The price range for sorrel horses varies as it does with any other color of horse.  

Depending on where and how hard you look, you can find a horse for almost nothing or for upwards of $100,000.  

The average trail sorrel or chestnut horse can be found around the $5,000 mark. The price fluctuates according to the following factors:

1. Breeding

An essential determinant in a horse’s price is the animal’s bloodline. In fact, this could trump all other factors. 

For instance, if a horse is born from a show-winning stallion but is nothing special itself, it will likely still cost a small fortune. 

How can this be? Perhaps more so than any other animal category, the horse market is dominated by the value of a bloodline and the possibility of superior genes.

Therefore, even if a sorrel itself isn’t exceptional in stature or ability, if its parents or grandparents were, it could still fetch a pretty penny.

2. Age And Condition

The next consideration when it comes to price is the age of the horse and ultimately, its condition. The prime-age range for horses is between seven and fourteen (the average horse’s lifespan is twenty-five to thirty years).

Generally, an older horse will cost less. However, this will depend on their condition. For example, a horse in its twenties with great mobility will still cost a fair chunk of change!

3. How Well-Trained the Horse is and Their Abilities

As you would expect, there will be significant price differences between horses trained for racing and shows as compared to those bred for petting zoos and horseback riding camps. 

Sorrels with specific and intensive training will cost more than those without special abilities for obvious reasons.

4. Health 

Finally, there is the health of the sorrel or chestnut. For this reason, we suggest having the horse checked by a veterinarian before agreeing to the terms of sale. 

If the horse has injuries or ailments, it could impact its lifespan, mobility, and genetics. Not to mention, it could end up costing you a fortune in medical bills. 

However, horses with minor health issues can be very high functioning especially if you’re simply looking for a steed to ride for leisure. 

Time To Hit the Trail

Sorrels can be noted for their majestic beauty and for being rather common amongst many breeds of horses.

Though the term sorrel may not be recognized or accepted by everyone, it describes any horse with a coat somewhere on the reddish spectrum determined by the “red factor” in their genes. 

In addition to the red color, the horse must not have any black pigmentation to be classified as a sorrel.

Various breeds of horses can be sorrels or chestnuts and they fetch a range of prices depending on certain determining factors such as age, bloodline, and training.

If you’re a horse enthusiast looking for a show-stopping stallion with a beautiful equine coat color or a companion to explore the trails with, a sorrel horse is a wonderful choice.


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