Study: White Markings Sell Well, Don't Impact Health

Breeding colorful horses, especially with various white markings, seems to breed good business without raising significant health concerns, according to Swiss researchers.

Representing the primary breed of the Swiss national stud, 974 Franche-Montagne horses were evaluated for the effects of their colors and white markings on their health and marketability. Breeders and buyers were also interviewed to better understand the commercial importance of these criteria, according to Muriel Federici, DVM, MSc, a researcher and equine clinician practicing in Switzerland and France, and primary author of the study.

What Federici found was that the two top purchasing points for most buyers (non-professional riders) were disposition and healthiness. Color was of less importance, although the presence of white markings clearly made the horses more attractive to the buyers, she said.

The study also revealed that the basic color and the white markings had no effect on the presence or severity of sarcoids, sweet itch, mycosis, summer warts (papillomavirus), or abnormalities of the hooves or flexor tendons, Federici said. However, pastern dermatitis ("scratches") did appear twice as often in horses with white legs.

"This symptom nonetheless remains a minor problem in most of the affected population," Federici said. "It has no influence whatsoever on performance, is not particularly painful, and has no negative effects on the general health of the horse. From a financial point of view, it can usually be treated by the owner relatively inexpensively."

Although these health-related statistics were based specifically on data from the Franche-Montagne breed, they could reasonably be extrapolated to all horses, she added.

"People are breeding for more and more white markings because these horses seem to sell better," Federici said. "But this has been a controversial practice in certain circles because of the association that has been made between colors--especially white--and health. Our study indicates that, at least in the focus breed, diversifying the colors and white markings could improve the marketing opportunities without significant adverse effects on the horses' health."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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