Colours & Markings

A horse’s markings and hair patterns are so individual, they can be used to identify one horse from another. Because there are so many racehorses and some of them can look very similar, there are several methods we combine and use in Australia to make identifying them easier.


Before you see what a horse's passport (or Thoroughbred Identification Card) looks like, you'll need to know the names for the various markings that horses can have. This also helps you identify a horse in a paddock or at the races.



Black Black - it's very rare to see a black horse, as they must not have any brown hairs, not even any dark brown hairs. The horse in the photo is a Fresian - they are always black in colour.

Brown - like Lonhro here, brown is when a horse is dark brown all over and with brown points (mane, tail, legs or ears).

Bay - a very common colour for thoroughbreds. They have a brown body (often mid to light brown) and black points (mane, tail, legs and ears). Darley stallion Exceed and Excel (pictured) would be described as a ‘bright bay’ who you may have seen at Kelvinside or Woodlands.
Chestnut - reddish brown, like humans with red hair. They should not have any black on them. The stallion in the photo is Helmet who you may have seen at Northwood Park.

Grey - This is when horses have a lot of white in their coat. They are normally dark at first and become lighter and lighter with age until they are almost fully white. They can have darker skin, eyes and muzzle than the rest of their body. The horse in the photos below is Slickly, who raced in Europe, America and Dubai and is now a Darley stallion in France. You can see that he has become much lighter since he went to stud.




These are the most common colours for thoroughbreds, but in other breeds there are a variety of other different colours and colour combinations, such as:



Markings are the areas of white hair found on a horse's body. In thoroughbreds, this white is found on the legs or the face.











The other markings used to identify horses are chestnuts and whorls.



As mentioned in the points of the horse, the exact location of a horse's chestnuts is particularly individual and can be used to identify one horse from another. Chestnuts



A whorl is like the top of our head, where the hair changes direction. In a horse, it looks like a little whirlpool of hair, circling around itself. They can be located anywhere and no two horses will have the same pattern. They are usually found somewhere on the crest, the stifle and often on the legs.


In Europe, these are the official diagrams that have to be filled in by a vet when registering a thoroughbred. A horse passport contains no photograph, just these identification diagrams. Parts of the horse are labelled in French as well as English.

In Australia, this passport is called the Thoroughbred Identification Card and we no longer use the traditional European Passpost diagrams.

The Australian Thoroughbred idnetificaiton Card uses the combination of Microchips and Brands to make identifying a thoroughbred horse easy. 

Horse passport


When a thoroughbred is a foal it is branded using a very cold stamp (freeze brand) that leaves a permanent mark on each of its shoulders.

The brand of the stud where the horse was born goes on the near side shoulder. Two numbers go on the off side (right) shoulder – the top number tells us what number the foal is, for example number 1 would go to the first foal born that year. The bottom number tells us the year the horse was born,

so we can easily see how old it is, even years later.


The second method we use to identify a thoroughbred is a microchip.  After a horse is branded, it is given its own microchip with a unique number, similar to a barcode, which is implanted around the horse’s neck and cannot be removed. A special scanner can read this number at any time during the horse’s life, making it very easy to correctly identify the horse.

However, it is still important to know the colourings and marking of a horse.

Below are the official diagrams that need to be filled in by a vet to go into a European horse's passport. There are no photos inside the passport, only these diagrams.


Diagram one