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Colors of fleabitten greys

a wet fleabitten grey horse tied to a wash rack, showing the contrast between her blue-gray skin and her red fleabites

One of the things that jumps out about fleabitten greys is how red the speckles are. It was noticeable in the pictures of the Arabian stallion Papillon and the heavily speckled pony. It is evident when fleabitten greys are wet, like the horse in the photo at the top of this post. The blue-gray color of the body contrasts with the red. 

Another reason the red fleabites make an impression is that many greys who develop them did not have red bodies when they were younger. The mare pictured below looked like a black horse turning grey when she was young and dappled. (The slight reddish tint visible on her belly and chest are stains from the Carolina clay where she lived.)

A young grey mare with pronounced dappling

Yet as she aged and became fleabitten, the speckles were reddish.  

the same mare that was pictured before, now fleabitten grey

a close up of the mare in the previous photo, showing the red fleabites on her neck

Christine Sutcliffe shared pictures of a great example of the transformation of a seemingly black dapple grey developing red fleabites. Notice how the red speckles are forming in areas that appear black. 

the face and neck of a dark dappled grey horse with contrasting red fleabites on the poll and jugular groove

a different angle of the mare in the previous picture, showing the area between her ears and top of her poll

Does that mean that all fleabites are red? 

If you look closely at fleabitten greys with speckles on their lower legs, the color transitions from red to black. Even when it is not possible to see the individual speckles, the difference in overall hue between the (redder) body and the (bluer) legs can be seen. Visually, many heavily fleabitten greys look like their original color may have been bay.

close-up of the legs and belly of a fleabitten grey showing red fleabites on the body and black on the legs

This look, where the body appears pinkish from red fleabites and the legs appear bluish from black fleabites (also seen here), is typical for heavily speckled greys. That is likely because bay is such a common base color. However, this pattern is not universal, even for fleabitten greys born bay. Some have a mixture of colors in their speckles. These are close-up images of Zorillo, the grey horse with the birdcatcher spots from the previous post. 

two close-up images of fleabitten hairs, showing a mixture of pale red, dark red and black speckles

This fleabitten grey pony has what appear to be black speckles. The color is easiest to see on the more prominent speckles.

the body of a fleabitten grey pony where the fleabites are black instead of red

Here is another example. This one also shows that the manes aren’t always white. (This horse also displays the very pronounced “white undersides” discussed in the early post, “Where the fleas don’t bite.”)


the face and neck of a pony with black fleabites and a gray mane

White manes and tails are typical for greys with dense speckling, but there seem to be exceptions. This is another picture of the gelding from the previous post on “rub marks.” 

the face, neck and shoulders are a densely fleabitten horse with black fleabites and the front part of the mane dark gray

the face of a blue-eyed fleabitten grey horse with a dark gray mane

Although heavily fleabitten greys can have some color in their mane or tails, it is uncommon. More often, the fleabitten greys with very dark manes and tails are at an earlier stage of greying, like the blue-eyed Mountain Pleasure Horse to the right. Like the mare at the top of this post, whose mane was almost as dark when the first photo was taken of her, he may eventually have an entirely white mane. 

I have one final topic somewhat related to fleabiting: bloody shoulder markings. I say “somewhat related” because the common assumption has been that these markings arise from clusters of fleabites. I suspect that’s not actually what happens, and that will be the subject of the next post. 


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