What is a sorrel horse

What is a Sorrel Horse?

A sorrel horse is a term used to describe a chestnut or red coat color with no black pigmentation. It’s an expression argued by horse associations and horse communities as some think horses with chestnut color and sorrel horses should be separate. Others consider them as one. You may wonder what is a sorrel horse and how do they look? 

The distinction part is a heated topic since it never gets to a conclusion. Sorrel horses refer to their color. According to physiology, sorrel horses can be tall, short, weak, or firm. They can be female, male, and of any age. 

They are also found in different regions of the world, from Atlantic remote islands to the wildest parts of America. If you come across a standard horse with a light red color all over its body that lacks any black accents, then that is often described as a sorrel. 

What is the Color of a Sorrel Horse? 

This question is always a debate within the horse community. It is primarily between the United Kingdom and the United States. The UK breeders, racers, and horse riders tend to separate sorrels from chestnut horses or remove the sorrel term altogether. The Americans uphold the word and refer it to any horse with a red-colored body.

Scientific View 

Scientifically, there is no difference between horse color genetics called chestnuts and those defined as sorrels. A horse has a recessive hue that causes a base color which is a red hue. The gene can be in both sorrels and chestnuts.

What is the color of red color hue? It is challenging to define this category since the horse’s coat color varies according to various factors. For instance, trimming the hair of either steed interferes with its tone. The time spent in the sun or the regions’ temperature determines if the hair will darken or lighten. Finally, the diet and environment alter the coats’ hue. 

All the factors enhance the red hue, increasing the red shades in the brown horse family. Common sorrels have chestnut, brownish-red and copper-red coloring. However, several hues fall between those categories. 

An additional definition of sorrel is that the horse should have no black pigmentation or markings. Even a black tail or mane shows the horse is not a sorrel. It is simply red, brown, chestnut, or the like.

The American Quarter Horse Association defines chestnut and sorrel as horses whose coats are red but lack black markings. Contrarily, Jockey Club mentions no such term when describing horses with red tones. However, they define them according to their chestnut coloration. Therefore, the definition you choose for the sorrel horse or whether to use it is a matter of opinion. The side of the pond you take is what influences the opinion.

Shades of Chestnut

Sorrel or chestnut horses have a variety of shades. They include:

  • Dark chestnut/ liver chestnut – Liver chestnut horses have a dark reddish-brown appearance. Most people define them wrongly as black chestnuts. You can distinguish a liver chestnut horse with its tail, lower legs, and mane having small amounts of reddish hair. You can also differentiate by DNA or pedigree testing.
  • Basic chestnut – A basic chestnut is a horse whose coat has a solid copper reddish color. The tail and mane have similar shades.
  • Mealy or pangare – these chestnut horses have pale hairs around their eyes and muzzle and a pale underside.
  • Blond/ flaxen chestnut – the flaxen chestnut has a lighter mane or tail than the rest of the body. Sometimes the color difference is only one or two shades. However, it isn’t common to find a flaxen chestnut with silverfish or almost white manes and tails. 
  • Sorrel – the sorrel is a natural red horse. You will find the red with any shade, but it must be consistent throughout the horse’s mane, tail, and body.

What is the Breed of the Sorrel Horse?

The America Quarter Horse Association records sorrel horses as the most common classification among the registered horses. Probably because of the defining factor that distinguishes the horse color. Therefore, the breed could be among many. 

However, you will find more sorrels in some breeds compared to others. Sorrel horses are common in species like the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Chincoteague Pony, the Racking Horse, and the Belgian Draft Horse. Let’s define each so that it can be easy to note a sorrel horse regardless of the style, shape, and size.

1. Tennessee Walking Horse

You will note the breed with its running walk, a unique trot rare in other horse breeds. The primary purpose of breeding the Tennessee Walking Horse was to help in the American plantations in the 18th century. Since then, they have been commonly used for leisure riding and showcased at western events for their unique strut. They can have numerous colors, including red.

2. Mountain Pleasure Horse

This American breed is familiar in the Appalachian Mountains, whose origins go way back 180 years ago. They come from horses of the American settlers. The Mountain Pleasure Horse is calm and sturdy, a trait used for several purposes. Their coats are often chestnut-colored.

3. Bavarian Warmblood

This breed came about in the 1960s due to a high demand in Southern Germany for an intense sporting horse. Bavarian Warmbloods are strong and usually have one color like copper, red, or chestnut. 

4. Racking Horse

One of the all-American classic breeds is the Racking Horse. Many classify the breed as the model horse. You have probably seen these horses in paintings and films. The Racking Horse is beautiful, graceful, strong, and has several colors. It also has the chestnut red color defining a sorrel horse alongside the bay and black hair. 

5. Belgian Draft Horse

Regarding its name, the Belgian Draft Horse is a native of Belgium. The coats of this breed are often on the reddish hem category hence defined as sorrels. The horses appear lighter since most of them are interbred with grey and white shades horses. They interbred in the 1920s when the color-specific breeding’s fame rose.

6. Sella Italiano

The Italian government did Sella Italiano breeding. The main intention was to get a horse breed that would rival the large English steeds. It is easy to note a Sella Italiano for how slim and naturally muscular they are with their noble stature. Their coat’s color is either red, bay or black.

7. Chincoteague Assateague Pony

The Chincoteague Assateague is similar to a sporting star. They are defined as ponies because they are below 14 hands, a factor that distinguishes a horse from a pony. These stocky and short ponies are customary in the untamed regions of Assateague Island, Virginia Coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Most of them have a reddish color. 

8. American Paint Horse

The American Paint Horse originated in 1519. It was at a time Hernando Cortes, a Spanish explorer, introduced the breed in America. You can easily distinguish them by their two-tone colorings. One of the tones is always white, while the other can be one of the numerous horse hues like brown and reddish of the sorrel. 

For instance, it can have white hairs or white markings alongside a red base color. Their name comes from large spots similar to paint splatters. 

9. Argentine Anglo Horse

The Argentine Horse breed originated from the necessity of a sport horse. Five decades ago, breeders mixed English Thoroughbred stallions with Argentine Crillios to create a perfect horse for sporting events like Polo. You will find many Argentine Anglo horses with reddish color running in the Polo Fields. You can know them by their robust, large, and impressive physiology, in addition to their chestnut hue.

How Sorrel Horses are Bred

As some refer to it, the recessive gene of the red factor brings about the red hue in red horses. This factor implies that the horse has two red genes because it would lack the red color. Having one red gene means that the other gene would take over; hence there would be no room for a completely red hue. The horse color is standard because two red horses always produce offspring with red or red coat shades.

How to Get a Sorrel Horse

Purchasing a sorrel horse is similar to purchasing other horses. You can buy one in online marketplaces where horse owners list their sorrels. You can also manually purchase them, like in farms and stables that sell horses. 

How Much Does a Chestnut or a Sorrel Horse Cost? 

The price range varies, just like other horse colors. It depends on where and how hard you seek. A horse can cost equal to or more than $100,000. The average trail chestnut or sorrel horse is about the $5,000 mark. The price varies according to these factors:

  • Age and condition

The age and condition of the chestnut or sorrel horse ultimately determine the price of the horse. A horse has a prime age range of about seven to fourteen years, while the lifespan is two to three decades. Generally, an old horse has a lesser price but still depends on the condition.

  • Breeding

The bloodline of the chestnut or sorrel is an essential determinant of how much the horse will cost. For instance, a horse from a stallion for a show winning with nothing more special is likely to be costly. How can it be possible? Unlike other animal categories, the bloodline value and the potentiality of superior genes make the difference in the horse market. 

Therefore, even if the sorrel or chestnut isn’t unique in its ability or stature, but the grandparents or parents were, it will still cost a fortune.

  • Health

Health determines the cost of the chestnut or sorrel. That’s why it’s recommended for a veterinarian to check a horse before finalizing the terms of sale. A horse with ailments or injuries will interfere with its genetics, mobility, and lifespan. It could lead to lots of expenses in medical bills. However, a chestnut or a sorrel with minor health problems is high functioning, particularly for leisure rides.


You can quickly identify a sorrel for their beauty and how common they are among many horse breeds. Though everyone does not accept the sorrel term, it defines a horse with a reddish spectrum coat. Genes determine the horse coat with the red factor. 

In addition, a horse with the red color should have no black pigmentation to be defined as a true sorrel. Whether you seek a companion for exploring trails or a show-stopping stallion with beautiful coat color, the sorrel horse is a perfect choice.