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Your Visual Guide to Face and Leg Markings on Horses

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.

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Why You Should Know Your Markings

There's more to equine markings than just cute names. Owners, sellers and breeders use them to identify individual horses. The shape, size and combinations of different patches are nearly as unique as a human fingerprint. When you first learn about horse markings, you might be surprised that the number appears to be far fewer than you anticipated. What you'll learn here is the most common types of markings. Each general form comes with a multitude of variations, but you should be able to recognize them.

Another reason to brush up on your markings is to discuss them correctly. This lingo is universal among all horse lovers no matter where they're from. If you say, “Hey, that's an amazing set of stockings!” your fellow aficionados would know exactly what you mean.

Facial Markings

The Star

This marking can be found on the animal's forehead, right between the eyes. As the name suggests, it often looks like a star. It's usually small and circular, but the edges can vary between having a clean border, smudgy appearance to the star-like spikes that gave this marking its name.

This horse displays a smooth star, which is a star with a smooth border and an irregular shape.

This horse displays a smooth star, which is a star with a smooth border and an irregular shape.

Bald

Thankfully, this doesn't refer to any hair loss! When your horse is bald, he or she merely owns the biggest facial marking there is. This white stroke runs the entire length of the animal's face, from the forehead down to the nose. Usually, the bald marking includes the entire upper lip. Sideways, the stroke has a broad appearance that folds down the sides of the face.

This mare and foal both display a variation of bald.

This mare and foal both display a variation of bald.

Blaze

The blaze is the thinner version of the bald mark. Similarly, it also broadly lines the face from forehead to nose—but never extends sideways beyond the bridge of the nose. The moment it does that, the blaze is actually more of a bald. The variations of the blaze are legion. Some horses carry faded lines, or end their blazes on both ends with large white areas to the forehead and muzzle.

This horse carries a classic blaze, which does not fold over to the sides of the face.

This horse carries a classic blaze, which does not fold over to the sides of the face.

The Stripe

Let's narrow it some more. After the blaze, the stripe is the thinnest line to streak down a horse's face. Unlike bald and blaze markings, the stripe only sits between the eyes and nostrils. In other words, it won't extend to the forehead or lips. This marking is also very narrow and stays central to the nose bridge.

The Snip

This is probably one of the most adorable patches to grace a horse. It can be found between the nostrils, or just below them. Though it has no steadfast shape, the snip is usually small and elongated in a vertical way. What makes this patch so cute is that oftentimes, the color is a clean pink instead of white.

Some horses carry different markings together; in this case, both a stripe and snip.

Some horses carry different markings together; in this case, both a stripe and snip.

Leg Markings

Horse leg markings are classified according to how far they run up the animal's leg. From smallest to tallest, they are called the coronet, half pastern, sock, half cannon and stocking. Leg markings are usually bright white, with clear borders and can appear uniformly on all four legs (for example, four stockings). A single horse can also display a mix of leg markings, like a single coronet or two socks and a half cannon.

Coronet and Half Pastern

The smallest of all leg markings, the coronet is basically a line that traces the area above the hoof. Its width varies, but never too high up. When this band reaches higher, halfway up the pastern, it's no longer considered a coronet but a half pastern.

This great example of a single horse with several leg markings shows a coronet on one front leg (lifted) and a half pastern on the other. Both hind legs have socks.

This great example of a single horse with several leg markings shows a coronet on one front leg (lifted) and a half pastern on the other. Both hind legs have socks.

Socks to Stockings

Socks, half cannons and stockings are the next three levels. They all start from the edge of the hoof and rise up the leg. A sock reaches about two-thirds up, just past the fetlock (or ankle). The half cannon is halfway up the lower leg (or so-called cannon). A stocking reaches all the way up to the front leg's knee and near the hock on the back leg. Four stockings are considered very handsome.

The brown mare in the middle shows half cannon markings on her legs.

The brown mare in the middle shows half cannon markings on her legs.

A beautiful horse with a complete set of stockings.

A beautiful horse with a complete set of stockings.

How to Remember Markings

Luckily, horse markings are very easy to learn. In the beginning, you only need to be aware of the most common types, their names and then memorize them. This doesn't take long. However, the only way to ensure that the information sticks in the brain more permanently is to keep practicing. Whenever you see a horse, whether in real life or a picture, examine the markings on the animal's legs and face—then name them. Keep this up and you'll soon have a great grasp on coronets, snips and stars.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit