The Cream Dilution Gene (updated)

Two Palomino Stallions spar at Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

The Cream Gene is a modifier, or a gene that acts on one of three base colours in horses.  The three base colour are chestnut, bay, and black. Some people classify brown as separate colour but for the purposes of this discussion, we will group brown with black since the inheritance is the same.


A band with Palominos and buckskin race across Sand Wash Basin

The Cream Dilution can either be expressed as a single dilution, or a double dilution. Every chromosome has two alleles that represent the way in which each chromosome is inherited and you receive one allele from each parent. Simply put, the chromosomes (usually represented by letters) appear in pairs. To review high school biology, these pairs are generally dominant or recessive. Dominant genes are represented by two capital letters or one capital and one lower-case. The animal appears the same (phenotype) whether they are EE or Ee. The recessive form is represented by two lower-case letters ee.

The cream gene in the single form acts upon chestnut, bay and black by diluting the red colour to cream. The Cream Colour may be light enough to appear almost white to a dark chocolate tan colour. The black is generally unaffected so bay horses horses retain the black points, and mane/tail. Black horses appear somewhat diluted- a mousey chocolate. Horses with a single Cream dilution generally have dark eyes (unless blue from paint patterns) and black skin except where there are white markings (paint markings, facial markings, and leg markings).

Corona’s Band
There are six cream horses
Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

The double dilution, or two Cream Genes acts upon both the red and black colours. The red become light cream/off white, and the black lightens to cream. In a bay horse with two cream genes, the body colour is light cream and the points appear as a darker shade of cream. Smokey Black Creams have a slightly over all darker shade but without genetic testing, it is impossible to determine what the base colour is in these horses. All double dilute Cream horses all have pink skin and blue or light green/hazel eyes.

The double dilute horses (Cremello, Perlino & Smokey Cream) are difficult to distinguish by appearance or phenotype alone. It is possible the double dilutes are all cremellos, or perlinos- or they are dirty. Google Perlino, Cremello, or Smokey Cream to see how they truly look- they are stunning colours.

The “Sooty” modifier is a additional genetic trait in which the horse’s coat looks like someone airbrushed darker colouration over the coat. In some extreme cases, the sooty modifier can turn a palomino so dark it appears ‘chocolate’ coloured- as in the case of Cloud’s son Bolder (photos below). Sooty can occur in any color and is believed to help break-up the outline/contour of a horse (countershading) and making it harder for predators to estimate the distances of the their prey.

Echo (Palomino) and his sire Bolder (Sooty Palomino) spar
Pryor Mountain, Montana
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Cream dilutions can also appear with other dilutes such as Dun. The resulting horses are called Dunalinos (dun + palomino) and Dunskins (dun + buckskin). It can be a challenge to tell pale palominos from cremellos/perlinos horses, but look at the muzzle and other mucous membranes (grey in Palomino, pink in creams). Watch for facial markings which also appear pale-pink even on palominos. The eyes are usually dark in Palominos, and pale green or blue in Creams.

Bay- Base Coat

Buckskin (varying shades) BAY + ONE CREAM GENE= BUCKSKIN


Chestnut (BASE)

Black (BASE)
Smokey Black Dun (Buckskin behind)
Smokey Cream (Buckskin behind)


Chestnut with sooty- appears most prominently in the mane and tail, base colour is chestnut.     Cimarron Sand Wash Basin ©Meredith Hudes-Lowder Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    


Corona- Palomino + Dun= Dunalino
Note the primitive markings (black arrows) and typical palomino colouration
Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino- mid colour
Sand Wash Basin
©Meredith Hudes-Lowder
Bobby (2)
Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino- Light
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

  Buckskin Stallion with two light palominos in his band Buggs Band Sand Wash Basin
Buggs is a buckskin, and note the dark eyes on the paler palominos
©Karen McLain Studio
Cloud- a well-know Palomino (in memoriam)
His son is Bolder (sooty palomino below)
His grandson Echo (pale palomino below)
Pryor Mountain
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino with Sooty Bolder Well known for changing colour as he aged, Bolder has the Sooty gene expressed almost to the maximum. Born lighter, each year he grew darker and darker.  Some liver chestnut horses that have a cream gene are called “chocolate palominos” and may be hard to distinguish from Sooty palominos but the chocolate palominos tend to be browner and the colour is more uniform and not scattered as we see here on Bolder.   Pryor Mountain ©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    

Palomino with sooty- Bolder and his son Echo, a light palomino Pryor Mountain
©Karen McLain Studio

(Left) Light Palomino Echo, (Right) Sooty Palomino Bolder
Sire -right, Colt – left
Pryor Mountain
©Karen McLain Studio
(Rear) Palomino with sooty restricted to the forelegs, face, and chest.
(Front) Tripod, a cremello- note the pink skin around his muzzle.  
Sand Wash Basin
©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    
Pale Palomino Foal “Isabella”
Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography
The pale cream color was so highly prized by Queen Isabelle de-Bourbon that they became known as Isabella Palominos. Only royalty were allowed to own this beautiful golden colour.
Elisabeth of France or Isabella of Bourbon (22 November 1602 – 6 October 1644) was Queen Consort of Spain (1621 to 1644) and Portugal (1621 to 1640) as the first spouse of King Philip IV of Spain. Queen Isabella gifted some gold horses to Juan de Palomino which is where this color gets its name. Note the grey muzzle and dark eyes indicating this ia a pale palomino.
Meteor – Palomino Tovero Sand Was Basin


Sooty Bay  
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography  


YELLOW ARROWS= Bay with Sooty PINK ARROW= Bay GREEN ARROW= Primitive Bay or Bay with Pangaré A Primitive Bay is a bay with paler colour and the black points of the legs do not extend above the knees/hocks- often paler in comparison.   McCullough Peaks ©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography      

YELLOW ARROWS= Bay with Sooty   PINK ARROWS= Bay McCullough Peaks ©Karen McLain StudioEquus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Buckskin Stallion Sand Wash Basin
©Karen McLain Studio
Buckskin Tobiano Yearling
In spite of a blue eye- her black mane, partial black tail and dark muzzle indicate she is a buckskin.
Great Desert Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography
A Dunskin, or Dun + Buckskin
Note the primitive markings (wither marks, zebra stripes on his legs)
Great Desert Basin, Utah
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Buckskin Mare with her Cremello colt    
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Buckskin Mare- slight Sooty    
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Sooty Buckskin
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Always identify the cream variant before the mud bath
Echo (Cloud’s Grandson)
Pryor Mountain, Montana
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography


Genotype at the agouti locusChestnut horsesPalomino horses
A+_Light chestnutCream palomino
AA_Red chestnut, with AAAA being the reddestGolden palomino
At_Standard chestnutSeasonal palomino
Aa AaLiver chestnutChocolate palomino

Gower, J. (1999). Horse color explained: A breeder’s perspective. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square.    

Kathman, L. (2014). The equine tapestry: An introduction to horse colors and patterns. Charlotte, NC.: Blackberry Lane Press.  

Sponenberg, D. P. (1996). Equine color genetics. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Presented by Dr Meredith Hudes-Lowder

Walkabout 2020- Day Twelth

Water arrives, driving on some bumpy roads, and wild horses

Morning fun… before the water delivery

Water has become scarce in Sand Wash Basin. There are currently four natural and one man-made water sources. The Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin were able to get permissions to provide supplemental water. They decided to augment three existing waterholes that are spread out to reduce impact on the environment. This is the waterhole on 126E.

Van Gogh- son of Picasso at Lake Pond (67). He looks so much like his sire.
Two bachelors at Oasis.
The road less taken… definitely need to have really good tires!!!

Anya hiding from the heat

The final light of day isn’t good for photography- even with a tripod, the images aren’t very clear. We have fun with our iPhone which work surprisingly well…

A Walkabout tradition: S’Mores. Mmmmmm

Our light is flashlights or luminAID. It is a solar powered inflatable lamp-we have only charged it once. It will also charge a USB device if needed. It’s soft light is perfect as we unwind from a long day of photography.

Tomorrow is our final day in the Basin. We thankfully were able to stay in Colorado the entire time and really immerse ourselves in the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse experience. We’ve taken nearly 25K photos, and there is still tomorrow. It has been an amazing experience. We are already planning next year’s Walkabout 2021.

Walkabout 2020- Day Eleventh

It was a busy one today- tons of horses, time with Cindy, new secret watering places, and some nice waterhole action. Also some art, cupcakes, and harp!

I have played my harp many times for wild horses. They like to listen!

Karen is a phenomenal artist. She paints en plein air- which means she paints live – paints wild horses… live and in the field. She paints phenomenally fast and accurately. it’s amazing to watch her set up her palette, and set up her field easel. Her paintings are internationally award winning.

Karen McLain Studio Website

Karen McLain Facebook

Strata easel
Practicing my harp
Horse models and musical audience

We moved to Oasis- another waterhole and found some more friends

We returned to our camper to find some bachelors hanging out and being bad… The video is located at our Instagram wildhorsephotography

The evening light glowed with remnants of the fire in Irish Canyon.

Good night from Sand Wash Basin

Walkabout 2020- Day Tenth

Another awesome day chasing wild horses… well not literally. We saw a lot of horses and the weather was beautiful.

Band of mostly grey horses
Same band in the water
Cooling off

We found some coyote prints

Coyote print with a quarter for size reference

We had a wonderful afternoon, the light was incredible.

Anya wore her Doggles during the bright day

It’s bright out!
Happy dog!
Ready to take over the world!!!

The end of the day brought an incredible sunset thanks to the fire (mostly out).

Horses make their way to evening grazing…

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Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography


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Walkabout 2020-Day Ninth

Today was one of the best days so far in the Basin. We saw an astounding number of horses, and even watched a band change stallions. Eclipse’s band is now under the auspices of Bobbie -although Bobbie has his hands full with such a large band.

We started with a few horses right outside our camper

Sweet dun filly
We either stand still, or move very slowly so as not to spook horses when they are close to the cat. She was very curious.

We headed over to the other side of the Basin and found horses bear Lake Draw. We also ran into a car full of people from New York- naturally I was excited to see fellow NYC-ers.

Laramie- daughter of Cheyenne and Corona
Laramie and her two foals- last year on the left and a mini-me on the right
Karen and I both decided if Jason Momoa was a stallion, this lovely deep liver chestnut would be a likely candidate.
We ate lunch on top of the Basin- 7,000 feet up

The afternoon was spent at the Oasis waterhole. We saw a stallion named Bobbie take over another stallion’s band. Eclipse lost his band today, it it is a big band and there were many horses watching the two stallions interact.

Bobbie’s new band – formerly Eclipse’s band. It is a large band and they don’t seem to like the new management
Bobbie snaking (herding) the band. Stallions snake to show dominance. Bobbie is known for firm, aggressive band management. His track record of keeping band is not great.
Snaking again
Interested bachelors look on
Bobbie guarding his new band against Eclipse (horse and the end of the burm

It will be interesting to see how this turns out tomorrow. We’d love for horses to stay together as family bands forever, but Mother Nature decides in the end who it fittest to lead a band. Often it isn’t the strongest, sometimes it is the fastest, or the most clever. With such a large band, Bobbie has his work cut out this evening. Eclipse and other bachelors would love to run off with a mare from the large band.

Makeshift tripod to photograph the moon.
Where will the two-track take us next?
Goodnight from the Basin.

Walkabout 2020- Day Eighth

Grouse, coyotes, a fire, and of course, WILD HORSES

An interesting day- because it is so dry and there is limited water in the Basin, we travel a lot to find horses. There are only a few waterholes with water (Oasis, Avocet, 126E, and Lake Draw- a little remains at Outhouse). We travel from waterhole to waterhole and sometimes we get lucky… and sometimes we sit and wait and no horses show up.

We got lucky at Avocet this morning

After lunch we started out and noticed smoke on the hills at the southwestern border of Sand Wash after a thunderstorm. We called Cindy from Wild Horse Warriors and she called 911. They take fires in this dry climate very seriously. It was mostly contained by night and likely form lightning during summer storms.

We also saw a coyote and some Greater Sage Grouse today as well.

And we saw a lot of horses… 😊

Smoke from the fire did make for a lovely sunset

Walkabout 2020- Day Seventh

Today was our annual Mustang Walkabout Meet & Shoot. This is a totally free workshop where we take people around the Basin and photograph horses. This year we had some old friends for the Workshop. Carin and Rachel came for their fourth year, Michael, Debra, and Dawn also attended. We were blessed to have Cindy & Aletha from the Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin along as well. The Wild Horse Warriors and Sand Wash Advocate Team (SWAT) are the caretakers of the horses and the land they live upon. They monitor the herds, work on improving water sources, administer PZP (contraception), and work with the Bureau of Land Management – and a whole lot more. Please visit their respective Facebook pages to follow their wonderful work.

Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin

Sand Wash Advocacy Team

Additionally, Cindy runs tours of Sand Wash Basin, so if you’re looking to find horses at Sand Wash Basin for the first time, she is an amazing resource. The tours fall within the Wild Horse Warriors not-for-profit, so the tour fees go back to helping the horses. Cindy is the only tour guide permitted to run tours at Sand Wash Basin. Please check out her webpage.

Cindy not only runs amazing tours, she is very knowledgeable about geology and Sand Wash Basin. She found a partially knapped Native American Ute arrowhead, which we respectfully placed back where we found it. The stone is chert, other stones used for arrowheads are flint and obsidian.

An equine traffic jam on the way back to camp.

The girls had a wonderful day looking for wild horses.
A fire was noted and reported. A concern with thunderstorms is lightning ,which can cause fires in this arid environment.
Horses on the hill
Feeling as though we are on top of the world at 7,000 feet elevation
Some bachelors having fun. They were close to the road, so we stayed in our cars.

Karen and I always wanted to know what horses do at night. so we got a toy- night vision binoculars that allow photos to be taken. May I say how COOL they are??? Here are some photos -some taken near dusk and the others at night. We found out horses do exactly the same thing at night, as they do during the day. Eat. Sleep. Drink water. Though less movement. The clock in the night-vision photos is earlier by one hour.

Beats Wars at dusk
Beats Ears at night
Our camper at dusk
Out camper at night
Meredith using the night vision binocs
Karen amusing the night vision binocs
Sheep shed on 126 at night
Three horses in front of the Bears Ears at night
Small herd- two dark horses, one grey with a small dark foal

A real goodnight from the Basin!

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Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography NOTHIN’ BUT WILD

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Walkabout 2020- Day Sixth

Life is ironic. In the last post I mentioned that stallions don’t often make contact during their sparring. Yesterday, Karen and I came across a band (Eclipse) and there were two stallions actively engaging. A grey named Diablo, and a grullo named Kekoa. Diablo spent most of yesterday chasing Kekoa -we saw them in the morning back on 48. In the late afternoon, we returned to the Oasis waterhole where we saw Kekoa, Diablo, & Eclipse’s band. Kekoa was covered in blood, but appeared to be sound.

Kekoa did not appear lame, and the wounds seem to be primarily superficial. There’s a lot of sharp rocks, which could cause small lacerations. Additionally, teeth and hooves can be quite lethal. After they left the waterhole, we found blood spatters and some hair.

The band returned and we watched Diablo chase Kekoa. Kekoa may have lost a mare to Eclipse/Diablo, or there was a mare coming into season, or reasons we will never understand. He was tenacious in following the band (the expression persistently following is called ‘dogging’).

They nearly ran me over, I took some hasty photos as Kekoa passed right in front of the truck.

Photos of my Canon camera screen

We also saw a brand new foal in Rocket’s band. Rosie delivered a lovely chestnut foal; we gave naming rights to my son Ben and his girlfriend Priscilla. Meet ‘Tequila’.

Karen’s sketch of Eclipse’s band
Goodnight from Sand Wash Basin

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Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photograph NOTHIN’ BUT WILD.

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Walkabout 2020- Day Fifth

A perfectly normal Sand Wash Day. A bit windy, but we saw a lot of horses and one snake (non-venomous Carin & Mike). The weather was lovely, albeit windy. L

War Horse (Bay Tobiano) and Meteor (Palomino Frame Overo) and two mares.
Karen is ready for horses
Meredith is ready as well
Anya keeps watch for wild horses
Two bachelors at Avocet Pond
White pizza for lunch! Mmmmmmmm!

Most often stallions simply posture and there is no fight. They sniff, they squeal, they strike, and sometimes rear. Rarely does it end in actual contact We saw two stallions have a minor disagreement.

From an evolutionary standpoint, if every fight was potentially lethal, stallions wouldn’t be around to pass their genes on to the next generation. How aggressive stallions behave is dependent upon whether any mares in the vicinity are in estrus. A mare who has recently delivered a foal will typically go into a ‘foal-heat’ 2-3 weeks following the delivery. This is a treacherous time for the mare and her very young foal. Stallions are not particularly gentle during copulation, and foals have been severely injured, sometimes mortally (though this is rare).

Stallions spar
Through the wind shield pic
Classic chunky monkey quarter horse type (liver chestnut stallion).

Koko declared a moderately windy day with a ‘single ear warning’ in effect most of the day.

A garter snake (snek). My husband is a herpetologist and was naturally excited to help us ID this harmless snake from New York

We ended the evening at Oasis- one of the more plentiful waterholes. It was lovely to shoot in the soft warm light.

Karen and Cindy shoot across from me
Karen got some wonderful video today which we will share later

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Walkabout 2020- Day Fourth

Weather in Sand Wash Basin

The weather tends to be dry and hot most of the time during the summer in Sand Wash. The winds can be incredibly forceful, but most of the time it is hot and dry. We watch the skies carefully. The weather changes rapidly, and without warning; we check the radar frequently.

Today dawned clear and bright blue. As the day progressed, it became more and more clouded. First happy little cumulus clouds formed ,which progressed to taller, darker, and angrier looking cumulonimbus clouds. Soon we began to see rain falling over distant areas. Looking East, the sky is blue and fair weather cloud float by. Look west, and it looks like meteorological Armageddon is forming.

Ominous skies to the north

At one point we saw clouds rotating in the distance and a small funnel appeared to form beneath the spinning clouds. I’ve been through one tornado, it’s an experience I prefer never to repeat. Thankfully, nothing else happened (aside from ferocious winds, lightning, pelting rain, and thunder).


We stayed in after a brief trip this morning to the solar pump (provides water for the horses) to assist Cindy from the Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin. She kindly asked us transfer the pump from generator to solar- in spite of the storms, there was a lot of strong sunshine. After that we came back to camp. I spent some much needed time on patient charts and Karen did chores around camp. We did manage to make some yummy Red Lobster biscuits in the GoSun Solar Cooker before the rain clouds rolled in.

Mmmmm biscuits!!!

We park the truck perpendicular to the wind which acts as a wind break. We are camped in a small valley which can either block the wind, or funnel it into a powerful force as it did today.

Koko, the blind pug makes for an excellent weather vane. One ear is moderate winds, double-ears are gale force winds. Today, we had gale force winds as evidenced by Koko’s double-ear alert…

Double Ear alert!

Life is incredibly rugged in the Basin. You can never let your guard down, and never lose respect for the forces of Nature. It’s challenging enough to find horses, sometime hiking miles in extreme heat. Mother Nature provides even more challenges, but we have learned over the past decade to respect the forces and never, ever take anything for granted. The raw beauty, juxtaposed with the inherent dangers make the photographs we take in the Basin, all the more precious.

Beautiful rainbow over the Basin
Our trailer
Goodnight from the Basin