Sorrel or Chestnut? - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 10:30 AM Thread Starter
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See I would say for sure that your horse is chestnut.

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post #12 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by farmpony84 View Post
Yes. there is a difference. I used to think Sorrel was the western description and chestnut was for english! I argued with an old-timer forever and he finally asked the vet. I was proven wrong! LOL... (the argument started because I thought my horse was a chestnut). He's a deep red w/ a matching mane. I believe the chestnut has lighter tips.
I've always thought it was a western term. I had to look it up, and to be honest I didn't find an actual answer. I think it's still a matter of whom you ask and what their opinion is. Every single color out there had a description, but when it came to those two, no clear description or answer came up for it. Below is the best answer I was able to find online:


If your horse is a Thoroughbred, there is no difference. The Jockey Club doesn't recognize the existance of the color "sorrel," all Thoroughbreds that are red and not bay are registered as chestnut. If your horse is an Arabian, there is no difference. The International Arabian Horse Association doesn't recognize "sorrel" either, all Arabians that are red and not bay are registered as chestnut. Ditto for Morgan horses, Saddlebred horses, and Standardbred horses.

So the only breed registry for which there is a distinction between "sorrel" and "chestnut" is the Quarter Horse.

At the AQHA website, you can download a free chart with the colors and markings on it:…

The chart states that Sorrel is: "Body color reddish or copper-red; mane and tail usually same color as body, but may be flaxen; may have dorsal stripe."

Chestnut is: "Body color dark red or brownish red, mane and tail usually dark red or brownish red, but may be flaxen. Mane and tail may appear black, but lower legs will be red; may have dorsal stripe."

Now I know from experience, because I've seen it happen when we were doing the registration papers for a bunch of Quarter Horse foals, that there will be some horses where people will not agree whether the foal is actually "sorrel" or "chestnut." I've also observed that when you offer people the chance to identify a bunch of horses as either chestnut or sorrel, if you run enough horses past them, you can repeat the exercise a couple of days later and the same person will change their mind about some horses.

For me, I have never understood why it makes such a huge difference to some people to call a horse "chestnut" or "sorrel." The breeds I'm most familiar with are Thoroughbreds and Arabians, and I am very happy to not make distinctions between "sorrel" and "chestnut." I like to use descriptors to characterize the color: e.g, a red chestnut, a liver chestnut, a red chestnut with flaxen mane and tail, a brown chestnut, and so forth. Works for me.

However, there are some people that are extremely sensitive about whether their horse is "sorrel" or "chestnut." If that's how they feel, I'm fine with going along with whatever they choose to call their horse, I'm not going to argue.

Since the distinction is in some cases very much a matter of judgement and opinion, if I were you, I wouldn't argue about it with someone. IMO, arguing about whether a horse is chestnut or sorrel is "much ado about nothing."
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post #13 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 10:51 AM Thread Starter
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The definition from the AQHA makes it even more confusing! They basically say they can be the same color it is just up to the person registering them what they decide.

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post #14 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 11:15 AM
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the definition from aqha makes my horse a sorrel... OH THE STRESS OF IT ALL!

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post #15 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 11:29 AM
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I pretty much call all reds sorrel, adn if the have a flaxen mane and tale I just call it a sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail. It's just how I grew up. My mom always said since there's not an actual genetic difference who
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post #16 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by SmoothTrails View Post
My mom always said since there's not an actual genetic difference who
So true! Some people may also prefer using the term "sorrel" because they think it sounds "flashier" than chestnut...from my experience around these parts. Maybe I should just call Lilly a "sorrel chestnut". lol
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post #17 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 02:45 PM
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I think the term "sorrel" (as a horse color) was coined in the American west, and chestnut was used in England first and gravitated to the US Eastern seaboard with the TBs that arrived there-- both terms being used early on and getting well established with the horsey populations in each area-- so it makes sense that depending on where you live/who your horsey mentors were/what breed you were/are involved with, you might see it differently than someone else.

Both AQHA and APHA have the choice of chestnut or sorrel-- both describe chestnut as dark red or brownish red, and sorrel as reddish or copper red.

I think the Appaloosa Horse club went to "Chestnut or Sorrel" as one color choice a few years back to alleviate confusion, since depending on their experience/opinion of which was what, assigning one or the other might be confusing or frustrating to people registering.

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post #18 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 08:06 PM
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Sorrel has lighter mane and tail. Chestnut has same or slightly darker mane and tail.Period. It all has to do with the mane and tail color, not the body color at all(besides that it is red of course)

I ride western and I have yet to find sorrel a broad term for red horses, most I know, know the difference.Sorrel is not just a western term nor was it developed by western riders, it came across the sea like the rest of 'em. If you want to get really western you don't use sorrel or chestnut, you call it a red horse regardless of mane color, it is red...

It is also explained this way in Cherry Hills books on basic horsemanship.

The colors should be universal. But then again some people call browns light blacks and dark bays too... when only a drown has a cocoa to blackish coat and lighter or same colored points and a true black has no points and no brown(depending on genes the coat may fade out to a brownish hue, but is still truly black), and a bay has to have points that are darker than the rest of the coat, never lighter to be a bay, otherwise it is just a brown...

Technically a chestnut has more true red pigment to its hair than a sorrel(they tend to be more strawberry colored...), and due to a dilution gene that also causes the light mane and tail, a sorrel has a more more "orangey" naturally occuring coat.

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Last edited by Honeysuga; 12-10-2009 at 08:09 PM.
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post #19 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 08:11 PM
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As you can see - it all depends on who you asked. Many breed registries have identical descriptions but change the name from one registry to the next. In my eyes, it all boils down to genetics. If genetically they are the same - then that's that. However, I have never heard of a chestnut with a flaxen mane & tail. I have heard of a sorrel though. To ME, it's a chestnut when it's all the same color - mane, tail & coat. Sorrel if mane & tail differ at all from the coat. Just my two cents.

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post #20 of 34 Old 12-10-2009, 08:16 PM
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You are correct, it is all about genes, and where the recessives are. Here this explains it better about the genesChestnut and Sorrel

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