by Liz Nutter
© Copyright 1999, Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Lewisburg,
Reprinted with permission from Liz Nutter
So, you think you have a palomino, or maybe you were
lucky enough to find a buckskin. Have you looked under your horse's
tail to be sure?
No, this isn't a bawdy
joke. Truth is, not all golden horses are what they seem. According
to the latest research by two of the country's leading equine color
geneticists, many "palominos" and "buckskins" are actually the
creation of a newly documented gene the champagne gene.
I repeat, newly
documented. That doesn't mean the gene itself is new. In fact,
there's strong evidence to believe champagnes have helped "color"
our breed since the very foundation of our industry yes, since old
Golden Sunshine F-44 himself.
But, more about the
history later. First, exactly what color is champagne? As it turns
out, it's a lot of colors.
Walking horse enthusiasts who have heard of "champagne" most likely
think of the unusual weimeraner-tan shade of the old show mare
Champagne Lady Diane and her descendants, including the mare's only
surviving son, Champagne Look, owned by Bea Kinkade in California
(her first champagne son, Champagne Night, owned by Wiley Bailey in
Arkansas, died last summer). Kinkade, with the help and support of
geneticist Dr. Ann Bowling at the University of California at Davis,
has almost single-handedly educated the walking horse world on that
particular shade of champagne. In fact, it was Kinkade who convinced
the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association to
include the champagne color option on registration forms.
Phil Sponenberg, DVM,
PhD. at Virginia Tech has also studied the champagne gene for many
years, since one of his own horses, a Spanish Mustang mare, was
champagne. By tracking down dozens of champagnes and their offspring
around the country, Dr. Sponenberg discovered that the champagne
gene creates a wide range of colors beyond the classic weimeraner-tan,
including a palette of golds, yellows and ambers.
"The champagne gene is what we call a 'dilution gene.' That means it
dilutes any horse's base color whether that's black, bay or chestnut
much like the cremello gene does to create palominos and buckskins."
According to Sponenberg, the champagne gene dilutes red tones
(chestnut and sorrel) to gold or yellow, while it turns black tones
to brown or tan. For instance, a horse that would have otherwise
been black is diluted to the classic champagne color a brownish-tan
or taupe with chocolate brown points (legs, mane and tail). On a
bay, the red body is diluted to gold, and the points are diluted to
brown, resulting in what some champagne breeders are calling an
"amber" champagne a horse that looks similar to a buckskin, except
the points are brown instead of black. On a chestnut or sorrel, all
the red is diluted to gold, with either a gold or flaxen mane and
tail, which results in a "gold" champagne often a palomino
with palominos and buckskins, it is easy to separate the champagnes
from the others, Sponenberg says. "Look at the skin. True palominos
and buckskins have the same dark gray/black skin that chestnuts,
bays and blacks have," he points out. "Champagnes, on the other
hand, have pale skin pink, whitish or sometimes golden which is
usually speckled or mottled with dark freckles. Old-timers often
called it pumpkin-skinned."
Which brings us back
to the "have you looked under the tail?" question. Because the
freckles or mottling can be heavy around the muzzle and eyes, even
to the point of making the skin look dark, the best place to check
for skin color is under the tail or between the back legs, in the
udder or sheath area.
Champagne foals of all
shades are usually born with bright blue eyes which change to a
golden amber or hazel, usually by the time the foal is a year old.
If it weren't for those blue eyes and pink skin, champagne babies
would often be difficult to identify since they can be much darker
at birth than they are after their first shedding. Many "gold"
champagnes are born bright chestnut, with red manes and tails; some
"amber" champagnes are born bay.
characteristic of champagnes is that their fur tends to be
exceptionally shiny, with an almost metallic or iridescent sheen.
They can look somewhat dull in the shade, but out in the sun, they
practically glow. Many people have commented on how champagnes seem
to "change colors" in different lights.
palominos and buckskins, are sometimes dappled. On the classic and
amber shades, the dappling is usually darker than the body color. On
the gold shades, the dapples can be light or dark. Sometimes,
dappling is noticeable only in winter. Also, unlike most palominos
and buckskins, who tend to get paler in the winter, champagnes are
usually darker in winter.
In the past,
geneticists haven't been quite sure how to classify these colors.
The amber champagnes were just called buckskins; the classic
champagnes were usually lumped in with duns, often called lilac
duns; and most geneticists just put the gold champagnes over with
the palominos, calling them "pink-skinned palominos." (Note: the
Palomino Horse Association has always registered all "palominos"
regardless of skin color. In 1943, however, the larger palomino
organization, the Palomino Horse Breeders of America, stopped
accepting the light-skinned ones, which possibly helps explain why
so few champagnes exist today.)
So, although the basic
champagne shades (classic, amber and gold) are not new, the
discovery that they are related and created by the same gene is very
new. Which is why there are still a few unanswered questions.
For instance, the Sponenberg/Bowling research indicates that the
gene is a dominant one. That means there is a 50% chance of getting
a champagne foal any time you breed a champagne to a non-champagne
(it also means that if your foal isn't a champagne color, it doesn't
carry the gene recessively). What is not known, however, is whether
the champagne gene in homozygous form (a double dose, so to speak)
is like the cremello gene, doubling the dilution effect to create an
almost-white horse with blue eyes and freckles, or whether it is
more like the dun gene, which looks no different in double doses
than in single doses (a homozygous dun looks just like a
Several offspring from gold-champagne-to-gold-champagne crosses have
been found, and they all look like their parents, gold with pale
manes and tails. However, as with any dominant gene, there is only a
25% chance of getting a homozygous with any
heterozygous-to-heterozygous cross, so maybe we just haven't found
that elusive double-dilute yet.
On the other hand, the
champagne gene does appear to have an "additive" effect when
combined with the cremello gene. In three documented instances, a
gold champagne TWH stallion crossed with a palomino TWH mare created
an "ivory champagne," a cream-colored horse with light eyes (blue or
greenish-amber) and mottled pink skin. It is believed that an ivory
champagne crossed with, say, a chestnut has an equal chance (25%) of
producing a chestnut, a gold champagne, a dark-skinned palomino, or
another ivory champagne.
The creation of the
three ivory champagnes above does not mean that whenever a gold
champagne is crossed with a palomino the result is a double-diluted
ivory champagne. That only happens 25% of the time. The other odds
are, again, 25% chestnut, 25% gold champagne and 25% dark-skinned
palomino. Carol Babbs in Illinois, for instance, has a palomino mare
who, when bred to a gold champagne stallion, produced a dark-skinned
palomino filly one year and then a pink-skinned gold champagne filly
the next year.
Okay, okay. Enough of
the genetic technobabble. Let's get to the really intriguing stuff.
Where did today's champagne TWHs come from?
My theory is that some
of our very first yellow horses were champagnes. In fact and I can
hear the pshaws of disbelief already I believe old Golden Lady
#350031, foaled in 1913, and her three golden foals (Golden Sunshine
F-44, Golden Girl #350019, and Yellow Jacket #360141) as well as
many of her grand-get, including Barker's Moonbeam #380497, were
Golden Lady was owned
throughout her breeding career by Burt Hunter of Lewisburg,
Tennessee. Burt's daughter, Jean Hunter, remembers well her family's
golden horses and described Golden Sunshine F-44 to me in vivid
detail. "He was the most unusual color you've ever seen," she says.
"You could put a gold dollar up against him and stand back in the
sun, and you couldn't see the dollar. And he had white skin and
yellow eyes. His mother, Golden Lady, was the same way." Golden Girl
and Yellow Jacket had the same pale skin and eyes, Jean added.
So, what about Golden
Sunshine's most famous son, Barker's Moonbeam, who in 1948 was
called "the foundation sire of the Palomino Walking Horse" by Dr. H.
Arthur Zappe, secretary of the Palomino Horse Breeders of America?
Well, McAllen Finley of Readyville, Tennessee, says, "I can remember
my grandfather saying that Barker's Moonbeam was sort of a dun
color, yellow with a brownish mane and tail. And he had pink skin.
He was not a palomino." Finley's grandfather was none other than
Vance Paschal, noted palomino breeder and the nephew of C. O.
Barker, who owned Barker's Moonbeam.
Ray Barker, C. O.'s
son, confirms the yellow-with-brown-points description, "to the best
of [his] memory." Even more telling, Barker's Moonbeam was
registered simply as "yellow horse." Period. No "white mane and
tail," as most palominos were registered back then.
Certainly, there are
many famous yellow sons of Barker's Moonbeam who were dark-skinned
palominos, including our breed's most famous palomino, Allen's Gold
Zephyr #431975, a.k.a. Roy Rogers' Trigger, Jr. But, there are at
least two ways this could have happened.
First, breeding gold
to gold was a common practice in the 1930s and 1940s, and some of
the dark-skinned sons and daughters of Barker's Moonbeam most likely
had dark-skinned palomino or buckskin dams. It could also be that
Barker's Moonbeam was an amber champagne with an added cremello gene
(the color of his dam is unknown she may have been a palomino or
buckskin, for all we know). If he did carry two different dilution
genes, Barker's Moonbeam could have produced both pink-skinned
champagnes and dark-skinned palominos/buckskins (which would help
explain his extremely high color-production percentage).
good-quality photographs from the 1930s and 1940s are very difficult
to find. Almost none show faces in enough detail to determine skin
color (and I've yet to find an under-the-tail shot!).
However, there's no
doubt in my mind that many of our industry's first yellow horses
were pink-skinned champagnes. Too many of our champagnes today trace
directly to Golden Lady for the case to be otherwise.
Take, for example, the
champagnes produced over the past 20-plus years by Belle Zyla in
Beloit, Wisconsin. Back in the early 1970s, Belle bought a
pink-skinned cream-yellow mare named Yellow Lady M. #667022, sired
by Yellow Jacket's Ace #482625 (golden, with a white mane and tail),
who was a direct son of Yellow Jacket #360141 (a son of old Golden
Lady). There is no other line of yellow or gold in Yellow Lady M.'s
papers, so her champagne gene must have been passed down from Golden
Lady. With Yellow Lady M. as her foundation, Belle Zyla has raised
four additional generations of champagnes of all shades classic,
amber, gold and ivory (although they were registered, for lack of
alternatives, as duns, buckskins, palominos and cremellos).
In Helena, Montana,
Gay Wagner has nurtured another line of champagnes which trace, in
one single line of color, directly to Golden Lady. Gay's first
classic champagne mare was Jester's Fanfare #741782, out of a yellow
mare named R.J.'s Lady Sunset #682192, who was out of Miracles
Golden Lady #601714, who was a daughter of Buck LaMarr #450574,
whose sire was Flash LaMarr #411549 (registered as yellow with a
flax mane and tail), who in turn was sired by Yellow Jacket #360141,
son of Golden Lady. Whew! Today, Gay still owns a daughter and a
granddaughter of her old mare, and both are classic tan-with-brown
One of the best known
gold champagne stallions on the east coast is Sir Joseph's Rocker
#833066, a long-striding plantation show horse owned by Curtis and
Kathy Tibbs of Kearneysville, West Virginia. Although bred
sparingly, Rocky has sired well over a dozen gold champagne foals.
Rocky's dam, Flame's
Gold Honey #782972, was sired by Wilson's Gold Flame #691191, sired
by Wilson's Band O Gold #591699, sired by Wilson Strollin Gold
#540189. But here's where things get tricky. Strollin Gold was by a
son of Allen's Red Eagle #390381, whose mamma was the buckskin mare
Hendrixson Bonnie #410642 (the grand-dam of the dark-skinned
palomino stallion John A.'s Chance #491026, which means that Allen's
Red Eagle was also probably dark-skinned). But Strollin Gold's dam
was Kate Vaught #444177, a yellow mare by, aha!, Barker's Moonbeam,
grandson of Golden Girl.
Kathy Tibb's sister,
Vicki Danmeyer, owns a classic champagne mare named Flame's Ebony
Rose #920378, sired by Boyd's Gold Flame #853596, sired by Wilson's
Gold Flame. Since the Tibbs' stallion and Vicki's mare are both
Wilson's Gold Flame grand-get, odds are that he, Wilson's Band O
Gold, and probably Wilson's Strollin Gold, were all pink-skinned
Unfortunately, one of
the biggest problems in tracing the color on champagnes is that,
until recently, no one knew what to call them. In the past, the
various shades have been registered as yellow, palomino, buckskin,
dun, brown, even chestnut or bay. Many were also roan, and back in
the 1930s and 1940s, a horse that might have been a "yellow" roan
was more than likely registered as simply "roan." So, it's not
unusual for the champagne line of color to just "disappear" in a
Champagne Lady Diane
#696266 herself, registered as a chestnut, is a prime example.
Although her dam, Mack's Golden Girl H. #650174, was registered as
yellow with a flax mane and tail, the line of "color" stops there.
Both parents of Mack's Golden Girl H. were registered as sorrel, and
the four grandparents were registered as chestnut, sorrel, white (by
Merry Boy, a roan), and roan. (Note: After having tracked down
dozens of gold champagnes a few of which are practically orange I
can easily understand how some of the old gold champagnes were
misregistered. Some of the ones I've seen would not have qualified
as "yellow," and there were no other options other than sorrel.)
Another well known line of champagne walking horses is the Arian
line, started by Linda Howland of Kempton, Pennsylvania. Howland's
champagnes also began with a mare, Argot's Merry Rena #705779
("Maggie"), who is gold with a white mane and tail. Her dam, Merry
Go Boy's Rena #665603, was also gold, sired by Merry Go Boy's Son
#571362, who was registered as brown. Maggie, when bred to Howland's
black stallion (Arian Jazz Man), produced three champagnes,
including an amber champagne stallion, Arian's Golden Sun #830478,
now owned by Midge McGoldrick of Anza, California. Golden Sun's
champagne sons include Fingall MacCailleach #896664, Arian Gold
Perfect'n #888755, and Arian Golden Prince #906562.
shock last summer when Dr. Sponenberg told her not only that Arian's
Golden Sun, her "buckskin" stallion, was actually an amber
champagne, but also that her "palomino" stallion was a gold
champagne, AND that her "cremello" stallion was an ivory champagne.
Talk about changing colors!
But McGoldrick was
delighted. In addition to Arian's Golden Sun, she stands at stud her
show-ring champion, Ebony's Rocky Boy #857437 (her gold champagne),
and his son, Windcrest's High Voltage #901649 (her ivory champagne).
Rocky is a Tennessee-born-and-bred stallion whose great-great-granddam
(Betsy Jones #452538) was a daughter of Barker's Moonbeam.
Other gold champagne
stallions leaving their colorful mark on our breed include Brooke's
Class Act #847431, owned by Goldman Cherry in Olmstead, Kentucky;
Big Yellow Chief #736141, owned by Vance King in Rockvale,
Tennessee; and Mr. Yellow Gold Dust #902458, owned by Odean and
Loreen Harp in Lafayette, TN.
One of the most
intriguing champagne stallions is Go Boy's Gold Insignia #882036,
who is a deep amber champagne (almost a copper-gold, with a dark
chocolate mane and tail). It appears that he is also a homozygous
tobiano, with 100% spotted foals, about half of which are also
champagnes. Owned until recently by Mike and Tommie Spurlock in
Shelbyville (who now have a solid, classic champagne stallion out of
an Insignia daughter), Insignia is now the property of Charles R.
Short in Bloomington, Indiana.
No doubt, the many
beautiful shades of champagne will become increasingly popular in
Tennessee Walking Horse circles as more breeders learn how to
produce them. As an avid student of old "yellow" bloodlines, I plan
to continue trying to identify which of our old horses were
dark-skinned palominos and which were pink-skinned champagnes. If
you'd like to share your pedigrees, photographs, ideas and opinions
(even those which strongly disagree with my own!), please write to
Liz Nutter, 1615 Palmer Road, Lebanon, TN 37090.