Varnish roan describes a horse with coloration similar to roan, but with some changes in color over the years, though not to the extreme of a gray. This type of roaning only occurs in conjunction with the Leopard complex. Varnish roans are born with a dark base coat color, usually with some spotting. As the horse ages, white hairs increase over most of the body, and many spotted markings blur or fade. The varnish roan pattern often appears to spread from the white of any original markings. This color pattern is best known in the Appaloosa breed of horse.

Varnish roan is not a result of the roan or the Gray gene, but part of the Leopard complex. A horse may have varnish roan coloration in conjunction with other leopard patterns.


The varnish roan is one of the leopard complex coat patterns associated with AppaloosaKnabstrupperNoriker horse and related breeds. Varnish roans are not true roans and can be distinguished from true roans by the following:

  • Leopard complex characteristics. Varnish roans, like all horses with the Lp gene, have mottled skin, striped hooves, and white sclera (like human eyes).
  • Varnish roans change color seasonally, often becoming less spotted as they age, and often having their coats become lighter when a winter coat grows in, though they do not progressively lighten in the manner of a grey horse.
  • Bony areas retain their pigment longer. These areas include the bridge of the nose and cheekbones, ears, points of shoulder and stifle, as well as the legs.


The gene Leopard complex (LP) is the source of varnish roan and is needed to create appaloosa colours. Without the presence of the LP gene, appaloosa genes and colours won't be expressed.

  • LP/LP = varnish roan
  • LP/n = varnish roan
  • n/n = no appaloosa characteristics

When we apply this to pattern-1 (PATN1), the only appaloosa gene that has been dicovered up until now, we can see the following possibilities:

  • LP/LP PTN1/PTN1 = (almost) completely fewspot
  • LP/LP PTN1/n = fewspot
  • LP/LP n/n = varnish roan
  • LP/n PTN1/PTN1 = (near) nose-to-toes leopard (most popular form)
  • LP/n PTN1/n = leopard
  • LP/n n/n = varnish roan
  • lp/lp (n/n) PTN1/PTN1 = no appaloosa characteristics
  • lp/lp (n/n) PTN1/n = no appaloosa characteristics
  • lp/lp (n/n) ptn1/ptn1 (n/n) = no appaloosa characteristics
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