What is a varnish roan you might ask? What makes it a varnish roan? Is it really a roan?
A friend of mine recently called me asking what color her horse was. She owns a 15 year old ApHC (appaloosa) mare. The mare's name is Sable and she had not yet been registered. In order to be registered you have to have a color. The only problem was Sable was a very unique color; mostly white with some brownish gray areas over the bony parts of the horse: knees, hocks, and a "V" shape in her face. Her first thought was, "Gray. Gray horses are born dark and lighten up as they mature. Sounds like Sable."
The only problem that we ran across was the fact that Sable doesn't have a gray parent. Her father is Goers Strawman a strawberry roan with a blanket, and her mother is Think Mink a buckskin leopard. As far as genetics go, in order to get a gray foal you must have a gray parent. But I must tell you, if you have two gray parents it doesn't mean that you will have a gray foal, and whatever color you get other then gray will not be able to throw a gray, but that is for another time.
Back to Sable, we have determined that she can not be a gray as neither of her parents are grays. So the search remains. Could she be a roan even though she has these odd dark areas on her body? I don't think so. As we are looking at roans we come across something called a varnish roan. Hmm... That is interesting; I have never heard the term. So I read on. There are also example pictures, and what do you know, looks so much like Sable it's actually kind of scary. Here is the weird part, a varnish roan is not actually a roan at all, and it is part of the leopard appaloosa gene.
This is where it gets odd. The reason it is not considered a roan is because unlike a roan that goes from a dark foal to an almost white geriatric horse. They are born dark, or mostly dark with maybe some white spots, like a leopard. With in a few years though the horse becomes almost white with the darker color staying on the bony areas of the horse: the hocks, knees, lower legs, shoulders, ears and a very pronounced 'V' shape on the bridge of the horses nose. A traditional roan has dark legs, mane and tail, and usually the whole head. Think back if you would, how many varnish roans have you seen that you thought where just regular roans. I can't tell you how many I have seen and thought "Wow, that's a nice roan." Now I think, "Wow, that's a nice varnish roan!"
So the next time you see a roan going down the road, ask yourself, "Is that a roan or a VARNISH roan?" You might be surprised by your answer! I know I was.