“Yellow” as a color in Arabian horses

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on October 10th, 2016 in General

This is with respect to the discussion on the color “yellow” in Arabian horses in the preceding entry. This mare (Pirouette CF) would qualify as “yellow” in Bedouin parlance. This is confirmed in old Arabic dictionaries (“Lesan al-Arab” which dates back to the 14th century AD), and also by  Tweedie and Raswan.

12 Responses to ““Yellow” as a color in Arabian horses”

  1. The yellow color was known as a color of horses in England too, among horses originating from the East, in the late 17th century.
    One of them is D’arcy’s Yellow Turk, whose name can be found in early Thoroughbred pedigrees , for example among the ancestors of Flying Childer’s (1715)

    Not good news, but belongs to the whole image, what W.R.Brown, the former President of the “Arabian Horse Club of America states in his Book “The horse of the Desert”:

    (page.68) …Very light chestnuts with light main and tale are looked upon with doubt by the Bedouins,and duns, piebalds, and yellows show crossbreeding”..
    (page 69) …”The following are not recognized as pure Arabian colors: aswad, black, and ashebad, known in English ISABEL (!)color- yellow, with white mane and tail.”

    The “only good” is what reassuring, that the black as color is also questioned 🙂

    Hammer-Purgstall mentions the “Yellow” color too ( el- Ásfer) in 1855, among the colors of arabian horses, referring to Perron’s French translation of Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Badr ‘s work,
    Le Nácéri / Nassiri/ (1340 A.D.)…. and don’t say nothing about impurity..

    Best wishes,

  2. I believe that Isabel or Ysabella horses refer to the coat color we now call palomino.

    This “yellow” would of course not be the same as what the Bedouin describe.

  3. This is the question, Jenny.
    What is the exact meaning of ” yellow” of the Bedouins as a coat color of horses.

    Several sources gives several answers.


  4. In this case, the yellow of WR Brown is different from the Bedouin yellow, which at least according to the Abbas Pasha Manuscript, seems to have been the most common color in Arabian. The Bedouin yellow refers to a white, light grey horse, with yellowish mane and tail.

  5. The first recorded foal of the Blunts’ Sobha was the grey filly Safra; I don’t know whether she was named by her breeder Mahmud Bey or by the Blunts, but she had for them a grey colt Safran, so this appears to support that usage.

    I got curious yesterday as to whether the yellow color was actually staining, or if it was perhaps an effect of sun exposure (analogous to the way black hair can go red in the sun). So I pulled a lock of Pirouette’s mane, which was definitely white at the root and yellow further out, and washed it with soap and water. The color washes out (I took before and after pictures if anyone’s interested).

    Still, I’ve never heard that horses were bathed with soap and water in the desert, so it seems as if the yellow would be effectively permanent there.

  6. If I understand correctly, nowadays the As-far/Saf-ra (Yellow) as a coat color of horses not in use among the breeders of the arabic speaking countries.

    How they are called there these days,simply grays?

    As we can read in the books of Tweedie, Raswan and others, there was a very interesting, hues diversity of colors in the breeding of our beloved arabian horses.
    As the horses declined in importance, so too impoverished related languages,terms, in relation to color too?

    What about the other colors today?
    It would be good to read about it…

    Best wishes,

  7. Yes, the use of asfar has fallen out of use in Arabic speaking countries today, mainly because of the process of official registration and stud-book keeping, which follows a western pattern (bay/chestnut/grey/black), including by jockey club and racing authorities. This process of alignment with western standards must started in the early twentieth century, with the opening of the first race courses in the Arab countries in Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq (certainly modeled after India and Britain). Anything before that, including the Abbas Pasha Manuscript, follows the old main pattern of asfar/ahmar/azraq/ashqar/akhdar/adham and a few others like ashhab.

  8. It’s really difficult to know how to interpret the old descriptive coat color designations in light of our modern terminology, even before we consider actual language differences.

    Mostly (not entirely, talk to a track identifier about “roan” some time) modern usage is informed by the genetic understanding that many different colors in the paintbox sense are, biologically, variants on the same base horse coat.

    It’s particularly challenging to interpret historical descriptions of the grey horse, which can be visually a base color when it’s young, and then go through stages that look like dun, roan, and white or speckled. Some extensively fleabitten horses can almost look palomino, off in the distance.

    It would be fascinating to work out the inheritance of the different shades of chestnut and bay, or the different patterns of how grey horses change over their lifetimes–but in 55 years of observation, quite a bit of it since I learned the basics of color genetics, I’m still not sure how a person would go about it.

  9. The old arabs’ coat color designation was certainly not genetic-based, but visual. The main coat colors were: red, blonde, yellow, blue, green, and black.

  10. ahmar, ashqar, asfar, azraq, akhdar, and aswad, correct?

  11. yes, except that Bedouins and ancient Arabs did not use aswad for black horses, but rather adham.

  12. It helps to think which ones of these Arabic coat color classification are NOT gray and go from there.

    ahmar/red, ashqar/blonde and adham/black certainly are not.

    from what I can tell, asfar/yellow, akhdar/green, azraq/blue, and ashhab are all within the infinite spectrum of colors we know as gray, ranging from the pure white all the way to the dark, iron grey nearing black, and everything in between.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>