The one and only discovered dilute colour that is suspected of originating in the Americas is Champagne. One breed, the American Cream Draft consists of 100% Champagne horses; the Cream gene is the only other dilute gene present in the breed. Champagne is a dominant allele and it acts unusual compared to the other dilute genes as it dilutes hair, eyes and skin. It doesn’t seem to have any issues diluting either red or black pigment. It is believed the first champagne mutation happened around 1900 however with less than ideal records it is hard to trace this back to a specific horse. Credit is often given to a horse named Old Granny born roughly around 1890 as being the first Champagne mutation. Today the colour is seen in many American based horse breeds such as American stock horses, the American Cream Draft and gaited horses such as the Tennessee Walking Horse. It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s when attention was drawn to a Tennessee Walking Horse named Champagne Look when a nation wide ‘what colour is my horse’ campaign gained the attention of geneticists from UC Davis. This is why the dilute gene is now known as Champagne.
Champagne Allele Genetics
The Champagne allele is dominant and genetic testing is available to the public, when writing out a genome Champagne is represented with a Ch. Being a dominant allele a horse with one Champagne allele can not be visually distinguished from a horse with two Champagne alleles. When the Champagne allele was discovered, thanks to the persistence of the owner of Champagne Look (who is now classed as being Classic Champagne) there came a big surprise to the horse world. Up until this point there were two classifications to Palominos: Pink Skinned Palominos and Dark Skinned Palominos. It turned out that Pink Skinned Palominos were really the result of the Champagne allele and were not really Palomino at all. Thanks to this knowledge the golden horse breeders were able to have better control over their offspring produced (as one could imagine attempting to get one colour result when there are two different genes at play when you only think there is one can lead to a lot of hardships, especially when one is dominant and the other incomplete dominant!).
Champagne horses are easily distinguished from other dilutes when you look at their skin and eye colours and the coat as well. The skin is usually a purple/pink hue with speckling of darker or lighter skin around the eyes, muzzle and private bits, this is called Mottling. Champagne horses are born with blue eyes which can change from green to hazel to amber to light brown over the course of its life time. Champagne horses can have a glimmer dusty sheen to their coats.
Basic Champagne Allele Colours
Below is a chart to help show what the basic colours of the Champagne allele are. A basic Champagne colour is when the Champagne allele is combined with Extension and Agouti colours. On the left we see those basic Extension and Agouti colours and on the right we see what those colours are when the Champagne allele is present. As you can see with the rarity of the Champagne allele there are no documented cases of Champagne with the Wild Bay allele, I have chosen to make up a name that could possibly be what it is called once it has been produced.
Check out the Champagne Album to see pictures of Champagne horses: