White mares are beautiful horses, with long white manes and bodies that shimmer in the moonlight.
Because of this, they’ve reached something of a mythological status – often appearing in the folklore of various cultures, fantasy genre movies, and even appearing in the Harry Potter world as a type of Patronus.
In this article, we’ll learn more about white mares, their significance in folklore, why white mares are so rare, my experience owning one of these beautiful horses, information on buying a white horse, and a few tips on keeping a white horse clean.
Why White Mares Aren’t Actually White
Some very literal thinking equestrians will insist that there is no such thing as a white mare- and in fact, they’re technically correct. Mares that appear to be white are actually either albino (lacking all pigment), grey horses (carrying a particular gene that causes melanin in fur to completely depigment), or perhaps a very pale palomino horse.
Even though “white” horses might not exist in the genetic sense, the reality is that the human eye perceives white horses relatively often – especially in film and television where white horses are particularly prized. So while analytical thinkers may insist a white mare doesn’t exist, perception gives us cause to debate this point!
White Mares In Books, Movies, & Folklore
I believe white mares have taken a role in folklore as mythical creatures for a few reasons: their rarity, their femininity, and their unique appearance.
If you were to walk into my pasture late at night, your eye would immediately find my white mare. While the rest of the horses disappear into the darkness, even the faintest light from a sliver of a crescent moon hitting a white mare’s coat reflects brightly. When the whole world is cloaked in darkness, my white mare is clearly visible as a sort of shimmering figure in the darkness.
It didn’t take too many nighttime checks on my heard to realize why white mares have a sort of mythical status and folklore!
I think the femininity of mares has also contributed to mares that are white becoming a part of fantasy genres in film and literature. Whether accurate or not, we project a lot of human womanly wisdom onto mares, who are sometimes temperamental but also bond deeply with their handlers and sense danger perhaps more acutely and accurately than geldings.
Did You Know?
The reason that we associate white horses with “the good guys” and dark horses with “the bad guys” is actually based in the science of light. After dark, dark bay, brown, and black horses seem to disappear into the murky blackness of night, but the pigmentless fur of a white or light grey horse reflects even the smallest amount of light, making it easier for white horses to be seen at night.
White Mares Are Special Because They Are Rare
White mares are rare in the horse world. To fit the definition, a horse must have three qualifications:
- Carry the grey horse gene that causes horses to turn white (about 10% of horses have this gene)
- Be a female (about 50% of horses)
- Be old enough for the grey gene’s depigmentation process to have resulted in a white coat- usually, a minimum of 5 years old. (very roughly estimating, about 50% of living horses might be over five years old.)
If you go off these calculations, that means that white mares make up no more than 2.5% of horses. In a horse show with 100 horses entered, perhaps only one or two of those horses would be a white female horse.
My Experience Owning a White Mare
Although my first horse was a dapple gray gelding, the second horse I ever owned was a white mare ironically named “Ebony”. Her name – which was even included on her Bashkir Curly registration papers and always raised eyebrows at horse shows and veterinary appointments- is a clue to how the color of grey/white horses’ fur changes over a horse’s lifespan.
Why you Should Never Try to Buy a White Mare
Almost any horse person can tell you, shopping for a horse based on the color is usually an exercise that ends in frustration and futility.
An old saying about horses goes something like “a good horse is never a bad color” – in other words, shop for the horse’s training, temperament, breeding, confirmation, and health first and then and only then consider color in your decision of whether or not to buy a particular horse. For ideas for questions to ask before buying a horse click here.
Caring For A White Mare
In general, these mares require the same care and maintenance that any other color or gender of horse requires. The challenge with white mares is keeping their white coats bright and clean. Just like wearing white riding pants to a horse show, they are really hard to keep clean! For tips on some special techniques I use to keep my white and gray horses clean day-to-day, and special grooming tips for horse show preparation and bathing, follow the links provided.
With a Masters Degree in Psychology and two decades of experience as a horseback rider, breeder, and tack store owner, Tatum has developed a unique approach to coaching adult riders that integrates the physical and emotional aspects of developing as a confident rider.