View Full Version : A Horse of a Different Color, or how to disguise a horse

06-21-2010, 11:20 PM
So, in one of my reference books mentions that one of the easiest ways to find a highwayman was by recognizing his/her horse. So, now my highwayman (er, highwayperson?) MC needs to disguise her horse. I'm thinking the easiest way to go about this is to use charcoal, ash, chalk powder, or something similar to lighten or darken the horse's coat. Is this feasible, i.e. would a horse let himself be subjected to such an indignity, would this hurt the horse at all, if the temporary "dye" was washed off when she was done with her hold up, and would this be a credible disguise, as seen by the outlaw's vicitms, by moonlight? Would it work on the horse's mane and tail? The horse in question is brown, if that makes a difference.

06-21-2010, 11:44 PM
A brown horse would be harder to dye than a lighter color one. If you want a temporary disguise that's not waterproof, rubbing chalk or talc all over the horse would be easy. Ash from a campfire is another possibility. A brown horse is almost black at night anyway, you'd need torchlight to see the difference, unless it has distinctive white markings on feet or face. White markings can be dulled simply by rubbing mud over them.

Horses do not lick themselves, so if you kept the dye away from it's face and it wasn't horribly poisonous, it wouldn't harm the horse. Using something like tar or oil would probably be bad for it. Currently there are animal-safe dyes which can be used even on cats and dogs, which do lick themselves and thus ingest some of the dye.

06-22-2010, 12:00 AM
Without knowing the reference and what it is based upon, my guess is you're reading this wrong.

Horses have been dyed for years. A few were successfully raced, and many, many more were successfully sold. (Imagine the look on the buyer's face as his beautiful horse turns in the rain into an old crone.) So dying isn't a problem. But by and large, people can't recognize their own horses in a big herd. The coloring is just not that distinct and the behaviors are very similar. And they don't respond when you call their name. (Yeah, don't tell me they can. I've seen the results of mass rescues from flooding. All sorts of horses with no homes because people don't know which horse is theirs.)

But you could tell an outlaw's horse very simply. And it revolves around the issue of how well can you hide a Ferrari no matter what color you paint it.

Outlaws need fast, long-running horses. At least if they don't want to get caught. The result is their horses were some of the best horses around, and noticeably not affordable by their owners. Normal people could afford them and had no need for a horse that good. No matter what you do, you can't hide quality.

They would also be well fed on grain and corn, giving them more energy. They would be hotter horses than one would normally want.

However, if you want some good ideas on how to hide a horse's quality, you might want to read Ben Green's books. He was a horse trader down in Texas back in the 1930s. He knew more ways to hide a bad horse.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-23-2010, 12:03 AM
Adding or subtracting white marks (white paste, flour or brown hair dye) could work. Making the horse a gaudy pinto for the night and then washing it off would be relatively easy. Thoroughly dusting the horse with flour or chalk (not ashes, they would irritate the skin) could lighten them into what looks like a grey or roan.

Look up horse colors on Google and decide what colors could easily be changed. Dying the mane, legs, and tail of a chestnut with black dye would make a fake bay. Bleaching or lightening the mane and tail of a chestnut makes a "flaxen chestnut".

06-23-2010, 12:30 AM
Of course - you could take the EASY way out, and put a caparison on the horse. A nice black one would do I should think.

06-23-2010, 05:59 AM
From "Silver Blaze" by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which a horse's bright white forehead and leg are dyed to avoid detection:

"Certainly, Colonel, you shall know everything. Let us all go round and have a look at the horse together. Here he is," he continued, as we made our way into the weighing enclosure, where only owners and their friends find admittance. "You have only to wash his face and his leg in spirits of wine, and you will find that he is the same old Silver Blaze as ever."

06-23-2010, 06:17 AM
Is the horse brown or chestnut, b/c there is a big difference...

I never had trouble picking out my mare in a herd except at a distance at one farm where there was another chestnut dun. He wasn't quite as light as my mare though, so easy to tell from across the pasture. :)

And um, that's all I have to contribute atm, for it is late and I am tired.

06-23-2010, 06:20 AM
Also, google "Fine Cotton affair".

06-23-2010, 08:34 AM

06-23-2010, 03:34 PM
i assume this is set in highway man times.

there are alot of ways, it's easier if the horse is lighter, because then you can darken it.

However, there are ways and means to these things, and primarily they result in dyeing/staining the coat and some creative work with brands.

It's very difficult to do anything with a dark coat, other than some white paint and hope for the best.

A grey can be made to look darker, or coloured, and don't underestimate the wonders that a creative trim and some new tack can make to a horse.

white socks can easily be stained a darker colour, charcoal will wash off though. poo will stain a coat a sickly yellow colour, and is tough to get off, so that's an option, but you could just end up with a horse who looks poo coloured.

bleaching a coat is hard and not recomended, but possible. it could damage the skin alot though.

some clothes dyes might work long enough, but I wouldn't want to get caught in the rain.

eta: it's still common practice to dye show horses, especially manes and tails and legs.

06-23-2010, 03:35 PM
Also, if the horses is a cobby horse, or one with feathers, a close trim of the legs and beard can transform it completely

06-23-2010, 05:22 PM
Does it have to be a credible disguise? I mean, even if people look at it and go 'hmm, that's a badly disguised horse', does it matter? So long as no-one can recognise Ted the carpenter's horse as looking an awful lot like Highwayman Jack's horse, isn't that enough?
So, for example he could slosh a load of whitewash over it to hide its colour/markings. It might obviously look like a horse covered in whitewash, but it still doesn't look like Ted the carpenter's horse.

06-23-2010, 05:51 PM
Alternately, some forward planning in investing in a very average coloured horse would help. I would invest in a bay* (the bog standard variety) of average enough size, because even if my horse was conspicuous in that it looked finer than my hypothetical means, coat colour, markings and size would still be the first three things described about the horse.

*Though obviously what's average varies by location.

06-23-2010, 06:05 PM
Dying the horse in any way that is hard or laborious to remove isn't going to help much, because when they find the horse it will still look the same as the day. Howver I can see more sennse in just semi-perminanlt removing distinguishing features like white socks or blazes.

06-23-2010, 08:16 PM
personally I would go for a common colour and breed as suggested above. i have two bay tb's and although they look completely diffferent to me, most people couldn't tell them apart at glance, and sometimes my partner gets confused as to which is which,.

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-24-2010, 04:56 AM
A brown or bay with prominent white sock or socks she covers with a dark knit legging or bandage OR one without socks that she puts white marks on with white bandages.

Remove cloth, have new horse.

06-24-2010, 06:50 AM
Weren't there some breeds specifically used by highway men? I think the fell pony was one. They are pretty dang distinctive looking too.

06-24-2010, 07:22 AM
You can make a horse look incredibly wretched, no matter how gorgeous and valuable, by a really bad job with clippers.

Don't cut the poor critter, but the odd bald spot ? Looks really really bad, especially after the hair starts to grow back.

Not mentioning names, but someone who tried to do a summer clip on a pony made it look like it had some sort of equine mange.

Just as a pointer for future reference, sheep shears aren't really meant for ponies.

06-25-2010, 03:11 PM

I did this to my dog. Horse clippers might seem like a good idea, and you might think you can hold them a consistent distance from the skin for a consistent hair length, but I know for a fact there is a steep learning curve. And there will be the odd bald strip. Poor dog took awhile to grow out of it.

I've also given my horse an ugly (but consistent and even!) clip job. I'd suggest tracing the 'hunter clip' you want to give your horse before you start. Then I suggest you get a professional. Clippers are the devil.

06-25-2010, 05:29 PM

I did this to my dog. Horse clippers might seem like a good idea, and you might think you can hold them a consistent distance from the skin for a consistent hair length, but I know for a fact there is a steep learning curve. And there will be the odd bald strip. Poor dog took awhile to grow out of it.

I've also given my horse an ugly (but consistent and even!) clip job. I'd suggest tracing the 'hunter clip' you want to give your horse before you start. Then I suggest you get a professional. Clippers are the devil.

me too. we used to have a very hairy collie and every summer i would clip her with the horse clippers. she was so tiny looking after all that masses of hair came off. of course, having a cold bum did not please her and she wlked like john wayne for a week

06-25-2010, 05:35 PM
Moonlight? Wouldn't a light (weight not colour) blanket suffice? And coal dust to hide any white blaze or the like? You wouldn't want anything permanent or difficult to reverse.

And teach the horse to neigh in Irish or something to confuse any listeners.