The white coat of the Lipizzan Stallions performing at Vienna’s prestigious Spanish riding school is actually caused by a mutated gene.
White and grey horses, including Lipizzans, are born with a darker coat but lose their colour between the age of six and eight due to chromosomal mutations. These genetic changes cause the pigment-producing melanocyte cells to be produced more rapidly in these horses so that the stock is quickly used up and the horses lose their pigmentation, much like how human hair turns grey or white.
The study also found that the same chromosome was responsible for the horses’ heightened risk of melanoma, cancer of the pigment cells, mainly due to their poor colouring which does not protect them from the sun’s UV rays. Around 75 percent of grey and white horses aged 15 or older develop the skin disease.Fortunately, the horses are not in too much trouble from the cancer, as the diseased cells do not multiply and spread as quickly as in humans.