Difference Between Sorrel And Chestnut Horse (Sorrel vs Chestnut)

Are red horses really just all red horses? Of course not can’t be that simple when it comes to the equine related things. Not even a light red, dark right or blood red could sum that up.

So as you probably already know and what has brought you here is it is surprisingly very difficult to just look at a horse and know the correct term of color to call it.

So what is the difference between sorrel and chestnut? 

Put simply the difference between a sorrel and chestnut is that sorrel horses are lighter reds with more coppery color where chestnut is a darker/richer red. 

It is and isn’t that simple because there are other areas like when it comes to the mane and tail colorings. So we look to the experts who are actual horse owners below that will give you their opinions. Have an opinion you want us to add in yourself? Send us a message from our contact page or email us directly at admin@horsefaqs.com.

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The below information was gathered on our research from horse owners on several different forums including Reddit and Horseforum. We also corrected grammar where we thought it would make easier to read.

Sorrel VS Chestnut Horses

  1. aggiegirl14 –
    Sorrel: body is reddish in color with mane and tail of similar color or flaxen. Legs are same color as bodyChestnut: body color is dark or “brownish red.”
  2. smrobs –
    According to registries like the AQHA and APHA, a “sorrel” is the lighter colors that tend more towards coppery or orangey, like the picture that you posted. They will often have a lighter or flaxen colored mane/tail but not always.A “chestnut” horse is the darker, richer shade, almost a blood color and darker. They will often have manes/tails that either match their coat color or are a shade or two darker. Some even have manes/tails that appear black and make them look similar to bay horses without black legs. Though there are others that also carry the flaxen mane/tail.Then there are what’s called “liver chestnuts”. Their body ranges from a very deep, dark red to what may appear to be black, though they are genetically red. Their manes/tails are commonly dark, matching their body color, though sometimes you’ll see one that is a flaxen.Sometimes, if they are dark enough, the only way to know for sure is to have them tested, but there are usually indicators, even on a very dark one. Their legs will get just a little bit lighter the closer you get to their hooves, plus, they will seem to have a reddish tinge to their “black” coat when they are out in bright sunlight.
  3. bubba13 –                                                                                                                                                                                                                            There are genetic/environmental issues that can greatly influence the shade of a “red” horse. I have a registered sorrel AQHA more who is a rich red-orange color….most of the time. When I first got her, she was rust-colored, neglected, skinny, and with a diseased and lice-infested hair coat. Six weeks of feed and grooming later, and she was a rich brown chestnut. Since then, she’s been red.
  4. Allison Finch –
    In the English world, Chestnut=sorrel. We just have different types of chestnuts. I’ve never heard a horse referred to as a sorrel in the English rings.
  5. JCnGrace –Genetically they’re the same (ee) but in at least AQHA & APHA (don’t know about other registries) you can select either. The difference is subjective to how the viewer was taught to distinguish the two colors. Some think they’re considered a sorrel only if they have a flaxen mane & tail. I was taught that is depended on the shade of red on their bodies & mane & tail color doesn’t figure into it.Here is a picture of 2 of my AQHA horses. Both bred and registered by the same man. The bright orangy looking one was registered as sorrel the browner looking one chestnut. This was the same as I would have registered them had I been the breeder.
  6. DraftyAiresMum –
    Genetically speaking, chestnut and sorrel are identical. Red (ee) is red is red is red. What you call it depends on where you live, what discipline you ride and what you prefer. Basically, it all comes down to semantics.
  7. ponypile –
    I don’t know for sure, but from what I’ve heard from people it’s that sorrel is usually a flaxen chestnut and chestnut is just regular with a red mane/tail. I always thought though that it had to do with what colour the horse was as a foal. If they were born that “peachy” colour and shed out their baby coat to a red coat they were sorrel as oppose to the foals who were already born almost a normal chestnut colour. Once again this is just one thing I personally thought it could be as I rode a AQHA mare that was born that peach colour and shed out liver chestnut and not flaxen.
  8. skiafoxmorgan –
    It’s the same thing. Usually depends on whether you’re out west or in the east. Whether you ride western or english. All the rest–mane and tail color, shades of red–those are just variations within the color.
  9. Saskia –They are the same colour. In most countries, besides the US and Canada, only chestnut is used regardless of shade or breed, and if used its only within breed groups.From what I understand, within quarter horses, sorrel is brighter orange-ish chestnut, where as the chestnut is the one with browner tones.
  10. DancingArabian –
    Sorrel = What Western people call a red horse
    Chestnut = What English people call a red horse
  11. Roanwatch –For me a chestnut horse is a red horse with mane that is the same color or a little darker then it’s body, and a sorrel horse is a red horse with mane that is lighter or even flaxen compared to it’s body. Am I right?I was at a show the other day with a girl from my horse group. I kept calling the horses there chestnuts, but she kept correcting me saying that they were actually sorrels… if that is so my pinto must be a sorrel then.Who is right? How do I tell someone that is stubborn to stop correcting me because I am right? Or am I wrong and I should call any red horses sorrel, unless they were liver colored? The girl thinks all chestnuts are the dark liver color…
  12. Wallaby –Technically chestnut and sorrel are exactly the same thing – on a genetic level. They are just two different expression of the same DNA.I think the difference really just regionally, and potentially influenced by breed registries. Sorrel tends, in my experience, to be used more by western riders. Chestnut seems to be something you more commonly hear from an English rider.For myself, I like to call dark mane/dark body chestnut and I tend to call light mane/light body sorrel. It seems to depend on body color for me.But it’s just as correct to call them all chestnut, or call them all sorrel.
  13. NdAppy –The use of the term various by region, and sometimes even by season on certain horses.Genetically, at this point in time there is no genetic difference between the two shades. They are both ee (lacking in black pigmentation).Essentially it’s like having two people with brown hair, but they’re different shades of brown.
  14. Horsechick87 –Yup, Chestnut and Sorrel are the same thing….red, you could just call them all red and be done with it.Where I’m at the body color does not matter it’s the color of the mane and tail that dictate the use of each term.Chestnut= mane and tail same color as bodySorrel= Flaxen mane and tail.Here the horse can be any shade of red but the mane and tail would be the ‘deciding factor’. Example;
    You have a red horse that’s ‘liver’ in shade, it’s mane and tail are flaxen so it would be a liver sorrel. If the mane and tail matched the body color the horse would be a liver chestnut.You use whatever term you prefer or none at all, nobody is right or wrong in the case of chestnut vs sorrel.
  15. Zexious –To me, they have always been the same thing–Sorrel has been more of a western term, and chestnut has been more of an English one. For this reason, I use chestnut. I use the term “Flaxen Chestnut” to describe a red horse with a lighter mane and tail.Regardless of what word you use, I think we all can figure it out despite the term ;D


Final Thoughts

So as you can see there isn’t really a defined answer it is more or less based on where you are from and where you were brought up on what your definition is going to be. This is actually quite normal when it comes to Western and English based riding and horse care.

The terms can be very different but they both really mean about the same thing. Again if you want to get into this discussion send in your thoughts and we will add them in.

There were some confrontations on a lot of the forums so please keep it nice please.


I have owned over 50 horses and currently own a small horse farm with 8 horses. I have competed on and off for over 25 years while doing mostly trail riding and cow sorting these days. I write these articles to help anyone out there if you love this article pin it to your Pinterest or Share on other social media platform. Thanks for visiting.

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