Last Updated on February 3, 2022
There are many different colors of horses, and some are so similar that it is easy to get them muddled up. This often happens when we can’t be sure if a horse is buckskin or dun. However, there are some simple ways to spot the difference between these two colors, so let’s find out more!
What Is The Difference Between Dun And Buckskin?
If you get confused as to whether a horse is buckskin or dun, you are not alone! In fact, many people assume that these horse colors are the same. But there are some subtle differences between the two colors.
The way that the color of a horse is determined is decided by the genes it inherits from its parents. And although the genes that create buckskin and dun coloring have very similar effects, there are some subtle differences.
The main difference between dun and buckskin lies in the black markings on the horse’s body. The gene that creates dun coloring results in a very specific set of black markings, which will not be seen on a buckskin horse.
Buckskin Vs Dun Horse – The Genetic Facts
To understand the difference between a dun and a buckskin, we need to understand how horses get their coloring in the first place.
All horses inherit one copy of a basic color gene from each parent – the dam and the sire. This will be one of two genes, either black or red. Two black genes give a black horse, two red genes result in a chestnut or sorrel horse, and one of each will create bay coloring.
So, these are our basic horse colors, so where does the wonderful variety of horse coat colors we see come from? This occurs because of additional genes that modify the base color of the coat. They may lighten the coat, add white patches or spots, or create other dramatic or subtle coat color changes.
When a horse has buckskin coloring, a very specific set of genetic circumstances has to occur. Firstly, the base color of the horse’s coat must be bay. Then, the horse must inherit the cream dilution gene from just one of its parents.
The cream dilution gene is one that lightens both red and black hairs, giving a lighter coat shade and color. When a horse has one copy of this gene it will cause a noticeable lightening of the coat color of a bay horse, but little change to the black mane and tail color. If the horse had two copies of this gene, the coat, mane, and tail of the horse would be much lighter, resulting in perlino coloring.
So, how do we get a dun horse? The gene that causes dun coloring is also a dilution gene, but it acts in a different way to the cream dilution gene. The dun dilution gene lightens the color of the coat, leaving the mane, tail, and legs unaffected.
The fascinating thing about the dun gene is that it has some effects that can be traced back to ancient wild horses. These are called primitive markings and are more commonly associated with the only remaining true wild horse, Przewalski’s horse.
Both the dun and cream dilution genes can also act on red and black coat colors, with some interesting results. These dilution genes are responsible for beautiful colors such as palomino, cremello, grullo, and red dun.
How To Tell If A Horse Is Buckskin Or Dun
If you stand a buckskin and dun horse side by side, you will see many similarities. They will both have a coat color that is a lightened version of chestnut or sorrel, but the dun tends to be more of a sandy brown while the buckskin is more golden. However, this can vary widely in both the dun and buckskin, so it is not a fail-safe way to tell the difference!
The best way to definitively tell the difference between a buckskin or dun is to examine the coat markings in fine detail.
Firstly, take a look at the horse’s back – you are trying to find a line of dark hair that runs from the base of the mane to the top of the tail. This is called a dorsal stripe and is always present in dun coloring.
A buckskin may also have a line of darker hair, but this is often broken or incomplete. If this is the case, or there is no dorsal stripe at all, then the horse is not a dun.
The most comprehensive sign that a horse is a dun and not a buckskin is the presence of primitive markings. These include dark stripes on the back of the forelegs, and a dark stripe running from the withers down the shoulders. You may also see dark patterns on the face, called cobwebbing, and lighter hairs on either side of the mane and dock of the tail called frosting.
So, as we have learned, the easiest way to tell if a horse is buckskin or dun is to look for the tell-tale primitive markings. A dun horse will have a clear dorsal stripe, and may also have stripes on the backs of the forelegs and across the shoulders.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on these beautiful horse colors! Have you always dreamed of owning a buckskin or dun horse? Or perhaps you aren’t quite sure if your pony is a buckskin or a dun? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Is Buckskin And Dun The Same Thing?
Although many people think that buckskin and dun horses are the same, they are in fact two different colors of horse! There are two different genes that cause each color, and this results in some subtle differences between them.
The main difference is that a dun horse will have markings called prehistoric markings. These are shaded or striped areas of the coat more commonly associated with ancient wild horses.
However, it is possible for a horse to carry both the buckskin and dun genes! This combination is very rare, as it requires a very specific set of genetic circumstances to occur. A horse that is both buckskin and dun is called a dunskin!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE