Last Updated on January 21, 2022
Horses come in a huge range of different colors, with many markings and distinctive features. You might hear someone talking about a dun horse, but what does a dun horse look like? Let’s find out with our dun horse definition and fun facts!
What Is The True Dun Horse Definition?
The word dun is used to describe a very distinctive color and set of markings on a horse. This color combination arises because of a very specific set of genetic influences.
The first of these is a dilution gene that lightens the overall color of the horse’s coat. There are different types of dilution genes, and this one does not alter the color of certain markings, which we will find out about later. So, a dun horse is paler in color, but what color is this?
There are actually two types of dun – a yellow dun, and a blue dun. This is because there are just two base coat colors in horses. One of these is black, which will fade to a blue dun; the other is red (chestnut) that fades to become a yellow dun.
Of course, these horses are not bright blue and a vibrant yellow! A blue dun is normally described as smokey blue or light silver in color. Yellow duns have a sandy base coat, also described as golden or tawny.
But, when it comes to dun horses, there is more to it than just a paler version of our black and chestnut horses! A dun horse has a very specific set of markings, and these have some very interesting origins.
What Does A Dun Horse Color Look Like?
So, we know that the base coat color of a dun is either golden or light silver in color. But what else makes up the dun horse definition?
Dun horses have a very distinctive set of markings that are often described as primitive. The first of these is called a dorsal stripe. Every dun horse must have a dorsal stripe – if it doesn’t, then it is probably a buckskin.
The dorsal stripe is a black strip of hair that extends from the top of the tail towards the withers, running along the spine. It will be very distinctive and clearly defined. Bay horses may also have a faint dorsal stripe, but this might be brown rather than black.
Some dun horses have other primitive markings, but these are not found in all duns. By definition, a dun horse must have a clear dorsal stripe. If you are very lucky, you might find a dun horse with other primitive markings as well.
Other markings in dun horses include the following:
- Shoulder Stripes – a black line extending from the withers down the shoulders, very much like a donkey.
- Leg Barring – horizontal black stripes on the backs of the legs, similar to a zebra!
- Face Markings – a dun will normally have a dark area on the forehead. If this is striped it is referred to as cob webbing.
- Frosting – lighter colored hairs either side of the mane and at the base of the tail.
- Ear Markings – the tips of the ears may be dark, or sometimes just the rim.
Learn more about How Do Horses Get Their Color? Horse Color Genetics
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What Breeds Of Horse Are A Dun Color?
If you have fallen in love with dun horses, you might want to find one for yourself! Luckily, the dun gene is relatively dominant, and some breeds have a high proportion of dun horses.
The types of breeds that are more likely to have dun horses are heavy pony breeds. This color is particularly prevalent in Icelandic horses, as well as the Highland pony and Fjord horse.
Some breeds very rarely exhibit the dun color. It is very uncommon to find a dun Thoroughbred or Arabian horse. Heavy draft horses and warmblood are also less likely to be dun.
If you are particularly keen to breed a dun horse, genetic testing will tell you the likelihood of your horse producing dun offspring. The specific pairing of two horses with the correct genes will guarantee that you have a dun foal.
Read more about Cream Gene In Horses – What Makes A Horse Cream Colored?
So, as we have learned, the definition of a dun horse is one that has a sandy or pale steel-colored body and distinctive black markings. These include a dorsal stripe, which is a black stripe running from the top of the tail along the spine. Dun horses often also have markings that are a throwback to prehistoric horses, such as shoulder stripes and barring of the legs.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on our dun horse definition and facts! Have you ever owned a dun horse? Or maybe you dream of owning one of these beautiful horses? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Does Dun Mean In Horses?
In the equine world, there are many different terms used to describe the color of horses. And it isn't as straightforward as you might think! Whilst we have solidly colored horses such as black and gray, we also have horses that come in very specific shades and color combinations.
One example of this is a dun horse. This color means that the horse has a body that is light brown in color - often described as golden or straw colored. The horse will also have distinctive black shading to the head, lower legs, mane, and tail hair.
Are Duns Good Horses?
Many people love the color of dun horses, as they do look very beautiful. But does this mean that they are good horses?
The color of a horse will have very little impact on its temperament and athletic abilities. So, choosing a dun horse does not mean you will get a good or bad horse. If you like dun horses then make sure you get one that is also suited to you in terms of behavior and experience.
Do Dun Horses Change Color?
A true dun horse will not change color as it ages. However, a grey horse can be born any color and will turn gray as it gets older. This means that a horse could be dun at birth, but will fade to a gray color as the years progress.
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