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Informational Articles 

Dun vs. Buckskin - The Color Controversy

Yellowish horse, black points. Is it a buckskin or a dun? Well, it depends on which registry you consult, although there is some agreement in their definitions. 

Both have yellowish body color (although the shade of yellow can vary tremendously). The International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) says that "buckskin" should be the color of "tanned deerhide" with dark points (mane, tail, and legs). Dun is a similar color although, according to the IBHA, it is a "duller shade than buckskin." In the past, the dun color was often considered to be more sooty or smutty. A horse with a mane and tail that wasn't black was also called dun.

Recently scientists have determined that there are separate genes that are responsible for the buckskin and dun colors. Buckskin is one result of the "c cr" dilution gene, while dun is one result of the "dun" dilution. Either dilution gene will lighten the body color of a horse, much like adding a little white to a darker color of paint. Therefore the bay color would become buckskin or dun color. And just as there are many shades of bay, from a pale sandy bay to a dark blood bay, there are many shades of buckskin and dun, from a pale buttermilk to an almost chocolate color.

Bay is not the only color affected by the dilution genes. A sorrel or chestnut base color would become red dun (pinkish or flesh-colored with red or chestnut points) when combined with the "dun" gene or palomino (golden body with a lighter or white mane and tail) when combined with the "c cr" gene. A black or dark brown base color would become grullo (pronounced grew-yah) with the "dun" gene and a dark to almost black buckskin when combined with the "c cr" gene. Grullos are not very common, but can be a mouse gray to a camouflage-olive, often with a metallic-like sheen. This color should not be confused with gray or blue roan. Each hair on a grullo is the diluted color, not a mixture of white and dark hairs.

The only way for a horse to have one of these colors is if he carries a dilution gene which he must have received from one of his parents. If one parent has one copy of a dilution gene and one parent does not have it, then the resulting foal has 50% chance of also carrying one copy of the gene. If both parents have one copy of a dilution gene then the resulting foal has a 25% chance of not carrying the dilution gene, a 50% chance of carrying one copy of the dilution gene, and a 25% chance of carrying two copies of the dilution gene. A horse that carries two copies of the gene would be homozygous for that gene. All of his foals would carry at least one copy of the gene and thus show the diluted color.

A horse that is homozygous for the "dun" dilution gene looks the same as a horse that only carries only one copy of the gene. However a horse that is homozygous for the "c cr" will be an even more dilute color called perlino or cremello. Both colors are almost white and usually have blue eyes. The cremello has cream-colored points while the perlino has points with more of a bluish tinge. This slight amount of color is often unnoticeable except where it meets a white facial or leg marking. A horse carrying this "double dilution" would only have foals with the buckskin or palomino color. The AQHA has only recently recognized the perlino and cremelo colors.

So now we know that a palomino, perlino, or cremello has the "c cr" dilution gene, while the grullo has the "dun" dilution gene, but how do we tell the buckskin from the dun? The "dun" gene is associated with primitive markings, also called dun factors. The most common is a line down the back, from the base of the mane to the top of the tail. This line is called a dorsal stripe, spinal stripe, or line-back. Primitive markings also include striping on the legs, generally across the knees and hocks. These markings are called leg barring or tiger- or zebra-stripes. Other, less common, primitive markings include a shoulder stripe or shadow across the withers, dark ear tips, shadowing on the neck, cobwebbing on the face, frosting in the mane and tail, and mottling. These primitive markings will be the same color as the mane and tail, although some may be very faint. A horse with the "dun" dilution gene will rarely show dappling (circular splotches with lighter centers), however dappling is common with the "c cr" dilution gene. There is more about the primitive markings at the end of this article.

Although the primitive markings are associated with the "dun" dilution, it may be possible that they can be inherited separately. More scientific study will probably affirm or discredit this theory.

Since 1987 the AQHA has classified a horse with a dorsal stripe as a dun and a horse without the dorsal stripe as a buckskin. This is opposite to the way they used to register these colors, so you may, for example, find pedigrees showing a dun horse siring a buckskin foal. There is also the possibility of a horse carrying a copy of each dilution gene. In this case, it may be possible to have a palomino horse with a dorsal stripe.


Primitive Markings:

Dorsal Stripe - The color of the stripe will depend on the body color - can vary from black or dark brown to a sorrel or peach color.

Leg Barring - These are horizontal stripes across the hocks, inside and on the front of hind legs, and on the back of the forearms and across the knees.

Shoulder Stripe or Shadowing - A stripe, or sometimes, several stripes, over the withers in varying widths and lengths. Occasionally several stripes will merge together giving a shadow effect.

Ear Tips - The tops and sometimes the sides of the ears are darker than the body color. Occasionally there are also horizontal stripes on the backside of the ears.

Neck Shadowing - Occasionally dark shadows will appear on the crest of the neck or extending into the hollow of the shoulder.

Cobwebbing - Lines of varying lengths over the forehead and face resembling a spider web. Occasionally the lines extend from the eye somewhat like an eyebrow. Sometimes the lines merge to look like shadows across the bridge of the nose or around the lips and nostrils.

Mane and Tail Frosting - Light hairs in the mane or at the top of the tail. The light hairs can run throughout the length of tail.

Mottling - Similar to dapples, however the mottling color is darker than the body color (as opposed to the lighter dappling). Additionally the mottling is usually only found on the forearms, shoulders, gaskins, and stifles, whereas dappling is usually on the barrel and hips.


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