Horse Colors, Patterns And Markings

Learn 10 Facts, Differences & Color Shades Of Buckskin vs Dun Horses

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Is it a buckskin or a dun? This is a question that stirs a robust debate in the equine world. Explore insightful facts that shed light on the distinct difference between these two often-confused horse colors and help settle this longstanding controversy.

Buckskin and dun-colored horses can look very similar. It’s very common for people to get the two colors confused. However, there are distinct differences, some genetic and some you can spot visually.

Buckskins have yellow colored bodies with a black mane and tail and black points, like on a bay horse. Duns range in colors from reddish to yellow to mouse grey with frost on mane and tail as well as primitive markings such as a dorsal stripe, shoulder blade stripes, webbing on their forehead, and stripes on the legs.

The horse above on the left is a dun. Write in the comments if you can see why that is!

Table Of Contents

This is just a basic summary of the visual difference between buckskin and dun coat colors. Now let’s go more into the genetics behind these coat colors, the variations you can find in each of these colors, and other colors that can commonly be confused with dun or buckskin, and answer any questions you may have on the topic of dun and buckskin horses.

This is a non-dun 1 bay colored horse . Has a dorsal stripe but is not a dun.

10 Genetic Facts About Buckskin & Dun Horses

  1. Buckskins are created through the cream gene on a bay base color. Also, the bay base is technically black with the agouti gene. The agouti gene pushes the black color to the mane, tail, and black points of the horse, leaving the bay color, which can vary in shades. This stays, and only the bay color turns to a yellow gold color.
  2. Duns are created with the Dun gene, which can be on any base color.
  3. Both the cream and dun genes dilute the color of the horse’s base coat. The cream turns the reddish color to a yellow or gold-like color. The dun just lightens the horse’s coat color and adds dun markings.
  4. The cream gene only affects the red base color and not the black one when one is present. When two cream genes are present red and black base colors are effected. The cream gene can lighten the skin, coat, and eyes.
  5. The dun gene affects both red and black-based colors.
  6. The dun gene commonly leaves the mane, tail, and some other areas of the body the original undiluted base coat color. Although it is also common for the mane and tail to have frosting which are light-colored hairs on either side of the mane and tail.
  7. Buckskin horses can also have the dun gene, they are called a dunskin. This means the horse has a base coat bay with one cream gene and one dun gene.
  8. Buckskin horses can have a dorsal stripe and not be dun. Dorsal striping alone does not mean the horse is dun. There are two types of non-dun horses known as non-dun 1 and non-dun 2. Non-dun 1 has no color dilution but can have primitive markings. Non-dun 2 has no color dilution and no primitive markings.
  9. Dun gene is a dominant gene. If one of the parents is dun then the foal will inherit the dun gene.
  10. Today to confirm if a horse is dun DNA testing can be done, examining the horses pedigree, and checking for the visual signs the horse is dun, such as primitive markings, dorsal stripe, and color dilution.

Buckskin Color Variations

Buckskins always have a black mane and tail, however, the shade of buckskin can vary. A dorsal stripe which is commonly seen as a dun trait can in fact still be a buckskin if it is countershading or the horse is a non-dun 1. Countershading is seen on adult horses of most colors but is more common in foals and usually fades out.

“Countershading markings that can closely resemble dun are false dorsals, shoulder bars, and stripes or mottling on the legs. A true dun dorsal will almost always be visible well into the tail while countershaded dorsals will not.”

The different coat color variations of buckskin:

This is a standard buckskin. You can see that the color is consistent compared to the sooty buckskin.

The Standard Buckskin

This is the most commonly thought of color when it comes to buckskin. The shade can vary slightly but it is most similar to the color of tanned deerskin.

This buckskin has a much lighter colored coat.

Buttermilk Buckskin

Buttermilk buckskin is the lightest shade of buckskin, a very light creamy yellow color, which really contrasts against the black mane, tail and black points.

You can see the buckskin in the middle has more golden and yellow tones in the coat.

Golden Buckskin

The golden buckskin looks similar to the standard buckskin but is slightly darker in the neck and shoulder and back areas.

You can see the darkness on the shoulder and on top of the rump.

Sooty Buckskin

Sooty Buckskin looks as if soot was dumped on top of the horse. The top of the coat is darker while the bottom of the coat is lighter giving it the look. The coat is not as diluted as the other buckskin variations.

This horse is a buckskin with a full body clip, making the coat appear a lighter color.

Silver Buckskin

I have seen two examples of a silver buckskin. The true silver buckskin is a bay horse with the cream gene and the silver dapple gene. The horse’s body has the gold yellow body with a white or silver looking mane and tail. Check out a photo of this Silver Buckskin Tennessee Walking Horse.

Then there is the silver buckskin that has a black mane and tail black points and the coloring of their coat is anywhere from a very light buckskin with silverish tint to much more prominent silver coloring. These are not true silver buckskins because they don’t have the silver dapple gene. 

Buckskin with a tobiano gene.

Other Buckskin Variations

There are other buckskin variations with buckskin as a base with another gene. The silver buckskin with the silver dapple gene for example.

Other variations with buckskin as a base coat include:

  • Dunskin
  • Buckskin Tobiano
  • Buckskin Overo
  • Buckskin Tovero
  • Buckskin Roan
  • Dunskin Roan

Dun Color Variations

The most common dun coat color looks like a buckskin horse, which is why so many people confuse buckskin with dun or vice versa. A dun horse can come in several different colors and have certain characteristics known as primitive markings.

Dun Horse Primitive Markings

This horse is a grulla dun and you can see the dorsal stripe on the back.

Dorsal Stripe

A dorsal stripe is a darker colored line that runs through the horses mane, down the back, through the tail. The stripe does not fade away. The color of the dorsal stripe is of the horse’s base coat, but on a bay it can be black or reddish. That’s because the bay color is originally black with the agouti gene.

You can see the frosting in the mane and the darkened face known as a face mask.

Dark Face

Sometimes on a dun, the face will be darker which is sometimes called a face mask. Subtle stripes on the horse’s forehead are also common, similar to a tiger or brindle but more faint is called cobwebbing.

You can clearly see the legs stripes on the back of the forelegs here.

Leg Stripes

These are horizontal stripes on the horse’s legs that are usually faint. These are usually found on the back of the forelegs, above the knees and hocks as well. They are also sometimes called zebra bars.

You can see the thin shoulder stripe on this grulla colored horse.

Shoulder Stripe

Known as the transverse stripe. This is another trait sometimes found in dun horses and also donkeys. The shoulder stripe is near the horse’s withers and is a line perpendicular to the dorsal stripe. Looking at it from an aerial view, it would almost look like a cross.

Mane And Tail Frosting

This is the hairs on the edges on both sides of the tail and mane. The color is lighter making it look frosted. It can be just a little bit and not really noticeable or a lot of frost and very noticeable.

You can see the darkened face and the dark tips on the ears as well as some faint striping on the foreleg.

Dark Ears Tips

The tip or rim of the ears are often darker and similar in color to the horse’s dorsal stripe.

This is a red dun horse with a thick winter coat. The colors shade can change from winter coat to summer coat.

Red Dun

Red dun is with base coat chestnut or red. The coat is much lighter than the normal chestnut colors. The color almost looks like a chestnut coat that has a full body clip. The dorsal stripe is usually a brighter chestnut.

The horse on the right is a red dun, notice the striping on the hind leg and the one of the leg is grulla.

Black Dun

Black dun is more commonly known as grulla or grullo. The dun gene lightens the black to an almost blue or steel grey. The face usually has a dark mask along with the other dun characteristics.

A bay dun, you can see the light hairs next to the black mane.

Bay Dun

Bay dun is the color commonly confused with buckskin horses. It is a yellowish color. The Dun gene lightens the bay color and turns the red more yellow. There are varying degrees depending on the horse. Some look slightly more reddish bay and some more yellow. 

File:Dunskin 201.jpg
This horse is a dunskin part buckskin and part dun.

Buckskin Dun

A buckskin dun is known as a dunskin. The buckskin has the yellow buckskin coat and the black mane usually with some frost on the mane and tail. Then the other dun characteristics.

Palomino Dun

A palomino dun is known as a dunalino. The palomino has the golden coat with the platinum blonde almost white mane and then the characteristics of the dun. 

Colors Commonly Confused With Buckskin And Dun

Bay dun horse sometimes confused with buckskin.

Buckskin & Duns Get Confused

Buckskins are often confused with duns and vice versa.

Palomino horse which is sometimes confused with buckskin.


Buckskins have been confused with palominos.

File:Perlino-color-horse-100 6908.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Perlino colored horse which is sometimes confused with red dun.


Red Duns have been confused with Perlinos.

Horse,pony,strawberry roan,roan,new forest pony - free image from
Red roan horse which is confused with red dun horses.

Red Roan

Red duns get confused with red roan.

File:Blue Roan New Forest with foal.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Blue roan horse with foal, which is confused with black dun or grulla.

Dark Greys & Blue Roans

Grulla Dun gets confused with blue roans and dark grey horses.

Buckskin horse frolicking in their paddock.

FAQ’s About Dun And Buckskin Horses

Are buckskin horses a breed?

Buckskin is a color not a breed. However there are registries for buckskin colored horses. A couple of these would be the International Buckskin Horse Association and the American Buckskin Registry Association Inc.

What kind of horse is buckskin?

A buckskin can be found among many breeds. The buckskin color comes from a bay horse with one cream gene.

What colors make a buckskin horse?

Buckskin horses have a coat that ranges in shades from a light creamy yellow to gold to dark gold. They have black points, as well as black mane and tail, the same as a bay horse because buckskins come from the base coat bay.

Are buckskin horses rare?

Buckskins are not as common as bay horses but they are also not considered rare. There are many buckskins produced in different breeds of horses.

What does a dun horse mean?

A dun horse is a horse with the dun gene that causes a lightening of the base coat of any color and creates markings such as leg striping, dorsal stripe from mane to tail, mane and tail stay darker with frosted hairs on the sides, dark tips on the ears, darkened face, faint stripes on forehead and shoulder stripe.

Do all duns have a dorsal stripe?

All duns have a dorsal stripe that goes through the mane over the horse’s spine and into the tail. They would also have other primitive markings.

Can a buckskin horse have a dorsal stripe?

Yes if the horse is a non-dun type 1 a horse can have a dorsal stripe but it does not go into the coloring of the tail and the horse would have no primitive markings. Also, a buckskin can have dun genetics and if so would be considered a dunskin.

What is a red dun horse color?

A red dun horse is a horse with a chestnut base and the dun gene. The mane and tail and some of the face typically stay the base chestnut color while the body is a much lighter color. The color looks like a chestnut horse that has a full body clip.

What is a grulla horse?

A grulla horse is a black dun. The base coat is black with a dun gene. The horse has a darker face , mane, tail and lower legs, along with the dun markings. Their body looks like a mouse grey all the way to a steely grey.

Can a dun horse turn grey?

A dun horse can turn grey if the horse has a parent with the grey gene and they inherited it. However, dun horses do not lighten in color as they age, as grey horses do.

Cute buckskin foal. Just because!

Wrapping Up

So now go forth and practice your ability to determine whether a horse is dun or buckskin.

Comment below if you have any questions about dun or buckskin horses that have not been answered.

If you would like to learn more about horse colors I have 2 blog posts you may like to check out.

27 Fun Facts About Palomino Horses and Horse Coat Color Picture Guide (FAQS Included)

Cheers, Kacey

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Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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