Two horse colors that are perhaps the most commonly mistaken for one another are buckskin & dun. However there is a world of difference between the two and although a similar coloration they come from completely different genetics.
Both dun & buckskin can be a golden colored body with a black mane, tail & legs. The body color can range from a light, creamy tan to a deep, rich gold. Both of them stem from a different dilution gene on a bay animal, so it’s easy to see the confusion. I probably say this about all of them, but I do love this coloring.
Cowboy legend has it that dun animals are actually tougher than the rest – perhaps because most breeds of ancient origin display dun characteristics.
Buckskin animals come from a cream dilution on a bay horse, a single dilution has very little effect on black hair but affects the brown body color by turning it golden (often with lovely dapples). The cream gene on a chestnut base creates palomino and doesn’t have much of an affect on black animals unless it’s a double dilution.
Dun animals get their color from the dun dilution gene which has an affect on all coat colors (not just bay), however the dun dilution on a bay horse creates the coloring most people mistake for buckskin. Dun animals always possess at least one primitive characteristic – a dorsal stripe & many will display striping on their shoulders, legs & forehead (the animal pictured above is a good & fairly extreme example of most of them). This dilution gene also affects chestnut (red dun) and black bases (grulla or grullo).
The Easy Way to Differentiate
Bottom line, there is one very simple way to tell the difference right away…and the lovely hindquarters pictured above show it very clearly. It’s the dorsal stripe…all dun animals display a stripe down the center of their back from mane to tail. If they’ve got it, they’re dun if not, they are buckskin.
All of that said, is it possible for a bay animal to be affected by both a cream & a dun dilution? That’s a question for another day.
Until Next Time
Horse color genetics is extremely interesting and a rather controversial topic in many regards. I find it endlessly fascinating and as we move into the autumn I’m going back to school so to speak & attempting to learn and share more. For now I do hope everyone will go check out the color section to learn more about the equine rainbow.
I had a question that I am wondering if someone here could answer. On a dun horse with dark legs, would the legs be called “socks” – for the purpose of description of markings on a health certificate?
No, they’re not called socks They’re usually called points… like if i had a bay with black legs i’d say, “I have a bay with black points.”
While they are considered “points” you would not mention them on registration paperwork because the term “Bay” MEANS your horse appears to be red with black points. (Genetically speaking, Bays are black!) You would only mention any white markings such as a blaze, socks, or paint (pinto) markings.
For some color genetics basics, see http://www.ch-enterprises.com/genetics.htm
Actually the dorsal stripe can be confusing also since many buckskins have countershading that can mimic a dorsal stripe!
Here’s one for you that I’d like help on – I have a colt who’s dam is palomino,sire is dunskin (yes they CAN carry the creme and dun dilution!). The colt is more palomino colored than buckskin, has the dark mane and tail with no dorsal, but legs don’t have the black points. Any idea why?