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Buckskin Horses: Facts, Colors, Origin, and Characteristics

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My three-year-old granddaughter loves horses, and her favorite is a wild buckskin mustang named “Spirit.” Her interest in “Spirit” led me to research buckskin horses to find out what makes a horse a buckskin.

The most apparent feature of buckskin horses is their coloring. Buckskin horses have a coat color of tan or gold with a black mane, tail, and lower legs. In addition to the coloring, a genuine buckskin is also a hardy horse.

Buckskin isn’t a horse breed but a color pattern. The buckskin coloring is found in almost all breeds; however, these tan-colored horses possess unique qualities that extend beyond their looks.

What is a Buckskin Horse?

A buckskin horse is a type of horse that has a golden or tan coat with black points on the mane, tail, legs, and ear edges. The black points are usually a darker shade than the horse’s body color. Buckskin is a dilution gene that affects horses with a bay base coat color.

This means that not all horses with a tan or golden coat and black points are necessarily buckskins – the horse must have the specific genetic makeup for buckskin coloring. Buckskin horses are highly prized for their striking appearance, as well as their athletic ability, endurance, and soundness.

They are commonly used as all-around western workhorses and are also popular in various equestrian disciplines, including western pleasure, trail riding, and rodeo events.

A dilution gene creates buckskin color.

Buckskin horses are the result of a dilution gene that affects horses with a bay base coat color. Specifically, the dilution gene in question is the cream gene, which reduces the production of black pigment in the horse’s coat, resulting in a striking golden or tan color.

Despite this lighter overall coloration, the black points of the horse, including the mane, tail, and lower legs, are not affected by the gene and retain their darker coloration. Buckskin horses have a base coat color of bay, which is characterized by a base color of black and an agouti gene that directs the location of black coloring to the points.

All buckskins have the genetic markers of a bay, which is why they also have black points. The cream gene acts on the bay horse, lightening the bay coat color to tan or golden in most instances. You can determine if your horse is a buckskin through genetic testing.

Buckskin horses can vary in color, with some appearing yellow or dark golden, but the primary buckskin color is tan with black points. Their coat should resemble the color of a deer’s skin without primitive markings. The International Buckskin Horse Association lists acceptable colors for the registration of horses, which can be found on their website.

Dilution genes like the cream gene tone down the base color in a horse, resulting in a unique coat color that sets buckskin horses apart. Understanding the genetics behind buckskin horses can provide insight into their physical appearance and help identify horses with this sought-after coat color.

How did the term ‘buckskin’ come to be used?

The term “buckskin” likely originated from the fact that the color of the horse’s coat resembled the color of tanned deerskins, which were commonly referred to as “buckskins.” The use of the term can be traced back to at least the early 19th century, and it has since become a popular term in the equine world to describe this particular shade of horse color.

The term “buckskin” may also have been influenced by the historical use of buckskin as a type of leather material for clothing and equipment. Buckskin jackets, for example, were a popular type of clothing among hunters and outdoorsmen. The color of these jackets likely contributed to the association between the color of the horse’s coat and the term “buckskin.

Overall, the term “buckskin” has been used to describe this particular shade of horse color for many years and has become a commonly recognized term among horse enthusiasts.

Origin and History of Buckskin Horses

Buckskin horses have been around as long as horses have existed. Their origins can be traced to the primitive Sorraia horse breed. Today, most horse breeds have Sorraia influence; thus, you have buckskin coloring in all kinds of horses.

Spanish conquistadors brought with them Sorraia horses to North America in the 1500s to use as pack animals. The Sorraia breed was perfect because of its exceptional endurance and relatively low maintenance.

buckskin horse,
By SkippyTheWonder

Horses brought over by the Spanish were released into the wild. The Sorraia blood filtered into the horses of the wild west. The crossing of Sorraia with other wild horses developed into the western buckskin.

Buckskin horses were once popular among Native American tribes and were commonly used as war horses due to their strength and endurance. In fact, some breeds of horses, such as the American Quarter Horse and the Appaloosa, have a long history of producing buckskin offspring.

Today, buckskin remains a highly sought-after color among horse enthusiasts. These horses are well-known for their versatility and make excellent all-around western workhorses.

They are renowned for their high endurance, soundness, and sure-footedness, making them a popular choice for cowboys and ranchers alike. Buckskin horses have become increasingly popular in many equestrian disciplines, including western pleasure, trail riding, and rodeo events.

Their beauty, athleticism, and reliability make them a favorite among horse lovers worldwide.

Picture of a silver buckskin horse with a dapple coat.
Silver buckskin with dapples

The Colors of Buckskin Horses

Buckskin horses are known for their distinctive golden or tan coat color and black points on their mane, tail, legs, and ear edges. However, the world of buckskin horses is much more complex than this simple description suggests.

In fact, there are many different shades and variations within the buckskin color category, each with its own unique characteristics and traits. In this section, we will explore the fascinating range of colors found in buckskin horses, from the classic tan-and-black look to rare and unusual variations that are sure to catch your eye.

Buttermilk buckskin

Buttermilk is the lightest colored buckskin coat, and just like all buckskin horses, they have dark points. Below is a photo of a buttermilk horse. Some buttermilks are much lighter than the horse in the photograph.

Picture of a dusty buckskin horse,
By Cocopelli – Own work,

Dusty buckskin

A dusty buckskin is a lighter version of a sooty horse with standard coloring and no definitive dorsal stripe.

Picture of a sooty buckskin horse.
By Satu Pitkänen – Self-photographed,

Sooty buckskin.

Sooty Buckskin- The stallion below may look like a dun, but he is a buckskin. He has the dilution gene and bay genes. Sooty horses have a genetic modification resulting in a horse that looks like soot has been dumped over him, i.e., darker on top and lighter underneath. These are the darkest of this color breed.

Picture of a standard buckskin horse,

Standard buckskins.

A standard buckskin can vary in shades, but the horse should have a coat color similar to a deer. The horse below is standard colored and on the lighter side of the spectrum.

buckskin horse,
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Silver buckskins.

A silver buckskin horse has light gray hairs intermingled in its coat. Some silvers have a considerable amount of grey to the point they will look like a gray horse and have a shiny overcoat. These are the lightest-colored of this color breed.

What is the Difference Between a Dun and Buckskin Horse?

We were recently at an auction and noticed the catalog listed a horse, a dun, but it looked like a buckskin. This made me wonder what makes a dun and a buckskin different.

Buckskins and duns differ genetically. A buckskin horse has a single dilution creme gene that acts on a bay horse. A dun dilution gene works on both black and red-based horses. Plus, all duns have a distinct dorsal stripe, and buckskins don’t.

At first glance, buckskins and duns may appear very similar, as they can share a similar coat color. However, upon closer inspection, there are distinct differences between the two.

The key difference lies in the presence of the dun dilution gene, which lightens the shade of the horse’s base coat color while leaving the mane, tail, legs, and primitive markings the tone of the base coat color.

buckskin6
Arsdelicata [CC BY-SA 3.0 ] Dorsal stripe

This gene gives dun horses a unique appearance, characterized by a distinct dorsal stripe running down the horse’s spine, as well as striping across the shoulders or on the back of the front legs.

In contrast, buckskins do not have the dun dilution gene and lack the characteristic dorsal stripe and other primitive markings of duns. Instead, they feature the distinctive black points on their mane, tail, legs, and ear edges that are unaffected by the dilution gene.

The most challenging to distinguish between is a chestnut-based dun and a buckskin, as they typically have similar tan or golden coloring. However, the presence of a dorsal stripe is a reliable indicator that a horse is a dun.

Even if a buckskin appears to have dark coloring across its back, it may not necessarily be a dun. For example, sooty buckskins can have a dark line on their backs that looks like dun markings, but they do not have primitive striping.

To confirm whether a horse is a dun or a buckskin, it’s important to look for additional primitive markings, such as striping across the shoulders or on the back of the front legs. While buckskins and duns may share some similarities in coat color, understanding the genetic differences between the two is important for horse enthusiasts and breeders alike.

Whether you’re looking for a striking dun with primitive markings or a classic buckskin with black points, knowing what to look for can help you make informed decisions when it comes to selecting and breeding horses.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between duns and buckskins, be sure to check out my article “Dun vs. Buckskin Horses: What’s the Difference? 5 Clues.” This resource provides valuable insights into the genetics and physical traits that distinguish these two unique types of horses and can help you develop a better understanding of these equine colors.

Buckskins can’t have blue eyes.

While buckskin horses are known for their striking golden or tan coat color and distinctive black points, they cannot have blue eyes. This is because the gene responsible for the buckskin color is not associated with blue eyes and cannot produce this feature in horses.

However, if two horses with a single dilution gene mate, they can produce a double-diluted foal with blue eyes. These foals will typically have light coat colors, such as perlino or cremello, and are often referred to as double-diluted horses.

For example, breeding a palomino and a buckskin horse can produce a double-diluted foal with blue eyes. These unique horses are prized for their striking appearance, but they are not considered true buckskins as they lack the distinctive black points and golden or tan coloring of the classic buckskin.

Despite this limitation, buckskin horses remain a highly sought-after breed, valued for their beauty, temperament, and versatility. Whether you’re an experienced horse breeder or a first-time horse owner, understanding the genetic and physical characteristics of buckskins can help you appreciate these remarkable animals and all that they have to offer.

FYI: Most buckskins have amber-colored eyes, which only adds to their unique and striking appearance.

Famous buckskin horses in Hollywood

Buckskin horses have captivated audiences around the world, and their unique color and physical features have made them a popular choice for film and television productions. From classic Westerns to modern dramas, buckskin horses have played a variety of roles on the big and small screens, and many have become famous in their own right.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most notable and beloved buckskin horses in Hollywood history. These horses have left a lasting impression on audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you’re a film buff, a horse lover, or simply someone who appreciates a good story, you’re sure to find something of interest in our collection of famous buckskin horses in Hollywood.

Marshall Matt Dillon’s horse “Buck.”

Marshall Matt Dillon, the iconic character from the television show “Gunsmoke,” was known for his steadfast courage and unwavering commitment to justice. But he wasn’t the only hero on the show – his trusty steed, Buck, played an important role in many of the program’s most memorable moments.

Buck was a buckskin horse with a distinctive golden-tan coat and black points on his legs, mane, and tail. He was a handsome and spirited animal, perfectly suited to the rough and tumble world of the Old West.

Throughout the show’s run, Buck was an ever-present companion to Matt Dillon, carrying him across the vast plains and rugged terrain of the frontier. From high-speed chases to tense shootouts, Buck was always there to help Matt get the job done and keep the peace in Dodge City.

While Buck may have been a fictional character, his impact on popular culture is undeniable. He has become a beloved symbol of the American West and the enduring spirit of adventure and courage that it represents. For fans of “Gunsmoke” and horse enthusiasts alike, Buck will always hold a special place in their hearts as a true icon of the Western genre.

Interesting fact: Marshall Dillon rode several horses in the twenty-two years the show was on the air. But his favored horse was a buckskin named “Buck,” a quarter horse used in the television show Bonanza.

Ben Cartwright’s horse.

Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the iconic television show “Bonanza,” was known for his wisdom, integrity, and unwavering commitment to his family and community. But he wasn’t the only character on the show with a strong and loyal companion – his horse was an important part of the Cartwright family as well.

Ben Cartwright’s horse was a beautiful buckskin with a distinctive golden-tan coat and black points on his legs, mane, and tail. He was a handsome and spirited animal, perfectly suited to the rugged and challenging landscape of the American West.

Throughout the show’s run, Ben’s horse was a constant presence, carrying him across the vast and sweeping vistas of the Ponderosa and helping him navigate the many challenges and obstacles that the Cartwrights faced on a daily basis. From cattle drives to dangerous encounters with bandits and outlaws, Ben’s horse was always there to provide support, comfort, and a steady hand.

Interesting fact: Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) grew so attached to his buckskin that he purchased Buck from the studio and donated him to a therapeutic riding center.

Spirit

Spirit is the titular character of the 2002 animated film “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” The movie tells the story of a wild buckskin stallion living in the American West during the late 19th century. Spirit is known for his fierce independence and rebellious spirit, which often gets him into trouble with humans who try to capture or tame him.

Spirit’s striking buckskin coat is one of his defining features, with its golden-tan color and distinctive black points. His physical strength and endurance are also important elements of his character, as he uses his speed and agility to outrun and outmaneuver his pursuers.

Throughout the course of the film, Spirit forms a close bond with a young Lakota brave named Little Creek, who helps him escape from captivity and return to his beloved homeland. Together, they face a variety of challenges and obstacles, but their friendship and loyalty ultimately triumph over all adversity.

Spirit has become an iconic figure in popular culture, inspiring a generation of young viewers and horse enthusiasts around the world. His courage, determination, and unwavering spirit continue to resonate with audiences of all ages, making him one of the most beloved buckskin horses in cinematic history.

Interesting fact: Spirit is a buckskin Kiger mustang colt.

Cisco

Cisco is the beloved horse of John Dunbar, the protagonist of the Academy Award-winning 1990 film “Dances with Wolves.” The movie tells the story of Dunbar’s journey of self-discovery as he befriends a tribe of Lakota Sioux and learns to embrace their way of life.

Cisco is a beautiful buckskin horse with a distinctive golden-tan coat and black points on his legs, mane, and tail. He is a faithful and loyal companion to Dunbar, carrying him across the vast and sweeping landscapes of the American frontier and helping him forge a deep and meaningful connection with the Lakota people.

Throughout the course of the film, Cisco and Dunbar face a variety of challenges and obstacles, but their friendship and loyalty remain unshakable. From perilous battles to peaceful moments of reflection, Cisco is a constant source of support and strength for Dunbar as he navigates the complexities of life in the American West.

Cisco’s presence in “Dances with Wolves” has made him an iconic figure in popular culture, inspiring a generation of viewers and horse enthusiasts around the world. His unwavering loyalty, courage, and strength continue to resonate with audiences of all ages, making him one of the most beloved buckskin horses in cinematic history.

Other notable buckskins

There are many other notable buckskins that have left their mark on the entertainment world. One such horse is Denny, the buckskin horse ridden by Jim Craig in the movie “The Man From Snowy River.”

The scene of Jim riding Denny down a steep slope has become one of the most iconic moments in the history of horse movies. Denny’s striking coat and spirited personality have made him a fan favorite for generations of viewers.

Another notable buckskin is Trigger Jr., the horse of Roy Rogers’ wife, Dale Evans. While Rogers himself was known for his famous palomino horse, Trigger, Evans rode a sturdy and reliable buckskin quarter horse in many of their television and film appearances. The horse’s striking coat and reliable nature made him a beloved companion and partner for Evans, and his legacy lives on to this day.

Buckskin Associations

The American Buckskin Registry Association was established in 1965. Their mission is to collect, record, and preserve the pedigree of buckskin, dun, red dun, and grulla horses, miniature horses, ponies, and mules. The registry is open to all breeds. Horses, not buckskin but are the offspring of buckskin, are also eligible to enroll.

The International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) was established in 1971. Its mission is to promote buckskin, dun, red dun, and grulla horse activities. The registry is the largest for these horses in the world. Their site provides links to local charter groups and information about coloring requirements for eligibility.

Both organizations host events for eligible horses. Check their websites to gather more information, especially if you own a horse suitable for registration. Registering a horse increases its value and also provides a community of like-horse owners.

If you are interested in reading about the origins of horses, you may enjoy this post about “wild horses.”

This is a good YouTube video that includes buckskin horses of various colors and shades.

FAQs

Are buckskin horses a breed?

Buckskin horses are not a specific breed of horse but rather a coloration that is shared across different breeds. While buckskin horses may come from various breeds, they share certain common characteristics, such as soundness, endurance, and sure-footedness.

Are buckskin horses rare?

Buckskin horses are not rare. Particular buckskin color patterns are less common than other buckskin color patterns. The standard color buckskin, displaying tan with standard black points, is the most common buckskin color.

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