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Dun Horse Color, Breeds, and Traits: A Guide with Pictures

Last updated: March 22, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Dun horses, known for their striking coats and ancient markings, have long fascinated horse lovers. Join me as we explore their world, uncovering the secrets behind their distinctive appearance, genetic background, and enduring legacy.

From their historical roots to their presence in today’s equine activities, we’ll discover what makes Dun horses truly special. I’ve also included plenty of pictures of all the different shades of Dun horses.

dunfoal edited
Dun Foal with a distinct dorsal stripe.

What is a Dun Horse? Key Characteristics

Dun horses are a canvas of nature’s artistry, ranging in coat colors from soft yellow to deep brown, all trimmed with a distinctive dorsal stripe. But the beauty of Dun horses doesn’t stop at their color. Let me walk you through the unique features that make them stand out in the equine world:

Dorsal Stripe: This is the signature of a Dun horse. A bold, dark line that runs from their mane down to their tail, standing as a testament to their distinctiveness.

Leg Barring: Also known as ‘zebra stripes,’ these markings on the Dun’s legs add to its charm. They’re especially noticeable around the knees and hocks, reminding us of their connection to the untamed lands they once roamed.

Shoulder Stripes/Webbing: Some Duns have web-like patterns or a stripe across their shoulders. This is a nod to their ancient roots.

Face Mask: The intricate cobwebbing across their forehead is a whisper from their wild ancestors, adding a layer of mystery to their already captivating presence.

Picture of the primitive markings on the legs of a dun horse. Common among Dun Horses.
Note the distinct primitive leg markings on this classic dun horse.

The Essence of Dun Color

The magic behind a Dun horse’s coat lies in the Dun gene. This special gene dilutes their base coat color, creating a palette of variations from classic Dun to red Dun, grullo, and even dunalino.

Unlike other dilution genes that lighten the entire coat, the dun gene preserves the darker hues of the mane, tail, and primitive markings, setting them apart from the likes of palominos and buckskins.

Are Dun Horses the Oldest? A Glimpse into Their Ancient Past:

The depiction of the Dun horse in prehistoric cave paintings, such as the scenes in Chauvet Cave, speaks volumes of their longstanding bond with humans. These ancient artworks celebrate the Dun horse’s beauty and mark them as one of the earliest horse types to capture the human imagination.

My first Dun horse felt like a bridge to this storied past, linking me to a lineage of horse lovers that spans millennia. Their primitive markings, from the striking dorsal stripe to the leg barring, are not just for show.

They hint at a survival strategy honed on the open steppes, where blending into the landscape was key to evading predators. This deep-rooted history, coupled with their unique genetic makeup, makes Dun horses a fascinating subject for any horse enthusiast.

For a deeper dive into the dun horse universe, check out this YouTube video.

This video is a treasure trove of information on the nuances of Dun horses.

Spanish Horses and the Spread of Dun

Spanish horses played a pivotal role in the dun story. These horses, known for their toughness and adaptability, mingled with local breeds in the Americas, weaving the dun color into the fabric of many horse populations.

Now, you’ll find the dun color pattern in various breeds, from the Quarter Horse to the Morgan and even the hardy Shetlands and Icelandic horses. These Spanish horses left behind a colorful legacy, enriching our horse breeds with the dun’s distinctive shades.

Picture of a red dun horse running in the snow.
Red dun horse.

Types of Dun Horses

Diving into the world of dun horses reveals stunning variations, each with its own charm and set of markings. Let’s explore some of the most captivating types of dun horses:

  1. Red Dun: Born from a chestnut base coat, red duns boast a spectrum from light peach to deep golden shades. Their primitive markings, a darker red or brown, add a striking contrast to their warm-toned coats.
  2. Classic Dun: The classic dun, emerging from a bay base, is perhaps the image most of us conjure when we think of dun horses. This variation paints the horse in beautiful shades of yellow to gold, accented with black or dark brown primitive markings that stand out against the lighter coat.
  3. Blue Dun (Grullo): The magic of the dun gene on a black base coat gives us the blue dun, also known as grullo. These horses wear a unique smoky, blue-gray coat, a color so rare and mesmerizing, complemented by sharp, darker black markings.

Each type of dun horse carries the legacy of its wild ancestors. Whether it’s the warmth of a red dun, the beauty of a classic dun, or the rare allure of a blue dun, these horses captivate and charm horse lovers worldwide.

Picture of a blue dun horse.
Blue Dun Mustang

What’s a Dunskin Horse?

Ever wonder what happens when you mix the stunning colors of dun and buckskin horses? You get something quite extraordinary called a Dunskin horse. Imagine the light, creamy coat of a buckskin, then add the striking primitive markings unique to dun horses – that’s a Dunskin for you. It’s like nature decided to do a bit of artistry, blending the best of both worlds.

This rare and captivating color combination comes to life thanks to the presence of both the dun dilution gene and the cream dilution gene. The result? A horse that not only carries the beautiful black points of a buckskin but also sports the iconic dorsal stripe, leg barring, and sometimes even face masking that duns are famous for. It’s a visual treat, making Dunskins a gem in the horse world.

Popular Dun Horse Breeds

Dun coloration graces many horse breeds, each adding its own chapter to the Dun story. My journey with horses began with a Dun, and it’s fascinating to see how this color weaves through various breeds, from the sturdy Norwegian Fjord to the versatile American Quarter Horse. Let’s take a closer look at a few breeds where the Dun color shines.

Norwegian Fjord

Picture of a Norwegian Fjord horse trotting in a pasture.
Norwegian Fjord Horse.

Norwegian Fjord

The Norwegian Fjord, a breed as ancient as it is striking. Known for their robust build and unique mane style, Fjords almost exclusively wears the dun coat, which showcases the color spectrum from pale yellow to deep gold. Their history as farm and war horses speaks to their versatility and resilience.

American Quarter Horse

Picture of a dun quarter horse.
Dun Quarter Horse.

Then there’s the American Quarter Horse, a breed epitomizing speed and agility. We often see dun Quarter Horses used in rodeos. Their adaptability across disciplines, from racing to trail riding, makes them a favorite among horse enthusiasts.

Highland Pony

Picture of a dun highland pony trotting in a paddock.
Dun Highland pony.

The Highland Pony, hailing from the rugged Scottish Highlands, carries the dun gene with a certain rugged elegance. Their dense coat and sturdy build are perfect for the challenging climates they originate from. My fascination with this breed lies in their gentle temperament.

Icelandic Horse

Picture of a dun icelandic horse grazing.
Dun Icelandic Horse

And let’s not forget the Icelandic Horse, a breed that captured my heart when my wife and I visited Iceland. The dun Icelandic Horses, with their smooth tölt and endurance, are a testament to the breed’s purity and the harsh landscapes they’ve thrived in for centuries.

Picture of a Buckskin horse next to a Dun horse.
Buckskin Horse
Picture of Dun horse next to a Buckskin horse.
Dun Horse

Dun Horses vs. Buckskin Horses

One of the most common confusions in identifying horse colors arises between dun horses and buckskins. While they may appear similar initially, key genetic and physical differences set them apart.

Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate identification and breeding practices, as each coloration has genetic implications and inheritance patterns.

Picture of a Dun Horse running from a Bay Horse.
Dun horse running from a Bay horse.

The Genetics of Dun Horses

The secret to a Dun horse’s coloration isn’t just a stroke of luck but a specific gene combination. At the heart of this is the Dun dilution gene, which lightens the horse’s base coat while leaving those striking primitive markings—like the dorsal stripe and leg barring—in bold relief.

It’s a dominant gene, meaning just one copy can paint a horse with the full Dun palette. This genetic trait sets true duns apart from buckskins, which might share a similar coat color but don’t boast those wild, primitive markings. Scientists have traced this unique pigment distribution to the TBX3 gene, revealing a complex interplay of genetics at work beneath the surface.

Breeding for Dun: A Science and an Art

Breeding for the dun color involves a deep understanding of genetics and a commitment to preserving the breed’s distinctive traits. The interplay of the dun gene with other color genes can produce various outcomes, from the subtle shades of a bay dun to the dramatic contrast of a grullo.

Breeders must also consider other factors, such as the horse’s conformation, temperament, and the presence of desired traits like the cream genes, which can lead to variations like the dunskin.

This careful selection and breeding process ensures the continuation of the dun horse’s legacy, blending science and tradition to produce horses with not only stunning coloration but also desirable characteristics.

Best Names for Dun Horses

Picking the right name for your dun horse is more than just a task; it’s an adventure. You want a name that captures the essence of their unique coat, their spirited personality, or the beauty they embody.

To make your search for the perfect name easier, I’ve rounded up a collection of names tailored for dun horses, neatly organized to guide you to that perfect match:

Dun Horse Names Inspired by Color and Markings

  • Dusty: For the classic dusty coat color.
  • Sandy: Reflecting the soft, sandy shades of a dun’s coat.
  • Copper: For those with a rich, coppery hue.
  • Shadow: Inspired by the darker markings and stripes.
  • Sundance: A nod to the sunny, golden tones and the joy they bring.
Picture of a wild dun stallion.
Wild Dun Stallion in the Western U.S.

Reflecting Nature

  • Canyon: Majestic, like the natural earth formations.
  • Willow: Graceful and strong, like the tree.
  • Stormy: For a dun with a spirited personality.
  • Sierra: After the rugged, enduring mountains.
  • Aspen: Elegant and resilient, like the tree.

Names with Historical or Mythical Flair

  • Spartan: For a horse with strength and courage.
  • Artemis: After the Greek goddess, for a horse with a wild, free spirit.
  • Thor: For a powerful and commanding presence.
  • Freya: Norse goddess, perfect for a horse with beauty and prowess.
  • Legend: For a horse whose presence is as memorable as a tale from old.
Picture of a wild dun horse grazing in New Forest National Park in Southern England.
Wild Dun Horse in New Forest National Park, Hampshire, UK.

Names Based on Personality

  • Bliss: For a dun horse with a calm and soothing demeanor.
  • Maverick: For the independent, free-spirited horse.
  • Zephyr: Gentle and free like the west wind.
  • Brio: For a horse with vivacity and zest.
  • Whisper: Perfect for a horse with a gentle, quiet nature.
Picture of a roan dun in the wild.
Wild Dun horse with a Roan Coat.

Unique and Creative Names

  • Eclipse: For a dun horse with striking, contrasting markings.
  • Prairie: Reflecting the vast beauty and openness of the plains.
  • Glimmer: For a horse with a coat that shines in the sun.
  • Riddle: For a horse with a mysterious or enigmatic personality.
  • Fable: A name that suggests stories of great adventures.
Picture of the dorsal stripe on a dun quarter horse filly.
This picture shows the dorsal stripe on a dun quarter horse.

FAQs on Dun Horses

Are all dun horses the same color?

No, Dun horses can exhibit a variety of shades depending on their base coat color and the specific action of the Dun gene. Common variations include classic Dun, red Dun, and grullo (or grulla), each with distinct characteristics.

Is Spirit a dun or buckskin?

Spirit is a dun but also qualifies as a dunskin or buckskin dun. Buckskins with a dorsal stripe are duns, but some call them buckskin duns or “dunskins.” Spirit is a popular name for dun horses.

What is a dun horse?

A dun horse is characterized by its unique coat color, which includes shades ranging from golden to gray, and distinctive markings such as a dorsal stripe, leg barring, and sometimes shoulder blades and face masks. This coloration is due to the presence of the Dun gene.

Can any breed of horse be dun?

While dun coloration is found in many horse breeds, not all breeds carry the Dun gene. Breeds known for frequently exhibiting dun coloration include the American Quarter Horse, Norwegian Fjord, and Highland Pony, among others.

How can I tell if a horse is a true dun?

True dun horses have specific markings such as a dorsal stripe that runs down the middle of their back, leg barring, and often a face mask. Genetic testing can also confirm the presence of the Dun gene.

Are dun horses more expensive?

The price of a dun horse can vary widely based on factors such as breed, age, training, and pedigree rather than coat color alone. However, unique or highly sought-after colorations like dun can sometimes influence pricing.

Can I register my dun horse?

Yes, dun horses can be registered with breed-specific associations that recognize dun coloration, such as the American Buckskin Registry Association (ABRA). Registration requirements vary, so check with the specific association for details.

Is the Dun gene associated with any health issues?

Current research indicates that the Dun gene’s effects are primarily cosmetic, with no direct links to horse health conditions. However, responsible breeding practices are essential to ensure the overall health and well-being of Dun horses.

picture of the leg stripes on a dun horse,
Primitive Dun Markings. By


Dun horses are not just a feast for the eyes; they are a testament to the diversity and complexity of equine genetics. From their ancient origins to their presence in modern equestrian sports, dun horses continue to captivate and charm us with their beauty and versatility.

I’ve been privileged to witness the grace and speed of dun horses throughout the years, and I encourage you to share your experiences or questions about these remarkable animals. Have you witnessed the unique blend of camouflage color and primitive markings that make these horses special?

Do you have photographs capturing the beauty and distinct features of dun horses? Your stories and images can inspire others and contribute to the appreciation of this remarkable breed.

Additional Resources

To further your understanding and knowledge of dun horses and other equine topics, consider exploring the following resources:

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