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Dun vs. Buckskin Horses, What’s the Difference? 5 Clues.

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Duns and buckskin horses often get confused, even by experienced equestrians. But when my grandson asked me to explain the differences, I didn’t have a ready and clear answer, so I researched these two similar coat colors.

The difference between dun and buckskin horses is that buckskins have a tan body with black points and a dorsal stripe, and duns are a sandy brown with a crisp dorsal stripe and primitive markings. But unlike a buckskin, their manes and tails aren’t always dark.

Many people often confuse dun and buckskin horses. But there are some important differences between the two, especially for breeders, because the genetic differences play an essential role in the color of offspring.

picture of a young dun horse,

What are the differences between Dun and Buckskin horses?

Dun and buckskin horses may look similar, but they have distinct genetic differences. And as you’ll see, they have outward differences in their color patterns as well.

Genetic differences between duns and buckskins.

In a nutshell: The buckskin horse color is created by a cream dilution gene acting on a bay base color, and a dun pattern is created by a dun dilution gene on any base coat. The dun dilution gene produces primitive markings: a dark stripe across its shoulders, a dorsal stripe, and stripes across its legs.

Horse genetics can be an exciting field of study. As with humans, some genes are dominant; therefore, one parent has to have the gene. Both dun and buckskin are this way.

Of the duns, there are three genotypes of genuine dun, genotypes of pseudo-dun, and one non-dun, diluted without the dun gene. The first five of these will all have primitive markings, as they are called.

The last type will not have them. They all have in common, including the buckskin and the palomino, at least one allele that carries the cream coloring. As mentioned, they can have more than one.

All buckskins have a bay base coat color.

The buckskin cream dilution gene only works on bay horses. Bay horses have a specific genetic pattern that creates black points and a copper-toned coat. The cream dilution on a bay base lightens the horse’s coat color, but the dark points remain.

picture of a buckskin horse,

Dark brown bay horses will even show a few golden highlights when this gene is present. That doesn’t preclude the horse from having a dun gene as well. However, we’ll get into that further in the article.

Dun genes can affect any base coat color.

Horses with the dun gene will be somewhat lighter in color, like a buckskin. The gene that creates the dun pattern affects all base coat colors, including black.

picture of a foal and its mother, both look like duns

Black horses with the dun gene are often interpreted as grays, but the equine term is grullo or grulla when it affects a black horse’s coat. There is a good way to tell if the dun gene is showing its presence.

All dun horses must have at least one dun parent.

Picture of a horse with a dapple coat.

Coat and pattern differences between dun and buckskins

  • Duns typically display primitive marking, a dorsal stripe, shoulder stripe, and many will also have lateral markings on the legs.
  • Buckskins have dark points, lower legs, ears, and face, but a dun has striping on its lower legs and typically webbing around its face.
  • Buckskins may have a dark stripe down its back, but it is typically countershading. A countershading dorsal is often broken and ends before reaching the animal’s tail.
  • The dun gene is dominant, so a horse with either one or two copies of the gene is dun, and because it is dominant, it will always show.
Picture of the dorsal stripe on a dun quarter horse filly.

A true dorsal stripe of a dun is distinct, unbroken, and runs from pole to dock. There’s something really fascinating about this gene, it’s ancient, and it’s the original coat color of equids and is very similar to another gene, the one found in zebras.

However, the dun horses’ gene doesn’t produce quite the distinctive striping that goes with a zebra; it is less defined. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever wondered about why some horses seem to be zebra-striped in a way, now you know it’s because it has a dun gene.

What is a dunskin horse?

A dunskin horse has both the dun gene and the buckskin gene. Basically, it’s a buckskin with an added dun modifier. This combination creates a stunning coat color on a bay horse and allows for gray color to appear.

Dunskins typically are a little lighter and have more frosting in their mane and tail than a standard dun horse.

What is a dunalino?

A dunalino is a palomino with a dun gene. A standard palomino is created by a dilution gene acting on a chestnut base color. To make a dunalino, a dun dilution allele is added to the mix.

And since dun genes are dominant, their traits show over the palomino coat. These gorgeous horses display a golden palomino color with a distinct brown dorsal stripe and stripes on their lower legs.

Other cream dilution coat colors: Cremellos and Perilinos

There are several different cream alleles, and some can be mixed in with dun and/or buckskin. Some of the most beautiful horses are called cremellos, and they have two cream dilutions in their genetic code.

picture of a perlino horse,

Having multiple dilution genes can lighten the coat to nearly white. In a horse with a black coat, they are called smoky creams. There can be problems when there are double cream alleles.

They are often referred to as pseudo-albinos due to the light color of the skin and eyes. Buckskins and bays have dark skin and darker eyes. Perlinos, which is the correct name of this horse coat, has light eyes, either blue or glass.

For a long time, breeders and others in the equine world shunned this type of horse. The American Quarter Horse Association did not accept either cremellos or perlinos until 2003.

Other registries also denied registration to them. Many breeds can develop this genetic code, but it took a lot of time to make them acceptable.

Healthwise, there don’t seem to be any problems with this genetic type. One would think that sunburn would be a problem, given their pink skin and light eyes, but some owners of these stunning horses say that they are like other horses, if they sunburn at all.

The pink is actually a pigment, not a lack thereof. However, other owners mention on horse forums that their horses’ faces get sunburned. For that reason, it is recommended that a vet-approved sunscreen be applied to the face to help avoid that issue.

The horses also seem to attract more biting insects than darker-skinned horses. One horse owner stated that the horse took out a hundred feet of fencing, trying to get away from them.

For that reason, a fly sheet and good fly control are strongly recommended. This is probably a good idea for all equines, especially where they are the most prevalent.

A fly mask is a good idea as well, not just because of the flies. The lighter-colored eyes seem to be more sensitive to sunlight, and the mask is sort of like equine sunglasses.

You may be wondering whether or not these horses are albinos. They aren’t; if they were, they would be subject to sunburn and skin cancer at a higher rate.

However, there are no known living albino horses. It is theorized that they aren’t viable and are miscarried. These horses are perfectly normal; they just have an unusual coat color and skin pigmentation.

One question that gets asked a lot is whether or not double cream dilutes are white. No, they aren’t. If you stand them next to a true white horse, you will see that it is a little off, like the color of cream.

There is one other thing about these light-colored horses. They need to be groomed well and bathed frequently. Dirt shows up on them really fast.

With light skin and coat, even a little bit of dirt or mud is clearly visible. Particular care should be taken of the feet, as some horse owners report that they tend to bruise more easily.


Duns and buckskins look similar, but they can be distinguished. The easiest way to tell them apart is the dorsal stripe. Yes, some buckskins have a dorsal stripe, but it’s not clearly defined and is called countershading. The dorsal stripe on a dun is clearly defined.

The youtube video below provides a great example of the differences between duns and buckskins.

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