The Online Horse Magazine for Equestrians of all Ages


PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States of America


COLORS: Buckskin, dun, grulla, red dun

INFLUENCES OR ANCESTRY: Mustang, Spanish Barb, Sorraia, Norwegian Dun


IDENTIFYING FEATURES: Distinctive coat color and dark markings


UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS: Known for endurance, stamina, versatility, disposition


More Than Just a Color

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Hollywood has certainly helped distinguish the buckskin as the epitome of the western horse. Dale Evan's Buttermilk was a buckskin, as was the horse ridden by Lorne Green when he portrayed the character of Ben Cartwright on "Bonanza." Kevin Costner also rode a buckskin in the movie "Dancing with Wolves." Perhaps this is no accident. Legend has it that cowboys of the old west often preferred buckskins, believing them to possess hardiness, endurance and stamina.

Perhaps there is some truth to these beliefs. Although the buckskin is a color breed, the gene responsible for the dun dilution is the dominant allele. This means that whenever the dun gene is present the horse will exhibit a diluted coat color. This allows horses of dun coloration to trace a direct line of descent back through a long line of dun-colored ancestors to such primitive horses as the Sorraia and Przewalski's horse. Unaltered by human intervention, these indigenous horses were bred by natural selection where only the fittest survived. In addition to dun coloration, these ancestral horses also possessed so-called primitive markings such as dorsal and shoulder stripes, and leg barring.

However, modern science has revealed that the dun gene is not the only gene that is responsible for color dilution in horses. The cream gene, the same one responsible for producing palominos and cremellos, will also dilute a genetically bay horse to buckskin. Both the buckskin and dun have a body color that is a shade of tan, ranging from cream to dark gold. Both also have dark points. To avoid confusion, modern coat color nomenclature distinguishes the buckskin as a dilution from the cream gene and dun as a dilution resulting from the dun gene. However, primitive markings are only associated with the dun gene. So duns are visually distinguished from buckskins by the presence or absence of a dorsal stripe.

Another difference between the cream and dun genes is how they behave in the presence of the chestnut and black base colors. The cream gene dilutes chestnut to palomino and black to smokey cream, while the dun gene dilutes chestnut to a red dun and black to grullo. Both red duns and grullos have a dorsal stripe and may have additional primitive markings.

The Buckskin

In addition, when two alleles of the dun gene are present, the dilution of color remains the same. The cream gene, however, exhibits incomplete dominance. Therefore, when both alleles carry the cream gene, the dilution effect is additive. One cream gene on a chestnut will turn the coat color to palomino, but two cream genes will produce a cremello. Likewise, a double cream dilution of a bay is perlino.

Currently there are two breed associations in the United States that register buckskin and dun colored horses. The American Buckskin Association (ABRA) was established in 1963 and accepts buckskin, dun, grullo and red dun horses and ponies. The ABRA has limitations on the amount of white markings that are permissible and prohibits horses with either roan or gray coat color.

The International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) was organized in 1971. The IBHA prohibits horses which exhibit Albino, Appaloosa, gray, pinto and roan coloration and characteristic from the registry. This registry is also not open to ponies under 14 hands. In addition to accepting buckskin, dun, grullo and red dun colored horses, the IBHA does recognize a fifth color called a brindle dun. In this coat pattern, dark stripes appear over the barrel of the body in a tear-drop or zebra-stripe design.

Although the buckskin coat color can come from various genes and includes several dilution shades, breed fanciers adore the Buckskin for more than the color of the coat. As a whole, Buckskin breeders strive for conformational correctness and performance ability in their breeding stock. In a sense, the hardiness of their ancestors are as much a character of the breed as is the color.