What is a Dun Horse? (Colors, Genetics & Pictures)

You have probably heard about different rare breeds in horses. Some of the most popular types include Andalusian and Lusitano horses. While the dun horse stands out because of its dilution gene, there is notably more to dun horses that isn’t common knowledge. Consequently, not many equestrians are even aware of their existence. And so one may wonder, what is a dun horse?

A dun horse is admired for its dorsal stripes and light pigmentation, due to the presence of the dun gene.  In this article, we will explore the primitive markings and significant variations of the dun horse. 

What Is A Dun Horse?

Credits: JumpingHooves

As one of the oldest genes found in horses, the dun gene plays a pivotal role in dun horse colors. If you are looking to buy a dun horse, it is essential to note that many of them have different prices. The colors of a dun horse are often lighter, strikingly, in a yellowish-light-tan color. Dun horse genes are particular because they do not dominate the entire body of a horse. Most probably, a dun horse is likely to have a few dark patches or more. 

Although many horse breeds can have the dun gene, it only comes into full effect when both parents are said to have the dun gene. Traditionally, a dun skin horse is bred from a red or brown parent. The presence of dun dominance then lightens the coat color. Hence, making it one of the prettiest horses in the world. 

The dun dilution is more robust than any horse gene we have discussed so far. A prominent feature in dun horse breeds is the inability of the gene to lighten the mane, tail, and legs. 

The pale colors of a dun horse make them invisible to predators. As a result, giving them a competent camouflage in the wild. The domestication of a dun-colored horse has periodically led to a decline in guise. To date, the dun horse has evolved to look more striking and presentable. Nevertheless, it is crucial to learn more about primitive markings to differentiate dun horse genes from others. 

Primitive Markings Of A Dun Horse

Dun horses come in a variety of coat colors, temperaments, and characteristics. Based on the mutation of breeding, the dun horse can be recognized through the following primitive markings:

Dorsal Stripes 

A distinct stripe back is the first sign of a dun horse. Usually dark in color, the dorsal stripe starts from the mane region and ends just before the tail. Conversely, many other horse breeds are also famous for their dorsal stripes. But what sets a dun horse apart is the deep dark color of the stripe. 

Leg Markings 

Akin to zebra stripes, most dun horses have notable horizontal stripes on their legs. Unlike other breeds, the leg markings of a dun horse are at the back of their forelegs. You can easily spot them either above the knees or the hocks. In a dun horse, these zebra bars are often faint in color. 

Shoulder Stripes 

The shoulder stripes on a dun horse run perpendicular to the dorsal lines. Although not common among horses, bars on a shoulder are often recognizable in donkeys. In a dun horse, they run crosswise, starting from the center of the horseback, and often withering down on either side.

Dun Frosting 

The light-colored parts on a dun horse mimic the semblance of a frosting. On a dun horse, it is found on the mane and the tail. Either both or on any one side of the mane or the tail are prominently light-colored. On some horses, frosting is more prominent, while in others, it can be subtle. 

Ear Tips 

The ear tips of the dun horse are darkly colored. Most often, they resemble the hue of the dorsal stripe. The earmarks are usually spotted in the rim or the rear of the ear tip. In some horses, it shows as a thin stripe below the end. 

Variations In A Dun Horse 

Horse genetics in itself is a thrilling field of study. As with humans, some genes are more dominant than others. In a dun horse, both parents must have the dun gene. 

Interestingly, the dilution of a dun horse does not have an even pigmentation. On individual sections of hair, you may find an area of dark pigments, while along the hair’s length, the section that faces inwards markedly has no pigmentation. 

However, the darker areas on the dun horse have intense pigmentations. To simplify, the entire length of the horsehair is distinctively a darker shade. Bred from dun dilutions, there are three common variations in a dun horse, depending on the base coat color.

Red Dun

The red dun also goes by the name of fox dun or claybank. As the name mentions, a red dun horse comes from a chestnut base color. Horses with a chestnut coat color can have both light peach and dark red shades. 

Despite their tone of chestnut, the mane, tail, and lower legs of a red dun are darker in color. Most often, the dark-colored parts are dark red. The pure base coat color is usually spread out across the red dun. The prominent markings of a dun horse, however, are red. 

Classic Dun 

A classic dun coat is tan or yellow, with dark primitive markings in the mane, tail, and forelegs. In a classic dun, you will most often find zebra bars on the upper legs, and at times a few stripes across the withers. A classic dun appears similar to a buckskin horse, making it challenging to identify a dun from a buckskin horse. It is usually harder to identify a dun among foals. 

A clear difference between the two is that a buckskin foal has dark markings on its face. Apart from that, their dorsal stripe is typically countershading. To simplify, the dorsal stripe is often broken and ends before reaching the tail. The classic dun also goes by the name of a bay dun in some areas. 


Grullo is also called the black dun or the blue dun. It breeds from the dilution of a black base coat. Hence, the primitive markings of a grullo in the mane, tail, and forelegs are outstandingly black. Unlike the red dun and the classic dun, a grullo has a face mask. The dilution in breeding a grullo creates a smokey blue mask. Thus its tone sets in between a light grey to a deep slate grey. 

Famous Dun Breeds

Some ancestral breeds to date are dominantly or entirely dun. For instance, the Sorraia horse from Portugal is a rare breed that comes in different shades of dun. Apart from ancient breeds, some wild breeds like the Przewalski horses from Mongolia are largely dun horses. 

The Przewalski horses even carry the typical primitive markings of a dun horse. Moreover, some extinct horse breeds like the Tarpan are mouse dun or Grullo in color. Other notable breeds with a dun dilution include: 

What Do Dun Horses Eat? 

Similar to humans, dun horses need daily nutrients from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Given the size of dun horses, they can quickly drink up to 10 to 12 gallons of water in a day. If the weather is noticeably hot, they need between 15 to 20 gallons of water per day. In the winters, you must take special precautions to prevent their water from freezing over. 

When it comes to the food they eat, most of it comes from the forage roughage. Normally, this includes either alfalfa hay, grass, or a combination of both. Dun horses will also need to be near a pasture land that does not grow any poisonous plants for grazing.

Besides that, you can feed your dun horse with barley, corn, or small grains. To ensure they have the nutrients they need, you may also need to provide them with additional vitamins and proteins. 

FAQs Related To Dun Horses 

The dun horses are often confused with other types of horses. To clear the air, let’s dive into some crucial questions concerning duns.

What color is a dun horse?

The coat color of a dun horse is essentially a tan yellow or a golden yellow. The popular dun shade is not often seen in domesticated horses. A considerable part of their coat, namely the mane, tail, and legs, is usually darker in color. The existing shade of a dun is a dilution of red and black base coats. The dun gene in the parents dilutes the current black or red colors into a golden tan. 

Does a dun horse have to have a stripe?

All dun horses have a prominent dorsal stripe. Without a dorsal stripe, a horse cannot be classified as a dun horse. The streak in a dun starts from its mane and ends at its tail. Duns do not have broken or withering dorsal stripes. And in some duns, you can even see the dorsal stripe continuing onwards on its tail. Whether it is a red dun, bay dun, or a grullo – they all have a visible stripe.

How much does a dun horse cost? 

In the US, the dun gene is relatively standard. Hence, the price of a dun horse isn’t extravagantly high. A typical dun horse can cost you around $1500 – $3800. However, the more rare a dun breed is, the more expensive it will be. The upkeep and maintenance of a dun horse need to be considered before purchasing. 

Is a dun horse a coat color or breed?

When addressing a dun horse, it is crucial to make this distinction. A dun horse has taken its name after a dun gene that is found in most breeds. Hence, many breeds that carry the dun gene are called dun horses. The dun gene is a dominant gene type that can dictate the coat color of your horse. Apart from the color, a dun gene is also responsible for several primitive markings. Seen explicitly in the mane, tail, and forelegs of a horse. 

How do you tell if a horse is a dun?

The dark mane, tail, and forelegs of a horse are the distinctive dun features. Having said that, most horses without the dun gene can also have similar markings. In some cases, the only way to be sure of the horse gene is through a lab test. You can also easily verify the dun gene through a DNA test. Apart from that, you can make an educated guess based on their pedigree and breed. 

Is a dun horse a buckskin?

The dun horse is named after its dun gene. In other words, a buckskin horse only has a cream dilution gene, while the dun horse can have both the dun gene and the buckskin gene. The dun dilution produces primitive markings that are standard for its type. Dark stripes across the mane, tail, and legs are a clear marker of a dun horse. On the other hand, a buckskin horse has light markings with more frosting. 

Dun horses are incredibly beautiful and, just like any other horse, require a lot of work for their upkeep. If you are looking to find the rarest color of a horse, a dun breed can be a definite favorite. Its golden tan shimmers in the sun and gives it a unique glow that sets it apart from other horses. 

A dun gene comes with a lot of benefits. As one of the oldest horse genes to exist, it comes with a rich history and several friendly traits. If you are ready for a dun horse, it’s best to buckle up for upkeep.