Buckskins are eye-catching with their distinctive coloring. Darlene Wohlart/equinephotography.com

International Buckskin Horse Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 268

Shelby, Indiana

46377 www.ibha.net

The color of a Buckskin horse is an indication of the superior genetic heritage it possesses. Although it is a color, the Buckskin, as well as the grulla or dun horse, is noted for possessing many qualities that are not characteristic of other types of horses. The true Buckskin may be able to trace its lineage through a direct line of dun or buckskin colored ancestors as far back as available recorded history of the animal.

Buckskin is a clear golden color with a black mane and tail. It can be various shades of dark gold to yellow, with dark brown or black points, and sometimes the horse has a dorsal stripe down the spine from the mane to the tail. Buckskins breed true to their own color a large percentage of the time, regardless of the color of their mate.

Among other traits, having a common color is proof of a distinct pure breed. For instance, the Tarpan breed—one of the most unusual in the world today—was a prehistoric wild horse type that became extinct in 1876. Later genetically recreated in 1933, the breed was all mouse dun or grulla in color, typically a sign of original ancient breeds. Another example is the Polish Koniks, a breed preserved today by the Polish government. These small horses are grullo colored and physically identical. They consistently reproduce foals to be of the same height, conformation, and color, so that they are very hard to identify individually since they all look the same.

The proof that the Buckskin is definitely a breed type may be found by viewing its hair under a microscope. When examining the color pigment in the hair shafts of both Buckskin and dun horses, the pigment deposits are arranged very much the same, with the exception that the Buckskin has no concentration of pigment at the tip ends of the hair.

Thus the Buckskin horse is not a mere color, contrary to the popular belief, and is considered to be more than that in the equine world. It has been long noted for its superior qualities and strength. It has more stamina, more determination, harder feet, better bone, and is generally hardier than other horses. A Buckskin with a weak or spavined leg is a rarity. “Tough as wet leather” is a good description of the true Buckskin. Duns, like Buckskins, are also known to have tough hides and durable feet. Early day cowboys often bragged especially about the many good qualities of Buckskin horses as well as duns and grullos. They have long been described as being the toughest horses the West ever had.


The registry for Buckskins, the International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA), also includes dun, red dun, and grullo body colors because all of them trace back to common ancient ancestors.

It is believed that the Spanish Sorraia and the Norwegian Dun are the breeds originating the Buckskin and dun horses of today’s light horse industry. The Sorraia was the old original breed of Spain and was a progenitor of Buckskins and duns. The Norwegian Fjord horse (also called the Norwegian Dun) is found today in Norway and other Scandinavian countries and is also a probable contributor. (This breed is so old that its actual origin is lost in antiquity, however, there are many indications that even they obtained their dun coloring from the horses of Spain.) The blood of the Sorraia and the Norwegian Dun filtered into nearly every breed in the world, hence the fact that the Buckskin, dun, or grullo may be found in nearly all breeds today.

Furthermore, it is assumed that the colors as they are known today came from Spanish horses, if for no other reason than that is where the names of the colors originated. The dun terminology is from the Gateado name in Spanish, and the Lobo Dun from the Spanish word lobo. Grullo (pronounced GREW-yah) is the Spanish name for the Sandhill Crane, a slate colored bird. The word “buckskin” is assumed to have come from an early American settler term describing the color of tanned deer hide.

The Spaniards brought the original Buckskin and dun horses to America when it was first being settled. These horses played an important roll in the making of America and are a part of its heritage.

Color Specifics

Buckskin and grulla colors are both types of dun. Dun is a color that has always been found among horses in the wild. Early wild horses of northwestern America had many dun animals among them. Dun is rarely found in horses bred for racing and showing (i.e. Thoroughbreds and American Saddlebreds), except in Quarter Horses whose background, of course, comes from native-bred horses.

Primitive markings found on horses today are referred to by the IBHA as dun factor points. The term “dun factor” was readily adopted by other associations in the United States and Australia to refer to the markings. Those markings include the dorsal stripe (“list” or “eel” stripe) down the back of a horse, stripes over the withers, and stripes across the knees and hocks, which are sometimes called zebra stripes. Ventral stripes and chest barring can also be found more in duns and grullas than on Buckskins, but this trait is not considered one of the dun factor markings.


Buckskins are known for their hardiness and tough legs. Daniel Johnson

Very rarely a horse will be extensively striped, almost to the extent of a zebra; those of that pattern in the dun color are referred to as “brindle dun” by IBHA. Such striped horses are known to be found in Siberia, Scandinavia, and Argentina. There are only a few of such horses registered in the IBHA in the United States.

Through natural reproduction in the wild, horses were found to produce the variance of shades within the colors. In the United States when wild horses and domesticated horses ran together with no human interference or control of breeding, dun color variances also occurred.

With the addition of the human element entering the modern day breeding programs, horses of desired pedigrees, show records, conformation, and other attributes are being bred and mixed for certain preferences and body colors. Color is bred for and maintained more truly by those breeders for their choice of color breed registries. Examples are breeders within the registries of Paint, Pinto, Palomino, Buckskin, and Appaloosa, to name a few, who are breeding not only for improved conformation and performance ability, but to maintain the color they like. There are also breeders choosing only to breed for pedigrees, conformation, or performance ability with no regard for color, which sometimes creates undesirable colors, or even undistinguished colors requiring new terminology.

A gray dun can be called just that, although at a later age it would be considered just gray. There is no name for a red dun going gray, but such a horse could appear to be a rose gray in later life. Yellow duns possessing the gray gene might look neither gray nor rose gray and might create some problem in description as they age. Some horses change color or body shade from season to season, but these usually remain within the same color group. Examples would be those Buckskins that appear lighter or darker in winter months. Some grullos also turn almost black in the winter months, but return to their body shade with spring shedding, maintaining the same color from year to year.

Regardless of the variance in shades, Buckskins, duns, and grullas can do almost everything expected of Spanish descended horses: pleasure ride, trail ride, show in hunt seat or western performance, jumping, and dressage are but a few. Cutting cattle, working on ranches, competing in gymkhana, pulling a cart or buggy, and being used in rodeo events (roping, pickup riders, and so on) are other areas of competition, work, and enjoyment in which they can be found. Their color only adds a unique perspective to owning or competing with them.


The original concept of the international registry was founded as the International Buckskin Horse Registry in California, but in 1971 it was incorporated as the IBHA. Registering Buckskin, dun, red dun, and grullo horses, it has proven to be the largest and most progressive registry in the world for these color types.

IBHA was assisted by Dr. Ben K. Green, an author of horse books who began researching equine colors as a veterinarian in Texas. He worked with IBHA to help develop the understanding and guidelines for registering Buckskin horses. His book, The Color of Horses, was the first definitive book on horse colors. His research of thirty years began in West Texas and took him to South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

In 2002, IBHA entered into an alliance with the American Quarter Horse Association, which provided additional exposure for Buckskins and duns and positioned IBHA as the acknowledged authority for those horses. Due to this, the marketability of IBHA registered horses has increased.

The horse industry as a whole continues to grow. A great many people are seeking good breeding stock to add to their herds, thus insisting on registered horses. More people are looking for double registered horses, and many IBHA horses qualify for double registration. Competition has grown in IBHA events, and it is the way to go with the Buckskin, dun, or grulla horses. The value of IBHA registered horses has climbed since the need was created to have such a registry.

IBHA has three registration classifications: Appendix, Tentative, and Permanent. The Appendix registration is for all foals. The Tentative stage is the “proving ground” for stallions and mares. All stallions and mares over one year of age are registered as Tentative, unless both parents are already Permanent. Tentative stallions must sire twelve IBHA registered foals, and Tentative mares must produce three IBHA registered foals to be eligible for advancement to the Permanent stage of registration. Stallions and mares are advanced to Permanent status when they have met the requirements. Geldings are eligible for direct Permanent registration.

Color Standards Buckskin

A true colored Buckskin should be the color of tanned deer hide with black points. Shades may vary from yellow to dark gold, and points (mane, tail, and legs) are black. Buckskin is a self color (solid color on the main body of the horse) and is clear of any smuttiness that can appear in horses of other body colors. Guard hairs that are buckskin colored grow through the body coat and up over the base of the mane and tail. This is sometimes referred to as “frosted” and can be a lighter shade than buckskin. This trait can be seen in duns also, but not as often.

A Buckskin may or may not have a dorsal stripe. Dappling on the body color is acceptable for registration. Buckskins are not born with dark points, such as black legs, but as their baby hair sheds out, the points become dark. Sometimes dark hairs can be seen in the mane and tail of a foal.


Dun is an intense color with a hide that has an abundance of pigment in the hairs. It differs from the Buckskin in the respect that the body color is a duller shade and often will have a smutty appearance. Dun horses commonly have dark points of brown to black. Rarely will duns be classified with lighter points or an admixture of light and dark hairs within the points. They sport the dun factor points, which include dorsal stripe and shoulder stripe, and often leg barring will occur as well. Duns vary in body shades and are usually born with their permanent color and dun factor markings, but the latter may develop to be darker later on. The difference between Buckskin and dun, besides the buckskin color, is that dun factor markings, such as barring, are not seen often in Buckskins, but they can still have stripes and dun factoring.


Grullo is also considered an intense color. The body color is described as mouse, blue, dove, or slate colored with dark sepia to black points. Grullo has no white hairs mixed in the body hairs. Its hide is comparable to the hide of the dun and is well pigmented to withstand heat and sunlight. It has the dorsal stripe and, in most cases, shoulder stripes and leg barring. The grullo horse is considered one of the most predominant species carrying the dun factor markings (primitive markings, like barring), but the markings are not as prominent as those on the duns. Grullo horses with dun factor markings look like they are a light charcoal color with darker markings over it. They do not look like a gray roan, which has white hairs mixed in, and should not be confused with roan or gray colors.

Red Dun

The red dun will vary in body shades of red, ranging from peach to copper to rich red. In all shades, the accompanying points will be a darker red or chestnut and will be in contrast to a lighter body color. Red dun must have a definite dorsal stripe to be eligible. The dorsal stripe will usually be dark red and predominant. Horses with faint dorsal stripes that do not appear on photos may be denied registration. Leg barring and shoulder stripes are common. The red dun or copper dun is categorized as a self color.

Brindle Dun

Brindle duns have different and unique body coloration with stripes appearing over the barrel of the body. They have most, if not all, of the dun factor characteristics. Brindle duns show up in the Netherlands and are referred to as an ancient dun color. Their peculiar body markings can appear in the form of teardrops or zebra stripes.

White Markings

White markings on the face and lower legs are permissible. Horses having white markings on the body (other than face or lower legs) that do not reflect Paint characteristics will be considered individually. Blue eyes are permissible providing the body color and conformation is acceptable.


A dun stallion. Stephanie Coffman/Shutterstock

Interfering white markings are defined as white in an area that would interfere with the dun factor marking. They are not desirable, but are not prohibited either.

Dun Factor Points

These markings can also be on grullos, but are not common in Buckskins.

The dun factor points to be specified for a Dun Factor Class in a horse show shall be as follows:

1. Dorsal stripe

2. Leg barring

3. Ear tips or ears with edging

4. Shoulder stripe or shadowing

5. Neck shadowing

6. Cobwebbing

7. Face masking

8. Mane and/or tail frosting

9. Mottling

The dorsal stripe may be black, brown, or red and will vary according to the body color. The stripe will run along the backbone from the withers to the base of the tail, but occasionally, it will not run the full length of the backbone. The width of the stripe will vary. The more pronounced, the better. A dorsal stripe with prongs or barbs extending from the sides is considered better than one without.


A stunning grulla mare. Stephanie Coffman/Shutterstock

Leg barring is horizontal stripes of varying widths that appear across the hocks, on the inside and the front of the hind legs, on the back of forearms, and across the knees.

Ear tips or ears with edging occur when the color on the ends of ears is darker than the body color. Ears are usually outlined on the edges. The most pronounced of ears will have horizontal stripes on the back side.

Shoulder stripe or shadowing is a transverse stripe over the withers running down from them in varying widths and lengths. Occasionally, more than one stripe is seen in different lengths. In some cases, a large shadow effect is seen due to a large area being covered, or stripes close together form the shadow.

Neck shadowing, or neck stripes, are usually dark areas through the neck extending into the hollow of the shoulder. Dark shadows will sometimes appear only on the crest of the neck, or dark lines will point down from the base of the mane.

Cobwebbing originates on the forehead. Lines extend in varying lengths over the forehead resembling a spider web. A few lines extend from the eye in a misplaced “eyebrow” effect. Penciling may occur completely around the eye.

Face masking is black, brown, or red shading on the bridge of the nose, with the same color usually around the eyes. The masking effect may spread to the jaw and muzzle, or can be outlined around the lips and nostrils.

Mane and/or tail frosting is light hairs on either side of the mane or interspersed throughout the mane. In the tail, light hairs appear at the dock of the tail and can run throughout the length of it. The frosted hairs may shed during summer months, in which case they would reappear during the autumn and winter. In some Buckskin horses, the frosting will appear as white hairs mixed through the black mane and tail.

Mottling should not be confused with dapples on a horse’s body. Mottling is found on the forearm, gaskins, shoulders, and stifles. It appears as a circular motif in shades darker than the body color. Mottling gives the appearance of “reversed” dapples. It is generally not found on the horse’s winter coat.


No body color shall be preferred. Conformation is to be considered in judging as not less than 10 percent or more than 20 percent.

The conformation of eligible horses can vary from the Arabian type to the bulldog Quarter Horse type. The ideal type is that of a western or stock saddle horse. There is no preferred type of conformation by IBHA, so owners may breed the type of saddle horse they enjoy most. The horse should be a good representative of its type. Inferior quality horses or ones with undesirable inherent characteristics are not accepted for registration. Horses showing a predominance of draft horse blood are also not eligible.

Ponies are not eligible. The mature horse is to stand at least 14 hands tall.


Horses appearing to have some dun factor characteristics, but are not of acceptable color, cannot be registered. Palomino horses with a dorsal stripe and line-backed sorrels, chestnuts, grays, and bays will not be accepted as dun horses and are not eligible.

Any horses having albino, Appaloosa, Paint, or Pinto horse characteristics are not eligible for IBHA registration. Mature horses under 14 hands are disqualified for registration, as are horses showing a predominance of gray hairs that become grayer, as well as horses showing roan hairs throughout the body.

Credit: International Buckskin Horse Association, Inc.

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