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If one were to select a single type of horse that epitomizes the American West, a buckskin or dun colored mount ridden by an authentic cowboy or cowgirl would be a good choice. With hides that mimic the varying colors of desert sands, and manes, tails and legs of deep chocolate or black, buckskins and duns blend perfectly into the West’s romantic palette.

For those unfamiliar with the subtleties of equine coloration, however, the distinction between a buckskin and a dun can be confusing. Moreover, an experienced horsewoman observing sandy-colored horses in a field may recognize Buckskins, Duns, Red Duns, and Grullas (pronounced “Grew-ya”), all of which may look bewilderingly similar to the casual observer. What then, are the differences?

The easiest way to determine the correct classification is to look first for a dorsal stripe running down the horse’s back. Duns, Red Duns, and Grulla colored horses (those with a gunmetal gray look) must all technically sport a dark line along the backbone, leading to the tail.

They may also exhibit other tell-tale signs, called “the dun factor:” striped legs, which is called “leg barring,” mottled coats, “cob webbing” patterns on the face, and ears “outlined” in a darker shade. Buckskins, on the other hand, have no dorsal stripe or other “dun factor” accents.

A classically colored buckskin should be the color of tanned deer hide, with black “points,” (mane, tail and legs). Duns tend to be a more intense, though sometimes duller shade, while buckskins feature a pure, clean pigment ranging from a light beige or yellow to dark gold. Like the western landscape into which they blend, the beauty of both Buckskins and Duns is at once dramatic and casually understated.

(Originally published in the January/February 2010 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).