10+ Fascinating Facts About Buckskin Horses

Featuring a golden color, a buckskin horse is one of the most beautiful horses.

The term “buckskin horse” sounds more like both a breed and a coat color, but it only refers to the color.

It isn’t a color breed either, but a standard coat color that can appear in any breed.

Read on for buckskin horse facts, origin, colors, and characteristics.

Buckskin Horse

What Is A Buckskin?

a running buckskin horse with solid black mane and tail

Buckskin is a horse with tannish or golden coat color, with a solid black mane, legs, and tail.

The eyes are usually brown but can be blue if the specific genes are present.

True buckskins have a characteristic black mane, black lower legs, and black tails.

Some tails have a mix of black and white or lighter hairs, a trait called frosting. Then why the name buckskin? Because true buckskins have similar coats color to the male deer, a.k.a a buck.

Buckskin Horse Origins

Buckskins have been around for a long time. Oklahoma State University traces their origin to primitive Sorraia breed, initially in the Spain Sorraia.

The Spanish first bred the buckskins in the Middle Ages and brought them to North America during the exploration era. The Spanish loved the buckskins’ exceptional endurance and low maintenance needs and used them as pack animals.

It’s believed the Sorraia buckskin became a wild horse that bred with the Wild West horses to develop the western buckskins. And the cowboys fell in love immediately, for not only the beautiful golden coat color but also the desirable soundness and sure-footedness.

A Dilution Gene creates buckskin Coat Color

a light buckskin horse

Buckskin coat colors result from a single dilution by a crème gene acting on a bay horse.

Bays usually have a brown coat color and a “black base coat” gene, the agouti gene.

The crème gene mixes with the brown color to create a tan color, and the agouti gene maintains the black color to the mane, lower legs, and tail.

The single crème gene dilutes the bay to tan while leaving the black points intact. Therefore, genetically buckskins should possess the black points rather than a fully solidly tan color.

And to make a foal a buckskin, one of the parents must have a crème gene. But the good news is, most breeds such as Mustangs, Morgans, and Quarter Horses have the crème gene, hence can sire a buckskin.

Coat Color Testing For Buckskin 

close-up view of a buckskin horse's back all the way through the face

Buckskin variations range from yellow, dark golden to the primary tan with black points.

To be sure it’s a buckskin, horse lovers need to do a coat color test.

And true buckskins have one of the following equine coat color test results.

The letters Cr show a crème gene, and cr represents its absence, and Crcr signifies a pair of crème genes.

  • EEAACrcr: Homozygous Black Gene and Agouti, Heterozygous Cream: in the absence of other color modifiers, half of the offspring will be bay and the other half buckskins.
  • EEAaCrcr: Homozygous Black Gene, Heterozygous Agouti, and Heterozygous Cream: all offspring will have a variety of black-based colors, and 50% will have a crème gene.
  • EeAACrcr: Heterozygous Black Gene, Homozygous Agouti, And Heterozygous Cream: in the absence of other color modifiers, an offspring will be either a buckskin, chestnut, bay, or palomino.
  • EeAaCrcr: Heterozygous black and agouti, Heterozygous Cream: offspring can be of any color.

Buckskin as a Horse Breed

You’ve possibly read somewhere that buckskins are a breed. Though not entirely true, the uniqueness of buckskin coat is sometimes classified as a color breed (classification based on coat color and not pedigree).

Another good example of a color breed that we’ve covered extensively is the blue roan horses.

But the single dilution can never result in a consistent true-breeding trait, and it’s not always a guarantee that two buckskins will sire a buckskin foal.

Also, one of the parents must have the crème gene to produce a true buckskin-coated horse. Genetically, the heterozygous nature of the cream gene can result in a range of base or cream coat colors.

For instance, based on the recessive and dominant trait calculations, breeding two buckskins will result in an offspring with:

  • 25 % chance of having a base color coat (bay base color, chestnut, or black coloring)
  • 25% chance of being a double crème dilute foal (cremello, cream, or perlino)
  • And 50% chance of being a single dilute foal (buckskin, palomino, or smoky black)

Common Buckskin Shades

Buckskin coats coloring can vary widely from light to dark color shades, and each coloring pattern has a shade name. Below are the most common color shades:

Three different colors, same genetic code

The three colors feature the same genetics, with phenotypes or expressed color varying randomly from individual to individual equine.

A good illustration is how two blue-eyed people could have different shades of blue.

  • Buttermilk or cream buckskin: Buttermilk buckskins have the lightest buckskin color. The light golden color looks like soft, milky/creamy yellow, with the characteristic black points.
  • Standard buckskin: The standard buckskin shade looks like a tanned coat of a male deer. Ideally, it’s the coat color of an actual buckskin.
  • Golden buckskin: Golden buckskin horse is a lighter version of a sooty buckskin but looks more like a standard buckskin with dark coloring on shoulders and back.

Different Genes Creating Different Buckskin Shades

Though barely testable today, a variation of the agouti gene can change a genetically bay to a brown. The shades below result from the action of several genes on a bay.

  • Sooty or burnt buckskin: Genetically, sooty buckskins have a dilution gene and bay genes. Typically the equine looks like a dun, but it’s a buckskin. Sooty shade is the darkest of the buckskins and has a darker topcoat over a lighter undercoat as if someone dumped soot on them from the top.
  • Brown buckskin: They usually have a brown base color with a single crème gene. Many equine researchers believe a gene called At controls the brown buckskin horse coat, a special version of the Agouti gene.
  • Silver buckskin: Horses with varying coat colors can qualify to be a silver buckskin. For instance, a buckskin roan horse and a gray buckskin horse can fit as silver buckskins. But the proper definition of a silver buckskin is an equine that has a silver gene. In addition, true silver buckskins must be bay-based and carry the cream and silver gene and would look like a very light buttermilk color with a light tan or white tail and mane.
  • Black buckskin: A black buckskin, also called a smokey buckskin horse, is not an actual buckskin as the shade results from a black coat rather than a bay base coloring and diluted by a cream gene. Their correct name is “dilute blacks” or “smoky black.”

What Is The Difference Between A Buckskin And A Dun?

Many people confuse a buckskin with a bay dun horse, and sometimes the names are used interchangeably. Though they both have almost similar-looking golden tan coats, they’re different genetically.

And both result from base color dilution by a gene, but by different dilution genes. Also, the crème gene in buckskins acts on bays only while the dun dilution gene dilutes both black and red-based horses.

Buckskin horse colors range from pale yellow to deep gold but fall under true buckskins if their coat color is similar to a tanned deerskin.

They’ll also have black points in their manes and tails and solid black legs. Also, the buckskins have no stripes.

On the other hand, dun coloring or bay duns can range from light yellow to an almost chestnut Reddish-brown, with legs’ shade darker than the body’s base coat color.

They have primitive markings, usually a prominent dorsal stripe over the back or leg stripes.

Further, duns have horizontal striping that marks the shoulders, foreheads, or lower legs. Common horse breeds with a dun color include the American Quarter Horses, Icelandic Ponies, and the Highland Ponies.

Horse Colors with a Buckskin Base

You need one dominant black gene, a single crème gene, and one agouti gene to get a buckskin coloring. However, there are other coat colors formed over a buckskin base. For example:

  • Dunskin=Buckskin + Dun
  • Buckskin Roan= Buckskin + Roan
  • Dunskin Roan=Buckskin + Dun + Roan
  • Silver Buckskin=Buckskin + Silver
  • Amber Cream Champagne=Buckskin + Champagne
  • Sable Cream Champagne= Brown Buckskin + Champagne
  • Gray (with a Buckskin Base) = Buckskin + Gray
  • Buckskin Tobiano=Buckskin + Tobiano
  • Buckskin Overo=Buckskin + Overo
  • Buckskin Tovero= Buckskin + Tobiano + Overo

Can A Buckskin Have A Dorsal Stripe?

The dun gene, like the cream gene, isn’t limited to a single breed. If present in the parents of a buckskin, then the foal can have a dorsal stripe.

However, the dorsal stripe can result from countershading and thus need a DNA coat color testing or a closer look at the pedigree to determine the actual cause.

Genetically, any foal with a dorsal stripe or with leg striping carries a dun modifier. And if they also have a crème gene, their proper name would be “dunskin” and not buckskin.

Many people will mistake a dun for a buckskin due to the crème dilution on a bay, especially if they don’t know how to check the primitive striped markings of a dun.

11 Buckskin Horse Facts

Here are some facts on buckskins:

  • A buckskin is cream-colored with black points on legs, ears, tails, and mane. Even so, the color shade can vary from light cream to dark tan.
  • Buckskin is a bay with a single crème dilution gene that lightens the color.
  • Buckskin and dun are different colors, though the terms are used interchangeably at times.
  • Buckskins exhibit amber-colored eyes sometimes, the same with palominos.
  • Buckskins can sometimes have primitive markings associated with duns, such as dorsal stripes and leg barring.
  • The buckskin color is found in almost all horse breeds.
  • Black and white horses are the most common, but buckskin vanners are also a possibility.
  • Buckskins have been used in western television shows for a long time. For example, Ben Cartwright uses a buckskin on Bonanze, and Trampa does it too on The Virginian.
  • The classic animation “Star of the Spirit” uses a buckskin for the Stallion of the Cimarron.
  • Buckskins are primarily of Spanish origins but bred with other horses.
  • Buckskins are mostly packing animals due to their strength and endurance.

Buckskin Horse Associations

Since its inception in 1965, the American Buckskin Registry Association has collected, recorded, and preserved the pedigree of buckskins, red duns (a dun gene acting on a chestnut base), grullas, and duns.

The association also accepts miniature horses, mules, and ponies of all breeds, provided they are offsprings of buckskins.

The International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) came later in 1970 to promote buckskins, red duns, duns, grullas (usually confused with grey horses) globally.

The registry is the most significant worldwide for buckskins, links to local charter groups, and provides information about coloring requirements.

To register a buckskin, it must have a tanned deer hide color or at least be a shade varying from yellow to dark gold, with dark brown or black points.

Buckskins with muddling colors aren’t registered. Others that do not fit the criteria include Albino, Paint, Pinto, Appaloosa, and palominos that possess a dorsal stripe.

The two organizations deal with buckskin-colored horses globally, and their websites have all the information on registered animals.

Registering your pony with these organizations increases its value and connects you to a community of similar animal owners.

And, as of 2016, you can register your miniature horse with IBHA, provided it has eligible coat color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are buckskin horses a breed?

buckskin horse walking in the tall grasses

Buckskins have common characteristics but are not a breed. Buckskins exist within horse breeds. Though sometimes people classify buckskins as a color breed rather than based on pedigree.

Are buckskin horses rare?

Buckskins are common among different breeds around the world. They are especially common in stock horses and gaited horses. In fact, the same gene in buckskins is responsible for palomino horses. However, some color shades are more common than others are, with standard buckskins leading in popularity and countershading common among adult horses.

Can a buckskin horse have a dorsal stripe?

buckskin horse walking towards the camera

Yes, they can. Buckskin is just a base color, and other color genes can result in dorsal stripes, white markings, pinto, and paint markings. They can even turn completely roan or grey.

What’s the Difference between buckskin and dun?

A buckskin has a single cream dilution gene that works on a bay horse, while a dun dilution gene acts on red-based and black horses. Even though their color coats can look very similar, a dun will have a distinct dorsal stripe.

Is spirit a buckskin or a dun?

Spirit is a buckskin, specifically a buckskin Kiger mustang colt. Other popular buckskins in Hollywood include the Mart Dillon’s big buckskin quarter horse and the Kevin Costner buckskin in the movie “Dances with Wolves.”

Conclusion

Buckskins are often excellent ranch horses with a beautiful golden coat and majestic personality. It’s known for being a solid and steady horse and loved by both horse people and general fans. Their superior genetic heritage ensures they can be sired in any breed and thus will remain around for a long time.

References

  • “11 Fun Buckskin Horse Facts.” Karina Brez Jewelry, karinabrez.com/blogs/news/11-fun-buckskin-horse-facts. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  • “Breeds of Livestock – Buckskin Horse — Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science.” Afs.okstate.edu, afs.okstate.edu/breeds/horses/buckskin/index.html/. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  • “Buckskin Horses | American Buckskin Registry Associaiton | Tulsa, OK.” ABRA, Inc., www.americanbuckskin.com/. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  • “Cream | Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.” Vgl.ucdavis.edu, vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/cream.
  • “HOME.” IBHA, Inc., www.ibha.net/. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  • Locke, M. M., et al. “The Cream Dilution Gene, Responsible for the Palomino and Buckskin Coat Colours, Maps to Horse Chromosome 21.” Animal Genetics, vol. 32, no. 6, Dec. 2001, pp. 340–343, 10.1046/j.1365-2052.2001.00806.x. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  • “Shades of Buckskin Coat Colours.” Www.dilutesaustralia.net, www.dilutesaustralia.net/Shades-of-buckskin.html. Accessed 25 July 2021.
a tall buckskin horse

Do you know other buckskin horse facts? Please share with us in the comment section below!

Peter
Peter

Hi Guys, My name is Peter, and I’ve always been fascinated by horses. I got my first horse, a Morgan Horse, when I was 13 and I’ve been learning about them since then. I love contributing on this blog to share what I’ve learned so far.

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