Is Buckskin a Color or a Breed? Origin, Color Genetics and Facts

Is Buckskin a Color or a Breed

Buckskin horses possess the common coloring of a tan or gold coat with a black mane and tail with dark lower legs. Kids might recognize this beautiful horse coloring from the animated movie ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’ which features a buckskin horse in the starring role, but even so, most will be familiar with their appearance since buckskin is a very common color pattern across most horse breeds.

But is a buckskin a color or a breed? There has been much debate about this, but the fact is that buckskin is simply a common coat color in horses and not an actual breed. The confusion originates from the fact that horses of this coat were registered in the American Buckskin Registry Association in 1965 – a time when less was understood about color genetics and many assumed that buckskin and similar colors were related.

The buckskin colors of tan and black can be found in many different horse breeds through Quarter horses and various cross-breeds. No matter the unique breed, buckskins often display similar characteristics of great endurance and sure-footedness, as well as being commonly petite in size (between 14.3 and 15 hands on average). To understand more about these stunning horses, we’ll dive into the genetics and origin of the buckskin along with some common queries and stats.

Is Buckskin a Color or a Breed?

Buckskin simply refers to the coat colors of the horse and is not a term describing the breed. ‘Buckskin’ refers to the resemblance of various shades of deerskin which can range from beige and lighter cream shades through to gold and light brown. Because buckskin-colored horses have been around for as long as horses have existed, there have been buckskin coloring in various horse breeds throughout history.

The controversy concerning ‘color versus breed’ comes from the fact that buckskin is still recognized as a registered horse breed due to an outdated understanding of genetics. Up until the 1960’s, color geneticists were still using ‘buckskin’ as a generic moniker across various regions and states instead of creating new terms to describe each breed’s different color patterns and degrees of tan, gold and brown etc.

What Kind of Horse is a Buckskin?

Because buckskin colored horses are often used as ranch horses (not to mention being the popular choice of cowboys in the old West), they have become known for their stamina and strength.

Regardless of the individual breed they belong to, buckskins have a reputation as hard-workers with bundles of energy. The temperament, of course, depends upon the specific breed and its early care and treatment, but the majority of buckskin horses are thought to be intelligent and highly active with steel-like hooves for offering their riders steady-footing on every kind of terrain.

Buckskin Horse Color Genetics

Buckskin horses have a basic color of bay or brown, but due to an inherent cream gene, this dilutes their base color to generate the light brown or tan ‘buckskin’ shade. This cream ‘dilution gene’ literally tones down the intensity of the basic color, which is why buckskins end up with a coat color so strikingly in contrast with their naturally dark mane, tails and lower legs.

Standard buckskins of tan colored coats are the result of one parent being a carrier of the cream dilution gene. Whereas if both parents were to carry the cream gene, this results in a double dilution which goes on to create a ‘Perlino’ horse – these have a cream-colored coat with a hint of a rose pink shade to the skin and light blue eyes, which is why they are often referred to as pseudo-albino horses.

Buckskin Horse Origin

Buckskins have been around since the recording of horse species began. Their origins have been traced to the primitive Sorraia horse breed developed in the Iberian Peninsula of ancient Portugal. From then on, the Sorraia breed (normally dark gray and black in its color patterns) was brought to North America in the 1500s by Spanish soldiers and explorers to be used as pack animals.

Soon enough, Sorraia horses were released into the wild and the cross breeding of other wild horses resulted in the Sorraia blood filtering through many horse breeds throughout the wild west, ultimately creating the buckskin shade we recognize today.

What Horse Breeds Can Be Buckskin?

The cream dilution gene found in buckskins is pretty common across many horse breeds, including:

  • Tennessee Walkers – these breeds make for very smooth rides, owing to their natural ability for graceful movement and various gaits, so if you need a buckskin with show horse potential, then a Tennessee Walker will fit the bill!
  • Andalusians – If you’re looking for a show-stopping dressage horse, then a buckskin Andalusian won’t fail in making an impression. This Spanish breed is renowned for its beauty thanks to its long, luxurious mane and tail and incredible build – so with the striking color contrast a buckskin can provide, this will make for one eye-catching horse.
  • Thoroughbreds – Buckskin is a coat color rarely seen on race horses, but is still possible. The cream gene is certainly present in thoroughbreds. In fact, this Cremello horse (a buckskin with both bay and cream-colored parent genes) is a bronze-approved thoroughbred stallion!

Other buckskin horse breeds include Mustangs, Morgan horses, Peruvian Pasos, Shetland ponies and all Welsh ponies and Cobs.

Are Buckskin Horses Rare?

No, buckskin horses are fairly common across many breeds, although certain color patterns are more frequent than others. The standard buckskin color combo of tan and black is the most common of the buckskin shades, whilst coats of brindle (striped) are rarer variations of buckskin.

Is a Buckskin a Quarter Horse?

Yes, as mentioned above, a buckskin horse coloring can be found across many breeds including the American Quarter horse. Quarter horses are an American breed that excels at sprinting short distances such as a quarter mile race, hence the name. Today however, buckskin quarter horses are more commonly used as show horses and in rodeo events.

Can a Buckskin Horse Have a Dorsal Stripe?

Buckskins do not typically have a dorsal stripe, because this is the genetic trait of a Dun horse (more on the differences between a Buckskin and a Dun later). If a buckskin carries the cream gene and also the Dun gene, then it is more commonly referred to as a ‘Dunskin’. Bay horses without any Dun gene may display a faint dorsal stripe because they don’t have the intense darker brown color associated with Duns.

What Colors Look Best on a Buckskin Horse?

In terms of which shade of buckskin coat is considered to be the best, many breeders consider the Silver buckskin to be particularly handsome. These buckskins can be forgiven for looking gray, but the silver hairs intermingled in the coat combined with the dark accents in their mane, tail and legs can create the appearance of a shiny and lustrous coat.

As for choosing colors that will look good on your buckskin horse, riders would do well to opt for complementary shades in their saddle and clothing choices, such as white and yellow with the tan or navy and burgundy with lighter cream-colored buckskins.

Alternatively, choosing hues that are similar to their coat – such as bronze or chocolate brown – can create a uniform, stylish look if you’re dressing to impress for shows and important events.

How Do You Get a Buckskin Horse?

Many horse breeders are keen to create the attractive standard buckskin coat colors and, as above-mentioned, this is typically achieved by breeding a bay or brown horse parent such as a Tennessee Walking horse or a Hackney with a cream colored parent such as a Perlino.

Potential buckskin breeders must also make sure that at least one parent does not carry the black gene variant, as this will decrease the chances of producing a true buckskin colored foal.

What is the Difference Between a Dun and Buckskin Horse?

Buckskin and dun horses can appear very similar depending on the shade, but while buckskins generally have tan or gold bodies with black manes and tails, dun horses have sandy-brown or gray bodies with a distinctively dark gray or brown dorsal stripe. Their manes and tails can also vary in color depending on the dun breed.

Also, while a buckskin’s coat color is created by the cream dilution gene lightening the bay color, a dun’s coloring is created by the dun dilution gene, adding a white color only to the body, not the mane, tail or legs.

Breeds That Don’t Have Buckskin Horses

Buckskin is common enough among horse breeds, but there are some that don’t share their distinctive coloring at all:

  • Arabian – The stunning Arabian horse breed doesn’t not have cream in its color patterns and therefore creating a buckskin shade is near impossible in pure-bred Arabian horses. Any buckskin horses that appear pure-bred are almost always classed as half-Arabian breeds.
  • Friesian – The stunning Friesian breed of horse comes in many colors including black, grey, white and chestnut, but because pure-bred Friesians do not possess the dominant cream gene or the Agouti gene (responsible for darkening the mane, tails and lower legs), a buckskin variety is impossible without cross-breeding.
  • Cleveland Bay – This breed is a horse truly fit for royalty as Cleveland Bays serve as the Queen of England’s official coach horse and are also ridden by Her Majesty’s many royal guards. This breed comes in the foundation bay color used to create buckskin, but cross-breeding would be needed to have pure buckskin.

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