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Breeding for Dilute Colors: Dun, Buckskin, Palomino, Champagne, Silver Dapple, and Crème

By Carolyn Meinel Bertin

Breeding for the dilute colors can be chancy. The problem is that every horse carries two alleles (variations on a gene) for each color gene. Scientists have discovered alleles of four genes that can create dilute colors: dun, cremello, champagne and silver dapple. The actions of these alleles are not always simple. Sometimes you can tell what colors a horse could throw just by looking. More often, these alleles may mask other colors that can put in surprise appearances in a horse's offspring.

However, if you know what to look for, and take advantage of genetic testing, you can increase your success rate when breeding for dilute colors.

Duns and Buckskins

Duns and buckskins have a dilute body color with darker points. They usually owe their colors to the effects of the dun or cremello alleles, and to background colors thrown by the black, bay or chestnut alleles.

Lineback Dun

Scientists believe that lineback dun on a bay background (zebra dun) is the natural color of the ancestors of today's horses. Lineback duns all carry one or two copies of the dun allele.

Dun dilutes the background color of a horse's body while leaving the mane, tail, and points dark. Thus, dun paired with black causes a horse to be blue or slate with black mane and tail (grullo). Against a bay background, red is faded to tan or gold, leaving a black mane and tail (lineback buckskin). On a sorrel (chestnut) background, red is faded to pale red with darker red mane and tail (red or apricot dun).

All horses with the dun allele have a dark stripe down the back (lineback or eel stripe). Many also have stripes on their shoulders and legs. Some also show dark webbing on the head. In the extreme expression, these "primitive marks" are almost as extensive as on a zebra. Scientists do not understand the genetic mechanism(s) controlling the extent of primitive marks.

The dun allele is dominant. That means that a heterozygous (one copy of the allele) dun looks the same as a homozygous dun (two copies of the allele). This is important because if you breed heterozygous duns to each other, you have only a 75% chance of getting a dun foal. If one is homozygous, you have a 100% chance.

There is no genetic test for homozygous dun.

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Lineback buckskin foal. Note the stripes under his chin and his facial markings. This is an extreme example of the primitive markings that often occur with lineback duns.

Rowdy Yates, ridden by Vickie Ives

Rowdy Yates Breyer model
Above, Rowdy Yates, a lineback grullo dun, ridden by his owner, Vickie Ives. This Spanish Mustang stallion was the model for the Rowdy Yates Breyer horse, produced 2002-2005. His personality, strength and endurance were the model for the starring horse of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

You can learn more about Rowdy Yates, Vickie Ives, and her Karma Farms at http://www.karmafarms.com.

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© 2022 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.