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Home > Horses > Dun Horse: Info, Pictures, Temperament & Traits

Dun Horse: Info, Pictures, Temperament & Traits

dun horse in the field

A Dun Horse has a light-colored—often beige—body and back. But it has darker-colored primitive markings on the ears, legs, tail, and mane. It isn’t a specific breed of horse, which means that it can range in size and other characteristics and can also be used for a variety of different purposes. The genetic mutation that causes the unique coloring of the Dun Horse is natural and there is evidence of horses with these colors on cave paintings dating back to prehistoric times.

Most horses that have been intentionally bred tend not to be Dun, but the world’s dwindling population of wild horses do tend to have these markings.

Breed Overview

Care Level Moderate
Temperature Varies
Temperament Varies
Colors Light body, darker extremities
Lifespan Varies
Weight Varies
Height Varies

Dun refers to a specific type of coloring that is most commonly found in wild horses but can be found in some domestic horses and is a result of a genetic mutation. The horse has a lighter-colored body with darker markings on the ears, legs, tail, and mane, referred to as “primitive” markings. Although the body is usually beige and the extremities a dark brown or black, the mutation can occur on red, black, or any color horses, which means that the coloring of Dun Horses can also vary greatly.

Dun Horse Characteristics



What Are Dun Horses Used For?

Dun refers to a color of horse that can be any breed or type. As such, Dun Horses can be and are used for a wide variety of purposes. Humans owe much of their development to horses, and while they are more commonly used for pleasure purposes today, they have historically been used as pack animals as well as for transport and draughting. They have also been used heavily in wars and conflicts.

Their size and ability to carry heavy weights means that horses have been ridden and have been used for draughting, or pulling heavy weights, for thousands of years. Horse riding is still used as a means of transport in many countries, especially in locations where the terrain is too challenging for motorized vehicles. Horseriding has become a pleasure activity enjoyed by people of all ages. Horses are still used for pulling cats loaded with heavy weights. They have been used to pull loads from mines and to transport goods to and from market. They still find use pulling machinery on farms and are used in conflict due to their agility and ability to be trained.

In some countries, horse meat is a staple food product, and in these countries, horses may be reared for the meat they produce as well as for the utility they provide.

dun horse in the meadow
Image by: Abis Photos, Shutterstock

Where Did These Horses Originate From?

Dun Horses are often referred to as wild-type horses because it is believed that many wild horses had Dun coloring. The early ancestors of horses are believed to have originated in Caucasus, which is now Southern Russia. They were bred for their strength and tolerance and, in approximately 2,000 B.C. these modern, intentionally bred horses started to spread around the world, first through Asia and Europe. By 1,000 B.C. these horses had replaced virtually all other types of horse found throughout the world.

Temperament & Intelligence of the Dun Horse

The temperament and intelligence of the Dun varies according to the breed, as well as the individual characteristics of the horse. Generally, however, domesticated horses tend to be friendly towards people, having been intentionally bred this way. They are also intelligent and can be quite easily trained to perform a variety of tasks from pulling heavily-laden carts to carrying people. However, different breeds can have very different temperaments. For example, Quarter Horses are known for their calm temperament and their tolerance of people, while Mustangs are notorious for being wild and much more difficult to handle and tame.

dun colored horse
Image by: Julia Siomuha, Shutterstock

Appearance & Varieties

Although the Dun Horse is not a specific breed and their coloring and markings can vary according to breed specifics, certain characteristics are common. Any Dun Horse might have markings like zebra striping on the back of the legs and a dorsal stripe on the back, although these can be difficult to see in certain colors.

  • The classic Dun Horse appearance has a tan body with a black tail, mane, legs, and back.
  • The Red Dun Horse has a lighter tan-colored body than the classic with a clay or almost orange back. The Red Dun is a mutation of the chestnut coloring.
  • The Yellow Dun is a diluted form of the bay coloring and has a light tan body with a darker tan back and dark mane.
  • The Blue Dun is a diluted black color. It has a gray body with dark, almost black, head, legs, tail, and mane.

horse shoe divider

Things to Know When Owning a Dun Horse

Taking care of a horse means providing a decent stable, offering plenty of exercise, a high-quality diet, and meeting their health and general well-being requirements.

Habitat & Stable Requirements🌾

Stable size depends on the size of the horse. As a rough guide, you should provide the following stable size as a minimum:

  • Ponies: Ponies measuring around 12 or 13 hands high need a stable at least 10 feet by 10 feet.
  • Large Ponies: Larger ponies of approximately 14 hands need a little more space with a stable measuring 12 x 10 feet.
  • Horses: Standard horses between 14 and 16 hands need a stable measuring 12 x 12 feet.
  • Large Horses: Large horses of 17 hands or higher need the most space, with a stable at least 12 feet by 14 feet in size.

Food & Diet Requirements🥕

Typically, a horse will eat around 2% to 4% of its body weight per day. This includes pasture such as grass, as well as dried forage including hay. You can also feed occasional fruit and vegetable treats but do not overfeed these as it can lead to a horse becoming overweight, especially if it is not a working horse. Horses also need salt and should be provided with fresh water.

dun horse face mask
Image Credit: Pictries, Shutterstock


In the wild, horses can cover up to 50 miles or more every day, but it is difficult to replicate this as domesticated animals. However, they do need exercise every day. As an absolute minimum, a horse should be getting 30 minutes of structured exercise three to five times a week, with plenty of time in the paddock between these sessions. Structured exercise includes riding or, when this isn’t possible, lunging and schooling.


We might not think of it as training, but every time we interact with a horse we are training it, and most horses take well to training.

You will need to start by building a strong bond with a horse, before progressing to groundwork. Groundwork is training where you are on the ground rather than in the saddle, and it covers some of the basics that you will need as you progress. It teaches the horse to stand still and gets it comfortable being led. You will also train your horse to move on command. Desensitization is also an important part of horse training and gets it used to activities, noises, and situations that it isn’t accustomed to. Horses aren’t naturally good around traffic or large groups of people, for example. Once your horse has been desensitized, you can get it used to wearing a saddle, both empty and with weight in the saddle, before riding it.

Training a horse does take time, and you must get it used to the different elements of riding before getting on its back.


Grooming is another important element of horse care and ownership. Not only does it mean that your horse will look its best, but, more importantly, it ensures that they are comfortable and minimizes the risk of certain ailments and conditions. You should groom a horse at least once a week—more often if you ride regularly.

woman brushing the horse's hair
Image by: Barbara Olsen, Pexels

Lifespan & Health Conditions🏥

Horses usually live between 20 and 30 years and mature at the age of around 3 years, but this does depend on the breed. Similarly, some breeds are more prone to certain conditions than others, and some breeds are generally more hardy.

Minor Conditions
  • Colic
  • Equine Cushing’s Disease
  • Strangles
Serious Conditions
  • Atypical Myopathy
  • Herpes
  • Leg Injuries
  • Laminitis
  • Tetanus

horse shoe divider

Male vs Female

Male horses do tend to be bigger than females, as well as typically being more muscular. Males tend to be stronger and faster, but they are more likely to be aggressive than females. Females are usually calmer and are easier to train. This isn’t always the case, however, and castration can help calm a male horse in some, but not all, instances.

dun colored horse
Image Credit: Olga_i, Shutterstock

3 Little-Known Facts About Dun Horses

1. Dun Coloring Is Caused by a Genetic Mutation

Dun Horses are not a specific breed of horse—rather they are a color of horse, with a lighter body and darker mane, tail, and other primitive markings. The coloration is a lightening of the horse’s color that is caused by a genetic mutation. Although there are very few wild horses left, most of those that do exist are Dun.

2. They Have Dorsal Stripes

A dorsal stripe is a stripe that runs down the middle of a horse’s back from the main to the base of the tail. True Dun Horses have a prominent dorsal stripe, and the color of this strip is darker than that of the body which makes it easy to see and identify.

3. Dun Horses Have Existed for Thousands of Years

Cave paintings are dating back thousands of years, depicting horses and humans living alongside one another, and the horses in these paintings match the Dun coloration, suggesting that the earliest horses, as we know them, were Dun.


Final Thoughts

Dun Horses are not a specific breed but a color of horse, with the coloring arising as a result of a genetic mutation. Historically, it is likely that almost all wild horses were Dun in color, but the desire for specific breeds as domesticated horses have seen these distinctive markings become increasingly rare. Any breed and type of horse could be Dun, and this is represented by a lighter-colored body and darker-colored extremities.

Featured Image Credit: Luke Wojcik, Shutterstock

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