When all’s said and dun
Eye-catching and relatively rare, duns command a special place in the hearts of their many fans. Flora Watkins talks to devotees who agree that there’s no such thing as a bad one
‘AND that was the round of the day on a lovely, lovely horse,’ says the commentator at West Wilts Equestrian Centre, as Katey Cuthbertson and Oare House Hero jump clear round the Discovery.
This striking dun horse collects fans wherever he goes. “After we’ve been eventing, I’ll come home to messages on Facebook from people who’ve tracked me down, saying, ‘Is your dun for sale?’,” says Katey. “I have to reply saying he’s not for sale; I love him to bits.”
Katey, who is stable jockey for the Guinnesses’ Biddesden Stud, will aim ‘the yellow pony’ at CCI* this year. Now seven, she bought him as a weanling when his breeder, Lady Keswick, was retiring and offered him to her for his stud fee.
“I used to ride his father, the anglo-Arab Persiflage, for Biddesden,” she explains.
“He was novice at the time and his stud fee was £400 — he ended up going three-star/ advanced, so the stud fee went up. It’s the best £400 I’ve ever spent.”
Oare House Hero’s colour is thought to come from his dam, a Welsh section D/ thoroughbred.
“People are always coming up to me at events and want to know where the colour comes from; they’re fascinated,” she continues. “He’s basically a yellow version of his dad — that’s what attracted me to him.”
IN the British Isles, yellow horses are referred to as ‘dun’ by most, though many are, technically, buckskin (see box, right). It’s sometimes said of duns that ‘you never get a bad one’. That’s something with which event rider Abi Boulton would agree. She credits the 14hh Pebbly Pipe Dream with giving her the bravery to compete at CCI4* level. ‘Chippy’ was just five when he came to Abi; she was 11 and a self-confessed “absolute wuss”.
Together, they hunted with the Meynell and South Staffs, jumping “ridiculous things”, won at BE90 and 100 level and contested workers. Their partnership culminated with Chippy winning the Dick Saunders Supreme Champion title at the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) in 2010, the first working hunter pony to do so.
Abi credits hunting with giving them “the edge” in the showring, but it was Chippy’s colour — “he was a real golden dun, with dapples as well and black legs, mane and tail, like a dun rocking horse” — that caught the judges’ eye.
“If he’d been bay, you’d still have seen that he was a stunning horse, but dun is different,” she says. “You don’t see many — but when you do, they catch the eye.”
In horses, the colour often indicates native pony blood, usually Connemara and sometimes Highland or Welsh, and is comparatively rare.
This is partly due to the genetics of colour. Dun is a single, dominant gene. Put simply, if a foal out of a dun mare isn’t dun itself, then it won’t carry the gene. Buckskin, on the other hand, is what’s known as a dilute — it has both the agouti (bay) and cream (usually spelt creme) genes. Statistically, when two buckskin horses are bred together, there’s only a 50% chance of throwing a buckskin foal.
It’s the scarceness of that beautiful colour — particularly as you go up the grades — that makes duns so memorable. Several notable duns have reached the highest levels of eventing (see box, p30), but in dressage, they’re a rarity.
“The only other dun I can think of that went up the grades is Lee Pearson’s Blue Circle Boy,” says Sarah Turner, who represented Britain at Hartpury CDI in 2009 and 2010 on her own Fiddlesticks. Now aged 20, “Custard” — who is by the Oldenburg stallion, Roulette, out of a part-bred Connemara FEI pony — is retired from competition, but still has a fan club.
“When I go to Premier League shows, people will say, ‘How is he? What’s he up to now?’ People have written to me in the past, saying, ‘He reminds me so much of an Irish horse I used to have; that sort of thing’,” recalls Sarah. “I think a lot of it is to do with the colour; they stand out and people remember them, because they’re so striking.”
Sarah speaks fondly of Fiddlesticks’ “clever and quick pony brain”, which made him “very trainable”. This, in conjunction with the warmblood movement inherited from his sire, made him an extremely consistent competitor throughout his career. Some, however, underestimated him because of his colour.
“I think some people were quite surprised at what we ultimately achieved,” says Sarah. “They still saw me as this girl out of Pony Club and the part-Connemara who did the area dressage one year.”
Sacha Hourigan believes it’s the pony
Sarah Turner and Fiddlesticks represented Britain at international level in dressage