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

Horse & Hound - - Dun Devotees -

‘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

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