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The American Paint Horse: A Horse of a Different Outlook

Among the horses, there was this one horse with the ability to make the heads turn regardless of the event they are in. Their beauty came from the splashed paints across their bodies. The two-colored variety was known as the American Paint Horse. These easy-going horses have their own stories to share.

American paint horse

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American Paint Horse-Where do they come from?

Their history runs back to Spain. They are a part of wild horses who roamed the western plains. Back then these horses, known as paints, were believed to hold magical powers. They were widely used by cowboys for cattle works because of their ability to work hard. These horses are intelligent, easy-going and friendly.

Paints can be a splashy color combination of black white or shades of brown and white. With the time, the APHA bred large color varieties for this horse type. Therefore, they had to categorize the horse according to color and pattern.

Other than their color variations, their white markings stand out from the rest.  This color coat divides the horses into three different categories.

  1. Tobiano

Tobiano is the most common. They are white, with large colored spots that often overlap. One or both flanks will be covered with dark colors. All four legs are white usually (at least below the hocks and knees) They get the appearance of a shield by the regular and distinct oval and round patterns which extend down over the chest and neck. The tail often has two colors. Head markings depict that of a solid-colored horse or with a strip, star or snip.

  1. Overo Paint Horse

A dark-colored horse with white markings. White color doesn’t cross the horses back between its’ tail and withers. One of the four legs is usually dark in color. White color is either scattered or splashy. Distinctive head markings are visible in these horses. They are sometimes bald-faced, or bonnet faced or apron faced. They are either predominantly dark or white. Tail exhibits just one color.

American Paint Horse

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  1. Tovero

A Tovero is a mix of Tobiano and Overo. The dark pigmentation spreads from the ears toward the forehead and eyes. The same pigmentation can be seen around the mouth and sometimes extends up to the sides of the face and spots are formed. One or both eyes are blue in color.  The pigmentation is found around the chest in some horses with varying sizes.  Tail consists of spots with various sizes at the end.  They carry both overos and tobiano genes.

  1. Solid type

There is another type of paint horse that doesn’t exactly fall into the color pattern category.  These solid horse types are produced. The horse might lack the markings, but they contain the intelligence, stock- type conformation and being the ideal riding horse. They are registered in American paint horse association as Breeding Stock Paints. The genetics of the paint horses makes them special. While today we are able to test our tobiano horses to see if they are homozygous for the tobiano gene, there are no tests available for the overo genes. When breeding overos and toveros, as well as heterozygous tobianos, there is always a chance that the foal produced will be solid.

Original records of the American paint horse

In 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes moved to North America in search of fame and fortune. These Spanish explorers were descendants of North Africa and Asia Minor. He brought horses to help him and his men to achieve this task. The search for riches. But what he left behind was another legacy; the bloodstock which paved the way to colorful, eye-catching, distinct American bred horse foundation.

According to the Spanish historian Diaz del Castillo who traveled with the expedition, there were two uniquely marked horses. Among 16 war horses, one of them was a pinto horse with white stockings on his forefeet. The other horse was a dark roan with white patches. These horses bred with native American mustangs and by the 1800s the foundation was laid for what is today the American Paint Horse breed.

American paint horse


Paint and Pinto? What’s the difference?

These two aren’t the same. Pinto is Pinto Horse Association is a color registry.

The paint horse association is limited to the registration of paint horses belonging to pure paint or thoroughbred and quarter horses.

So, where did Paints get their start?

The Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes brought two horses with pinto marks on his voyage. With time these horses baring markings became popular among American Indians, in particular, the Comanche tribe. And when it came to 1800s’ the horses were well-populated throughout the west.

The horses bearing the marks were called as paint, pinto, piebald and skewbald throughout 1800 to the middle of 1900. In 1960, the interest in these paint horses grew where they were dedicated to horses preserving and promotion. Thus, the American Paint Horse Association was formed in 1965. Now they are popular in traditional stock- horse events as well as many other riding varieties.

APHA’s primary mission is to record pedigrees, but other than that the association is also dedicated to promoting the breeding, training, showing, history, racing, sales and enjoyment of American Paints. These horses were created in many types and sizes depending on their physical structure and their parental matter. The American Paint Horse registry is the worlds’ second-largest horse registry.

More about the origin…

The American paint horse is known for its’ intelligence. The athletic and unequaled beauty makes it an icon among horses. Even though they are a light horse breed, they are more stocky and powerful in muscle combinations. They have a great refined shape in its head and neck. They are generally well balanced with strong bones and short coupled.

Their color coats are the main pattern that differentiates them from other stock-type breeds. Each horse is known to have its own defined color combination. palomino, black, Grulla bay, brown, cremello, chestnut, roan and etc.

But to be eligible for the American paint horse foundation, the horses must have strict requirements under bloodlines and body type except for their color patterns.

American paint horse

What are they good at?

It has the ability to make the heads turn in his direction. The horses’ stunning colors make them do that irrespective of their love for the horses.

They excel in western disciplines too. This includes reining, roping and cutting. They make excellent barrel racing horses because of their sensibility and quick speed. But they are mostly viewed as ranch horses. They are good for the rodeo, ranch work, kids use as beginners, trail riding and showing as well. Their potentials for being a sport horse, like dressage and jumping horses, is still under practice. There are some American paint horses who are successful in both English and western show rings or some others who excel on both ranch and the trail.

The Paint horses are known for their friendliness, easy-going temperament despite their unusual beauty. They are highly social horses standing relaxed at any given time and their natural intelligence makes them rewarding and easy to train.

Lets’ talk about the breed

This horse is a western stock horse. It has patches of white and dark colors. Their parents are either a quarter horse or a thoroughbred horse. Due to the defined body and shape these horse makes these horses a ‘horse’ breed and their distinctive colors make them a ‘ color’ breed as well.

They are a light horse breed. That means these horses generally weight under 1500 pounds. The typical use of these horses is to be used for riding and trail riding. Their swift and agile movement makes them perfect for racetracks, showings and ranch work.

Light horse breeds are categorized according to 3 parameters!

  • Continent or country of origin
  • Training type (stock type, hunter type, saddle type or other)
  • Other

Buckskin paint horse

Remember the movie Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron? Well, the main star is a Buckskin horse. These horses make a part of the paint horse clan. They own a cream color body with black points. The International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) was established in 1971. But their color is not just limited to paint horses. There are other breeds such as quarter horses holding the gene.

Physical description

These horses stand between 14 to 16 hands in height. The paint horse has a firm and muscular neck, a muscular short back with strong legs, mid-sized ears coupled with intelligence eyes and shoulders which are sloping.

When the horse is a crossbreed of a thoroughbred, it becomes taller than this. The weight would also range from 950 – 1200 pounds. On average, the life span of this horse goes up to 30 years.

He is known for his amiability than other horses. They are easy trainers to be trained in performance competitions and ideal companion outside the ring.

The breed of paint horses is crossbred with American quarter horses which resulted in cow-horse types that are heavily muscled. They have broad chests, low centers of gravity making them balanced easily and strong hindquarters.

When they are crossed with thoroughbreds, the race type paint horses are born. The registry allows the American quarter horse and thoroughbred entrances into the registry. But they must meet the color specifications.

More about the physical features…

When we consider the horse in general, their coat patterns are interspersed with roaming; also known as white hairs. And on the other hand, any regular color coating combines with the white color or white color markings will be found in g=horses with two coat colors.

As long as the breed carried a gene for the colored coat, it can be registered as a paint horse. Therefore, many solid color horses qualify as paints. Some paint horses are also within the Pinto horse registry where the Pinto registry welcomes any breed regardless of their ancestry, but the color specifications must be met.

The breed registry allows a wide range of variation of horses for breeding because they can have more colorful offspring when compared with their parents. Other than the color, there are conformation standards to follow as well.

Horse Care and health

The paint horses can survive with a minimal vitamin supply and a mineral supply with a diet of grass hay. They should not be overfed as they have problems related to obesity. Like laminitis.

An American Paint Horses’ hooves are made out of keratin. Their brain space in the head is less than that of their teeth. They breathe across their nose rather than their mouth.

Their maintenance is generally low and they can be adapted to any setting quickly. They seem like the lazy type, but when compared to the other horse breeds, they need less amount of exercises to stay healthy and fit. Like the Mustangs, the ancestors of paint horse ran wild in America and then they developed with time into being consuming simple nutritional requirements.

If a paint horse is well cared for, they are not prone to any disease conditions. These horses are easy keepers. The owner should be responsible enough to keep the horse exercised and not overfed. Some horses carry a lethal white gene; OLWS, or overo lethal white syndrome. Foals with these genetics tend to be born normal. But they lack a functioning colon and looks pure white in color. And they die after suffering for a few weeks. There is no cure for this. If the symptoms are identified, usually the horses are put down for their own good. The recessive gene is statistically passed on 50% from time to time. To avoid the breeding of the OWLS, a DNA blood test is performed.


The paint horse prices can be considered as reasonable. Leisure riding horses usually cost under $5000. But the price drastically increases with the show records and the professional training gained by the paint horse.

A few paint horses who went down in history! 

Painted Joe

A black tobiano stallion of 1939. He was a legend to the racehorses because of his running ability. He was a champion performer and a sire.

Mister J Bar

A sorrel overo of 1961. Earned 5 national and reserve championships in halter and roping and as a sire. Known for his athletic ability as well.

Yellow Mount

The first horse to become APHA champion. He was born in 1964, Overo stallion yellow mount. This horse was a great influence on the paint horses. He was among the 39 horses who have earned the title of APHA Supreme Champion.

Did you know?

The American Paint horse has been known to reach the 55 – 60 mph which is one of the reasons why they are favored by the cowboys and ranchers.

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