The Perfect Paint Horse

Paint Horse

Paint horses, or pintos as they are often called, look as though they should be a horse of a darker color that accidentally met with a bucket of white paint. (Hence, the name “paint” horses.) There is so much about the paint horse you should know if the horse breed is of particular interest to you.

Paint vs. Pinto Lingo Explained

paint horse

All American paint horses can be pintos, but not all pintos can be paints. This sounds very confusing until you understand that the paint horses are an actual breed registered with the National Paint Registry, but the pinto horse just refers to the color pattern, coat colour, white markings, and overo pattern.

For example, a gypsy vanner pony can be pinto-colored, but it is clearly not a paint horse; it is a gypsy vanner pony by origin of its bloodlines. Conversely, any equine that might be considered part of the paint breed cannot be a paint if the horse’s dam or sire isn’t one of three equine breeds accepted by the National Registry as an acceptable breeding sire or dam to mix with a paint dam or sire.

The Temperament of a Paint

paint horse

Despite the fact that many of these horses were originally feral wild horses and roamed the plains, and that Native Americans allowed their horses to roam free until they needed them to hunt or chose to house them in winter, the temperament of these animals is very even and genteel.

You might expect a paint to have the temperament of a mustang, but they are much quieter and more docile. It is one of the biggest reasons why so may people love paint horses, along with their spotting pattern and markings, blue eyes common to the breed, and/or tri-colored bay paints with black stockings.

They are exceptionally easy to train, too, making them a joy to train to saddle and bridle (e.g., English, Western, or Dressage), driving, jumping, gymkhana, or just about any other type of training you want your equine friend to do. They want to please their humans, so paint horses always work hard to get the training right. A simple lump of sugar can get them to repeat the same trick or expected action over and over again.

Easy Going Nature

paint horse

Their easygoing nature makes them well-suited to hanging out in paddocks with all kinds of large animals. They will not bite or bother cattle, and they usually are not the instigators of an equine squabble in the field. In fact, they are most often the ones that take the brunt of a crabbier, less well-behaved animal, so it may be a good idea to separate more aggressive horses from the herd and put them elsewhere to graze.

You will also find that if you choose to adopt a paint that was a rescue animal, and it was part of a neglected and mistreated herd, they don’t hold a grudge. They quickly acclimate to a healthier, kinder environment and are willing to please. Their amiability, even in light of past misuse or abuse, makes them great horses for kids and a first-time horse owner.

The Paint‘s Many Markings

paint horse

No two paint horses are exactly alike. Not even twin foals will have the exact same markings. A paint’s coat pattern is as unique to each of these horses as fingerprints are to humans. Even if you owned a hundred of these horses you would never have two that even closely match each other. That is half the fun of paint horses.

Paint horses also come in three varieties. These varieties include:

  • Overo: The white “paint” on the animal is coming up from its belly. It stops before it gets to the spine and it never, ever crosses the spine. If you have an equine that even has the littlest bit of white cross the spine, you have a Tobiano, not an Overo, despite how the rest of the markings look.
  • Tobiano: The white “paint” splashes downward from the horse’s spine to the belly. It may stop before it reaches the lower areas of the animal. The Tobiano paint also has a mane and tail of mixed colors, where the Overo only has a dark mane and tail.
  • Solid Color: The solid paint is still a paint when one of its parents is a paint. The resulting lack of white markings means that the foal’s recessive genes for all solid dark color took over. These horses often become breeding stock because they can reintroduce the dark color genes back into a herd.

Additionally, it is usually only the Overo paints that have a “bald” face, a striking white mask that extends over the whole of the face from eye to eye and forelock to muzzle. It is unlikely that you will see this type of face marking in a Tobiano, although Tobianos may sport other facial markings.

Verifying That a Paint Is a Paint Before You Buy It

paint horse

If you want a true paint, there are ways to verify that it is a paint. Otherwise you are just buying a pinto.

First and foremost, ask the seller for papers. Every paint that is a full-blooded paint should be part of a registry, or have at least one parent that is on the registry to be considered a paint. If the seller doesn’t have papers and cannot prove that one or both parents is registered, you are just buying a pinto-colored horse. If the seller refuses, you may want to be very careful about this purchase.

Secondly, there are genetic tests for horses. You can request a thorough examination of the animal with your vet and the vet can take a blood sample to send to a genetic testing lab. It takes a while to get the results back, unfortunately, but at least you would know for certain if the animal is part of the paint breed. This is often how people figure out what they have after they have already purchased their horses and realize that maybe they should have had their horses tested beforehand.

If you opt for the genetic testing, then you can also have the test for Tobiano/Overo markers performed. This part of the genetic test will tell you what horses and coat patterns were used to bring your animal into existence. I also helps if you intend to breed your animal to another paint. Keep in mind that a thoroughbred, a quarter horse, and one other breed are acceptable bloodlines ONLY if one of these breeds is one of the two parents of your equine.

Size and Conformation of a Paint

paint horse

Paint horses vary quite a bit in height. This is due to the fact that their lineage aligns with the feral horses tamed by Native Americans that were originally brought to this country by the Spanish and the horses more commonly used to continue the breed. An American quarter horse is quite a bit taller than the Iberian horses brought by the Spanish, and a thoroughbred can get quite tall as well.

Ergo, paint horses typically measure somewhere between fourteen hands, the size of a large pony, to seventeen hands, nearly the size of a draft animal. You should never use height as a means of determining if an animal is a paint or just a pinto. Height, however, can be a determining factor when deciding how tall you want your pet to be in comparison to your own height and ability to mount your pet for a ride.


What is a breeding stock paint? A paint that does not have white on their body. They may a blotch on the nose or a very small amount around the coronary band. They are generally black and tan.