Choosing an American Paint Horse

The American paint horse is a breed of horse defined by his colored coat pattern and conformation. A versatile and intelligent horse, the paint horse has a long and illustrious history that can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Many people believe that the forefathers of the breed were originally brought to the United States by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Eventually, the descendants of these original horses became admired and prized by the American Indians, particularly the Comanche Indians. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the paint horse had become a popular western stock horse and cow pony.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, these spotted horses were called pintos, paints or piebalds. There was no central registry, and the color and conformation of these horses was not regulated. Eventually, in the late 1950s, a group was organized to preserve these beautiful horses. The original organization was the Pinto Horse Association. In 1962, another group was formed whose goal was to preserve the horse's coloration as well as conformation. Conformation was thought to be so important that a stock-type conformation became the first criteria used in establishing the registry.

This new organization was referred to as the American Paint Stock Horse Association. The first horse to be registered was a tobiano stallion named Bandits Pinto. Then, in 1965, the American Paint Stock Horse Association merged with the floundering American Paint Quarter Horse Association, which had only been in existence for less than three years. After the merger, the name of the organization was changed to American Paint Horse Association.

Today, the paint horse is bred for conformation and performance but the color pattern is just as important. To improve the quality of the breed, horses can be crossed with the quarter horse or thoroughbred but cannot be crossed with ponies, gaited horses or draft horses.

The American Paint Horse Association is the second largest registry in the United States. To be included in the registry, the horse must have one of the characteristic color patterns as well as a stock-horse body style. The horse must have a certain amount of white-over pink, unpigmented, skin. Also, the dam or sire of a horse must be registered with the American Paint Horse Association, the Jockey Club for thoroughbreds or the American Quarter Horse Association.


The most striking and obvious aspect of the paint horse is his appearance, which is some combination of white and a darker background color. In addition to a variety of color patterns, the paint horse is a compact and solidly built stock horse. The profile is straight and the eyes large. The neck is muscular and the ears average sized. The legs of the paint horse are solid and well muscled. This horse typically stands 15 to 16 hands.

Color Patterns

The paint horse comes in a variety of patterns. In the United States, most paints are generally referred to as either tobianos or overos. The overo term is usually given to any horse that is not a tobiano. This convention has resulted in a lumping together of three different color patterns that are referred to as overo. These color patterns are the frame overo, sabino spotting and splashed white, each a separate pattern. To make it even more confusing, a combination of tobiano and overo is referred to as a tovero. In addition to the white pattern, paint horses also have other colors, which include black, brown, chestnut, bay, grullo, sorrel, dun, buckskin, gray, roan or dun.


The tobiano is the most popular color pattern and is found in a variety of horse breeds. The term tobiano comes from the Brazilian General Tobias, whose troops rode spotted horses. The tobiano can vary from being nearly all dark with small amounts of white to nearly all white with little coloration. The tobiano pattern has feet and part of the legs white. The head is usually has some white but not as much as overos. The white on the body usually crosses the topline somewhere between the ears and tail. When compared to overos, the spots are usually oriented vertically. The eyes on the tobianos are often dark.

The tobiano pattern is dominant so every tobiano horse has at least a tobiano sire or dam.

Frame Overo

The frame overo is one of the more popular color patterns of paint horses. Horses with this pattern have a large amount of white on their heads and often have white spots on their necks and sides. The white patches are usually centered on the body or neck and are 'framed' by the colored areas that surround them. The pattern is typically horizontal and the white doesn't cross the topline. The feet and legs are often dark but white feet or socks are possible. Either one or both eyes are often blue.

Unfortunately, the overo coloration does play a significant negative role in breeding. If an overo is bred to an overo, it is possible for the fetus to be what is referred to as "lethal white." These foals either die in the uterus or die shortly after birth due to developmental problems. This is due to a genetic problem when certain genes of the overo are combined together.

Sabino Spotting

The sabino color pattern is another version of the overo and is nearly as popular as the frame overo and tobiano. It has also been referred to as the calico overo. They can look very similar and are often confused with the frame overo and tobiano. The term is Spanish for speckled or pale and is used to describe gray horses that appear "flea bitten" or mottled. These horses typically have four white feet and white legs. The white color usually extends up the legs in patches and continues onto the horse's belly and body. The head is usually predominantly white and most horses have blue eyes.

Splashed White

Splashed white is an uncommon color pattern that makes the horse look like he had been dipped in white paint. The legs and bottom portion of the body of the splashed white horse are usually white. The head is typically white and the eyes are blue. Some people describe these horses as vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate poured on top.


The tovero is a mix of the tobiano and overo. These horses typically have dark coloration around the ears and mouth, which may extend onto the forehead or up the sides of the face. The white spots on the face may be of varying sizes and may extend up the neck. The spots on the flanks also vary in size and may be associated with smaller spots that extend over the loin.


The paint horse is an excellent riding horse, show horse, racehorse and youth program horse. His versatility makes him a beloved athletic and stock horse.