The American Paint Horse originated in North America after Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes brought 17 horses sporting distinct coat patterns to the New World in the year 1519. These spotted war horses were likely mixes of Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian bloodlines. From that brief description, we can imagine they must have had distinctive spots and two-tone coloring. In fact, many experts believe explorer Hernando Cortes himself had a particular sorrel-and-white stallion upon which he explored north western Mexico and it’s from this striking horse the modern paint breed might be descended. The Spanish term pintado or “pinto” was commonly used to describe a multicolored or dappled horse. Ancestors of these horses ended up roaming the western plains, and became coveted favourites of the American Indians because of their flashy coats and endurance.

American Paint Stock Horse Association (APSHA) was formed in 1962 to preserve the colour and stock-type conformation of these horses; in 1965 the APSHA merged with the American Paint Quarter Horse Association to form the American Paint Horse Association, which is currently one of the largest breed registries in North America, registering about 30,000 horses per year.

paint horse

American Paint Horse. Bob Langrish photo

Each Paint Horse has a particular combination of white and another color of the equine spectrum. Horses with white spots combined with black, bay, brown, and chestnut or sorrel are the most common. Horses with spot colors influenced by dilution genes such as palomino, buckskin, cremello, perlino, pearl and champagne are less common. It’s also possible to find paints that are various shades of roan, or various shades of dun, including grullo. Paints may also carry the gray gene and have spots that eventually fade to white hair, though retaining pigmented skin underneath the areas that were once dark.

Spots can be any shape or size, except leopard complex patterning, (which is more characteristic of the Appaloosa),  anywhere on the Paint’s body. Although Paints come in a variety of colors with different markings and different underlying genetics, these are grouped into only four defined coat patterns: overo (includes frame, splash and sabino), tobiano and tovero and solid.

Breeding Stock Paints can sometimes showcase small color traits, particularly if they carry sabino genetics. Such traits include blue eyes, pink skin on lips and nostrils, roan spots, and minimal roaning.

American Paint House Colours and Patterns

The American Paint Horse’s most common coat colours are black, bay, brown, and chestnut or sorrel with white spots or patches; occasionally palomino, buckskin, cremello, perlino, pearl, champagne, roan, grey, or dun are seen. The patterns are defined as:

Overo – predominantly dark or white with solid colour over the back, legs are dark with regular stockings. The face is mainly white (bald-faced, apron-faced or bonnet-faced). The tail and mane are usually a solid colour. Three main overo patterns are sabino, frame, and splashed white.

Overo includes Sabino – almost all one color, but with some white patches with irregular edges. The legs are white and the face has extensive white markings. Patches are of varying sizes, from large areas of the body to small flecks. The sabino’s base coat color isn’t solid, but mixed with white hairs.

Certain patterns have their own names, the most famous being a ‘medicine hat’ which is a dark-colored patch on the horse’s head. Horses distinguished by this marking usually have a predominately white coat, and sometimes a dark shield-like pattern across their chest. Native Americans believed such markings carried special spiritual protection as they rode into battle.

Tobiano – dark and white coat pattern, with solid dark over one or both flanks, white legs below the hocks and knees (or higher), head dark with regular facial patterns such as star, blaze, or strip. The markings are smooth and round or oval-shaped. Tail or mane may be bi-coloured.

Tovero – mainly white, while the upper head area is a dark color. One or both eyes may be blue; chest and flanks dark-coloured, sometimes neck. Dark pigmentation around the ears and mouth, which may expand to forehead and/or eyes. Spots on flanks ranging in size, often accompanied by smaller spots that extend across the barrel and over the loin.

Solid –  Some paint horses appear to be entirely solid colour.  Solid Paint-Bred horses exist in abundance. The lack of color and pattern does not mean horse owners cannot register with the Canadian Paint Horse Association. Even if the foals do not have flashy color patterns, the CPHA’s wide array of programs are open to all CPHA-registered horses.


Are Paint horses easy to take care of?

Yes. The Paint horse is a relatively low maintenance breed that does well in most settings all over the world. The breed thrives in pasture or in a barn or box stall. They tend to be on the lazy side, and generally require less exercise to stay healthy than other breeds. Like the mustang, the Paint horse’s ancestors ran wild in the Americas, and they developed into a hardy breed with simple nutritional requirements.  They eat grass or hay with minimal vitamin and mineral supplements. But it’s important to not overfeed your Paint horse as they have a tendency towards obesity and its related problems, specifically laminitis.


How big is a Paint horse?

Midsize at best, the average paint horse stands between 14 hands (56 inches) and 16 hands (64 inches) on average. Those with thoroughbred heritage are typically on the taller side. The average weight ranges from 430kg to 500 kg (950 lbs to 1,20o lbs).  A registered Paint horse should possess the same stock horse-type body seen in Quarter Horses, being muscular but not too heavy or too tall, with powerful hindquarters.

*Note: The terms “paint” and “pinto” are sometimes confused. A pinto may generally be of any breed or combination of breeds; an American Paint Horse must have registered American Quarter Horse, American Paint Horse, or Thoroughbred parents. Hence Paint horses can be registered as pintos, but not all pintos can be registered as Paints.

What are Paint horses used for?

American Paint Horse. Bob Langrish photo

Paint horses are a light horse breed typically used as pleasure riding horses for lessons, trail rides and ranch work. Due to the horse’s stamina and temperament, the Paint horse is used in a variety of equestrian disciplines. Paints are common sights at rodeos, Western shows which highlight reining, barrel racing, trail riding, and English riding on the flat and over fences.

They’re found all over Canada and especially in areas where Western pleasure riding, reining and other Western events are popular.  Paints are also ridden English in hunt seat or show jumping competitions.

For more info, visit:
American Paint Horse Association