Meet the Paint Horse

Paint horse mare and foal in a field.
One of the many coat markings of Paint Horses. Image Credit:Mark Newman/ Lonely Planet Images /Getty Images

Meet the Paint Horse:

The Paint Horse is a very popular breed. Many people like the distinctive coat patterns that can be found which can be any combination of white and bay, black, palomino, chestnut or other color. The pattern of the colors can vary greatly. In this way,  Paint Horses are like snowflakes. No two are precisely the same. Some Paint Horses are a solid or almost solid color. The breed registry allows for this because horses used for breeding have the potential to have offspring that are more colorfully marked than their parents.

And, the breed has conformation standards too. So color is not the only distinctive aspect of the Paint Horse.

Body Type:

The Paint Horse breed is not just a color breed, but one with specific characteristics beyond coat color. The body type is typical of cattle horses. The breed has been frequently cross bred with American Quarter Horses, so many are heavily muscled cow horse types. In fact, one of the early Paint Horse registries was called American Paint Stock Horse Association and endeavored to preserve the stock “cow horse” type. Because Paint Horses can be out-crossed with Thoroughbred, racier body types exist. The registry allows full Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses entrance into the registry, provided they meet the specifications for color.

Average Size:

The Paint is usually between 14.2 HH and 15.2 HH. The average weight is from 950 to 1200 lbs. Paint Horses with Thoroughbred bloodlines can be taller than average.


Paint Horses are ridden and driven in almost every English and western discipline. You’ll find Paint Horses barrel racing, jumping in the stadium and cross-country, working cattle, trail riding, combined driving and much more. This is a very versatile breed, with representatives in almost every sport you could wish to compete in.

And, many excel at a variety of sports as well. So you’ll find Paint Horses that are successful in both the English and western show ring. Or, that are great trail horses that do well in another discipline.

Color and Markings:

There are several distinct color patterns seen on Paint Horses. These are general descriptions. The American Paint Horse Association has detailed explanations of coat colors and combinations.

Tobiano is a dark and white coat pattern, with solid dark over one or both flanks, white legs, head dark with regular facial patterns such as stars, blaze, strips. The markings are smooth and regular shaped. Horses may have tail or mane hair in two colors.

Overo is solid color over the horse’s back, legs are dark with regular stockings. The face is mainly white. The tail and mane are usually solid colors.

 A Sabino horse is mainly solid color, with white patches that have 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.

Tovero horses are mainly white on their body, while the upper head area is a  dark color. The eyes may be blue and they are dark colored over their chest and flanks.

As long as the horse carries the genes for a colored coat, they may be registered as a Paint Horse, so many horses are solid colored.

All coat patterns may be interspersed with white hairs or ‘roaning’. Any regular coat color may combine with white and sometimes two coat colors plus white are seen.

History and Origins:

The Paint Horse registry is the second largest breed registry in the world, after the American Quarter Horse registry, and followed by the Appaloosa registry. Although horses with two or more colors have been popular a long time, the registry only began in 1965, despite there being several groups already recording and promoting Paint Horses. Many Paint Horses trace their lineage back to the wild horses bred by Native Americans who prized colorful coat patterns and to those living freely on the plains.

The first stallion registered was a black and white tobiano named Bandits Pinto. From somewhat tumultuous beginnings, the registry has grown with members enjoying their Paint Horses around the world.

Unique Characteristics:

The colored coat pattern distinguishes this breed of horse. But the breed is not just about color as there is a distinctive body type as well. Some Paint Horses are also registered with the Pinto Horse registry, which allows any breed, regardless of ancestry, as long as the coat color meets their specifications.

Paint Horse Champions and Celebrities:

Paint Horse Legends website has an extensive list of foundation Paint Horses, with links to descriptions and photos.