The American Paint Horse is an eye-catching breed with distinctive colouring and stock horse bloodlines. This American breed shares ancestry with the Quarter Horse, which deliberately excluded horses with pinto coat patterns from their breed registry.

Paint Horses are adored by a loyal fan base of riders thanks to their willing dispositions and colourful coat patterns.  Unfortunately, the same genes responsible for specific Paint coat patterns can contribute to genetic disorders.

Founded initially to preserve colourful horses ineligible for AQHA registration, the American Paint Horse is now one of the most popular breeds in North America.

This article will review the history, origins, breed characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of American Paint Horses. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for this colourful breed.

American Paint Horse History

The multicoloured ancestors of Paint Horses served as mounts for conquistadors, indigenous tribes, and cowboys throughout American history. But their colourful coats weren’t always considered a favourable trait.


The first record of paint-coloured horses in North America dates back to 1519 when multi-coloured horses accompanied the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés across the Atlantic. [1]

Now infamous for the atrocities he committed against indigenous people, Cortés rode these horses during an expedition that led to the fall of the Aztec empire and the Spanish conquest of Mexico. [2]

Letters from Bernal Díaz, one of Cortés’ soldiers, describe several of the expedition’s spotted warhorses. The Spanish used the term pintado, or pinto, to refer to a multicoloured horse. These letters suggest Cortes personally rode a sorrel and white pinto stallion. [1]

History scholars believe that horses brought to the Americas on Spanish expeditions are the ancestors of feral populations of horses that eventually roamed western plains. Some wild horses displayed pinto coats similar to those described in Díaz’s letters. [3]

Research suggests that Spanish horses had Andalusian, Barb, and Arabian bloodlines. Direct descendants of these horses, called Spanish Barbs, played significant roles in developing the American Mustang, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, and Paint Horse. [3]

Historic Use

By the first half of the 17th century, feral horses spread through the northern Rockies and central plains. Local people domesticated these horses, and they became integrated into many indigenous cultures well before the arrival of colonial settlers on the western frontier. [4]

Many indigenous people preferred the flashy colouring of pinto horses, and selective breeding programs helped proliferate the coat pattern. Breeding programs also favoured versatile horses with willing dispositions for hunting, battle, and transport. [4]

These horses were crossed with working horses owned by American settlers to produce the ideal stock horses for western ranching operations. Many of these horses inherited multicoloured coat patterns from their pinto ancestors.

When the American Quarter Horse began the official breed registry for these stock horses, excessive white markings were considered an undesirable trait for the Quarter Horse breed. [5]

Before breeders understood horse coat colour inheritance, they believed that “cropout” colouring with excessive white indicated non-purebred breeding.

As a result, the pinto stock horses of the American West were excluded from registration. The American Paint Horse breed emerged from a concerted effort to preserve these horses and their unique coat patterns.

Breed Registry

The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) is the official breed registry of the American Paint Horse. This organization was founded in 1962 after the merger of the American Paint Quarter Horse Association and the American Paint Stock Horse Association.

Unlike the Pinto Horse Association, which registers horses with pinto colouring regardless of ancestry, the APHA only registers horses that meet colour and bloodline requirements. [6] To be eligible for registration, Paint Horses must have parents registered with the APHA, AQHA, or the Jockey Club.

Horses with characteristic coat patterns receive regular registration, while solid-coloured horses with at least one Paint parent are recorded in the breeding stock registry.

Today, the APHA maintains a registry of almost 800,000 American Paint Horses. The organization is also one of the fastest-growing breed registries in the world, with 50,000 new registrations each year. [5]

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Breed Characteristics

Because of the bloodline requirements of the APHA, breed standards for Paints extend beyond coat colour. American Paint Horses also have characteristic conformations and temperaments that make them well-suited for Western disciplines.


American Paint Horses are a stock breed with conformation that strongly resembles their shared bloodlines with the Quarter Horse. Some Paint Horses with Thoroughbred parentage may have a lighter body type.

Most Paint Horses stand between 14 and 16 hands tall. The ideal American Paint Horse has a stocky build with powerful muscling. These horses are generally well-balanced, strong-boned, and short-coupled.

Colour patterns differentiate the Paint Horse from other stock breeds with similar conformation.

Paint Coat Patterns

Equestrians use many terms to describe multicoloured patterns in horses, but the APHA only recognizes three main patterns that result from different combinations of Paint colour genes. These coat patterns include tobiano, overo, and tovero.

Paint colour patterns are identified by the location of white on the horse, not the colour of the coat. Paint horses come in multiple coat colours and often have other unique markings associated with Paint genetics.


Tobiano Paints usually have a dark colour on their flanks and white over their backs somewhere between their withers and tails. Most tobianos also have four white legs with regular spots that form ovals or round patterns over the neck and chest.

Their faces are usually dark, and face markings resemble a solid horse. Any horse carrying the dominant TO gene will display a tobiano colouring. However, some tobianos are mistaken for solid colours if they have minimal white markings. [7]


Overo Paints usually don’t have white crossing their back between the withers and tails. The white is generally irregular, scattered, and splashy. Most overos also have at least one dark leg and distinctive head markings.

Research into the genetics responsible for overo patterns is ongoing. Overo paints include three genetically distinct patterns: frame overo, sabino, and splashed white. [8]

Frame overo refers to the typical overo colouring, while sabino overos have white spotting that extends from the horse’s legs in ragged patches onto the horse’s belly and body.

Sabinos occur in many breeds, but frame overos only appear in horses with Spanish ancestry. [9]

Splashed white overo is the least common spotting pattern. These horses appear dipped in white paint, with white covering the legs, head, and bottom portions of the body.


Many Paint Horses have combinations of genes responsible for tobiano and overo coat patterns. As a result, coat patterns on these horses can be challenging to classify.

If the offspring of a tobiano and overo Paint Horse exhibit characteristics of both coat patterns, the APHA recognizes the horse’s pattern as tovero. [10]

Toveros typically have more white than coloured hair, with dark pigmentation around the ears and flanks. Spots can vary in size but generally have regular patterns with distinct borders.

Coat Colours

The APHA recognizes 16 base coat colours in Paint Horses, which can combine wit