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The Paint horse is a popular American horse breed that’s famous for its unique and colorful coats. However, these horses are more than just a color breed as they descend from Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred bloodlines. As a result, Paints not only have dashing looks but are also talented athletes.
In simple terms, the flashy coats of Paint horses are made up of white and dark areas of hair. Because no two Paint horses are the same, they are one of the most unique horse breeds in the world.
Interestingly, the white patches of the breed are no different from any other white markings.
Just like a star or a blaze, the Paint’s white pattern overlays the horse’s base coat color, which can be any existing color in horses.
The Three Types of Paint Horse Colors
The main three types of Paint horse colors are tobiano, overo, and tovero. However, there are many different variations within these three main types, with overo having several variations.
Some Paint horses also display traits associated with their coat color, such as roaning, blue eyes, and pink skin on the muzzle. This is most typical of horses with sabino genetics.
Tobiano is the most common color in Paint horses. The white pattern in tobiano horses is arranged on a vertical plane with more white than dark areas on the coat. The markings are typically rounded and extend onto the legs and across the back.
Moreover, tobiano horses often have dark heads with white markings like a star, strip, or a blaze. Their mane and tail can also be two-toned, depending on the arrangement of the patterns on the horse’s body.
Overo refers to a group of white patterns that typically have jagged, irregular edges and are arranged on a horizontal plane. Interestingly, the word means “like an egg” in Spanish and was used to describe spotted horses in South America.
Unlike tobianos, overo horses usually have more dark than white in their coat. Dark legs and backs are also typical in these horses, often combined with a white face and blue eyes.
The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) officially recognizes three overo variations. These are the frame overo, sabino, and splashed white. However, geneticists have identified other distinct variations of the pattern.
Frame overo is a common overo variation and is named so due to the solid-colored “frame” around the white markings. The patches inside the frame have irregular, sharp edges typical of the overo pattern.
Unfortunately, this striking color is associated with a genetic disorder known as Lethal White Syndrome. While this condition is relatively rare, horses that carry the gene can pass it on to their offspring.
Lethal white foals are born pure white with blue eyes and pink skin and appear healthy at first. However, they have an incomplete intestinal tract and should be humanely euthanized once identified.
Luckily, there is now genetic testing available to prevent such foals from being born. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the breeders to test their horses and avoid breeding two carriers to each other.
The calico pattern is the most diverse among all overo variations. Calico overos have irregular white patches scattered across their body in no particular arrangement.
This pattern is characterized by white on the legs that often connects to white patches on the body. Irregular head markings are also typical in calicos but don’t usually extend beyond the eyes.
Sabino is Spanish for “speckled”, which refers to the unique roaning pattern of these horses. However, sabinos are not to be confused with roans or rabicanos, as their coat is a variation of the overo pattern.
Sabino horses typically have high white markings on the legs, belly spots, and white on the face extending past the eyes. Their patches are often surrounded by roaning, which can occur anywhere on the horse’s body.
Splashed white horses look like they’ve been dipped into white paint, giving these horses truly unique looks. This relatively rare pattern features blue eyes and white markings involving the legs, belly, and head.
Depending on how loud the pattern is, splashed white overos may have a white tail and markings extending just beneath the topline.
True to their name, medicine hat horses are nearly pure white with color only showing on the ears and poll area.
This rare white pattern can derive from both overo and tovero bloodlines. Pigmented areas are sometimes found on the horse’s back, flank, thorax, and tail head.
Bald face overos are mostly solid-colored with white markings limited to the head and lower legs. They are easy to recognize from their blue eyes, pink muzzle, and wide facial marking.
As the name suggests, toveros combine both tobiano and overo characteristics. An example of this pattern would be an overo that has white on its back or a tobiano with a dark head and blue eyes.
Solid Paint Horses
Although less common than their colored counterparts, solid Paint horses do exist. These horses are still eligible for registration with the APHA despite not having a recognized white pattern.
Solid Paint horses are mostly black, bay, and chestnut, but can be virtually any color. Due to their genetic background, they will often produce offspring with white patterns.
While solid Paints cannot take part in certain breed shows, the APHA offers alternative programs for these horses.
What Is the Rarest Paint Horse Color?
The rarest Paint horse color is the medicine hat, a variation of the overo and tovero patterns. Medicine hat horses are mostly white with colored hair only found in the poll region and occasionally other body parts.
Native Americans believed medicine hat horses had special powers and that no harm can come to those who ride them. As a result, they were frequently ridden by the tribe’s most esteemed members – the healers or medicine men – during a battle.
Other uncommon Paint horse colors include sabino, splashed white and solid colors.
Also read: 15 Rarest Horse Colors in the World
What Is the Difference Between a Pinto and a Paint Horse?
Pinto and Paint are often used interchangeably in the horse world, and many people are unsure whether there is a difference between the two terms.
Pinto is a color pattern in horses comprised of white and dark areas of hair. Whereas, Paint is the name of a horse breed developed from Thoroughbred and Quarter horse bloodlines.
While most Paint horses have pinto coloration, coat color is not the primary determinant of the breed. Bloodlines play a much more important role in setting the Paint apart from other breeds.
Whereas, there are many horse breeds that can have pinto coat colors. A few examples are the Gypsy Vanner, Welsh Cob, Mustang, Miniature horse, Icelandic horse, and American Saddlebred.
Now that you know the difference between pinto and Paint, you can go out and educate others about the correct usage of the terms!
Also read: 11 Interesting Facts About Paint Horses