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11 Fascinating Paint Horse Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

11 Fascinating Paint Horse Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

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Paint Horses are easy to recognize from their unique and colorful coats. Once rejected from the equestrian community, they have grown to be one of the most popular horse breeds in North America.

Most Paint Horses display a combination of white and another color: bay, black, brown, or chestnut. Less common base colors include palomino, buckskin, dun, cream, champagne, and roan.

Generally, Paints are muscular horses with powerful hindquarters and a height ranging from 14 to 16 hands.

While the breed is most prevalent in Western disciplines, many Paint Horses are talented hunters or jumpers. They are also ideal as beginners’ horses as they are typically calm and obedient.

Here are 11 fascinating facts about Paint Horses.

1. Colored horses have been around since 500 A.D.

The origins of Paint Horses go back much further than you might have expected. According to Horse Racing Sense, the first records of these colorful horses are dated around the 5th century A.D.

A more recent mention of “marked horses” can be found in the diary of Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes from 1519. These horses were called “pintos” at the time and traveled with the conquistadors to the New World. They are thought to be the founders of the modern Paint Horse breed.

Portrait of a Paint Horse standing in a field
Lenkadan /

It didn’t take long for Native American tribes to fall in love with this gorgeous horse breed. They valued their unique looks, calm manners, and athleticism. A Paint stallion was often the steed of choice for great tribe leaders and warriors.

The Comanche Indians were particularly known for taking a liking to the breed. They had large herds of Paint Horses roaming their lands and likely contributed to the breed’s modern looks and qualities.

3. The Paint Horse is not just a color breed

Many people confuse the term “pinto” with “paint,” thinking that all pintos are paint horses and vice versa. However, that is incorrect. “Pino” refers to any horse with white patches overlaid on a base coat color, regardless of breed.

On the other hand, Paint Horses form a separate breed defined by both color and body type.

The Paint Horse was initially developed from colored horses of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse breeding. The breed inherited the classic look of a western stock horse from its ancestors with a hint of athletic refinement.

Registered Paint Horses must have at least one parent also registered with the American Paint Horse Association (APHA). The other parent may be registered with the Jockey Club (Thoroughbreds), the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), and the APHA.

Also Read: 15 Interesting Facts About Thoroughbred Horses

4. Their white patches are one big white marking

At first glance, it might seem that a Paint Horse has two colors: white and brown/black. However, the truth is that the white patches are overlaid on the base coat color and are no different from a star or a blaze.

The reason for this lies in genetics. A Paint Horse carries two separate genes responsible for its colorful coat: one for white spotting and one for the base color. Therefore, the white sections of these horses are essentially one big white marking.

Beautiful Paint Horse portrait of the head and neck
Jana Mackova /

5. Solid colors are also accepted

Interestingly, the APHA allows the registration of solid-colored horses with Paint ancestry. These horses are called “Breeding Stock Paints” or “Solid Paint Breeds” and are typically registered within a separate subcategory to their pinto relatives.

For a non-spotted Paint to be eligible for APHA membership, it must carry one of the Paint pattern genes. The APHA carries out genetic testing for solid-colored horses that have applied for registration. Because they are carriers of the gene, these horses will often produce colored offspring.

Despite their lack of spotting, Solid Paint Breds can still participate in breed society shows and competitions. There are also several alternative programs and events horses can partake in.

6. The second-largest breed registry in North America

The APHA was founded in 1965 by Rebecca Tyler Lockhart, an enthusiastic advocate of colored horses. This breed society registered all the rejected horses of the recently formed AQHA. Because the AQHA excluded horses with pinto coloration or any white pattern above the knees and hocks, the APHA played an essential role in preserving and promoting these unique horses.

Since its establishment, the APHA has registered over 59 million horses. The breed society has been growing steadily from the start, and by 2011 the number of existing registrations surpassed 1 million.

With around 15,000 new horses registered each year, the APHA has become the second-largest breed registry in the U.S., exceeded only by the AQHA.

The APHA is also one of the most innovative breed registries out there. In 1980, the APHA allowed the registration of foals born via embryo transfer. Moreover, in 1995, the American Paint Horse became the first western breed to officially use transported chilled semen in breeding.

7. Paint Horses can have different colored eyes

Heterochromia is not uncommon in the Paint Horse breed. While most horses have dark brown or amber eyes, Paint Horses are prone to having blue (unpigmented) eyes. They may have two blue eyes, one blue and one brown (heterochromia), or eyes with blue and brown colors (central heterochromia).

Paint Horse with blue eyes and black background
AnetaZabranska /

Horses with the overo spotting pattern have an even higher tendency for blue eyes. However, this doesn’t mean they are more susceptible to eye diseases or blindness.

Also, read more about horses with blue eyes (breeds, facts & FAQs).

8. There are white Paint Horses

Very rarely, Paint Horses displaying the dominant white coat color are born. These horses are pure white as their base color matches their white spotting pattern.

Dominant white horses are different from albinos, as they have unpigmented skin and dark eyes. No true albinos have ever been recorded in the species. Dominant white horses also don’t carry the Overo Lethal White Syndrome gene and are born healthy.

9. Each Paint Horse is unique

There are no two Paint Horses with the exact same color and pattern. Each horse is unique, so if you’re looking for a truly one-of-a-kind mount, a Paint Horse might be the perfect buy!

Within the breed, there are three major spotting patterns: tobiano, over, and tovero. The tobiano is the most common and includes horses with white legs and white atop the back between the withers and the tail. Tobianos usually have more white than dark on their coat and a dark head that may feature regular white markings.

In contrast, horses with overo spotting patterns have more dark than white, and a white face often has blue eyes. Their spots are irregular and rarely cross the back or spread onto the legs.

There are three subcategories within the overo coloration: sabino, frame, and splashed white.

Paint horse cantering in a field
Alla-Berlezova /

Finally, tovero horses are a combination of the tobiano and overo spotting patterns. An example would be a horse with a dark head and blue eyes. (Source: Wikipedia)

10. There are Paint racehorses

The American Paint Horse is an extremely versatile breed. Considering that they are the descendants of the world’s two fastest horse breeds, it’s not surprising that Paint Horses also excel on the racetrack.

According to Horse Racing Sense, the APHA launched the first-ever Paint Horse race in 1966. The first APHA National Championship Futurity (1970) winner was a two-year-old chestnut overo called Slow Daner.

The most famous Paint racehorse to date is perhaps Got Country Grip. The solid-colored Paint ran undefeated for 16 races, but failed to beat the modern world record of 17 consecutive wins by a Thoroughbred called Silent Witness. Overall, Got Country Grip won 17 of his 21 races, an awe-inspiring feat.

Another famous Paint racehorse was Charlie Dee Lux, who won the first European Paint Horse race in 1993. Paint Horse races are similar to Quarter Horse races in length, testing speed over a short distance. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many successful Paint runners descend from Quarter Horse racing champions.

11. Five different Paint Horses played Hidalgo

Hidalgo (2004) is a Western horse movie based on the true story of Frank T. Hopkins, a famed endurance rider.

Hopkins and his pinto Mustang Hidalgo take on the challenge of participating in the 3,000 mile Ocean of Fire horse race. It is known as the world’s longest and toughest survival race stretching across the Arabian desert.

Horse called Hidalgo in the movie, Hidalgo (2004)

Set in the 19th century, the movie soon became a top favorite in equestrian circles. Horse Properties revealed that Five different American Paint Horses played Hidalgo. One of these horses was RH Tecontender, a.k.a. T.J.

Lead actor Viggo Mortensen and T.J. developed a close bond during filming. Not wanting to say goodbye to his beloved steed, Mortensen reportedly purchased T.J. at the end of production for $1.5 million.

Also read, 8 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Hidalgo.


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

I have a quarter horse, registered as a paint, who has been a solid sorrel most his life, but has suddenly grown a spattering of white hair on his back. Any idea??

Tanya Selth

Wednesday 23rd of March 2022

@Sandy, that's a sign of the horse having an ill fitting saddle

Linda Hageman

Saturday 20th of November 2021

@Sandy, Could be from the saddle. I had a horse that did that and it was only where the saddle went on his back.


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Hi, the reference to paint horses as a species in the article is incorrect. They do not fit the scientific definition and can still readily breed with other horse breeds to produce fertile offspring.

Henrietta Szathmary

Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Hi Baker,

Thank you for your comment, although there appears to be a misunderstanding. In that paragraph about albinism, I talk about horses in general, not just the Paint Horse breed.

Hope this clears it up!