The American Paint Horse

The history, characteristics, and modern use of the American Paint Horse.


Among the most popular breeds, the American Paint Horse continues to grow in popularity. Versatile in abilities and in coat colors and patterns, it is clear more why the Paint has become a favorite among equestrians. Learn more about the foundation of this breed and its common characteristics.

American Paint Horse History

In 1519, the explorer Hernando Cortes carried two horses described as having pinto markings on his voyage. This is the first known description of such horses in America. By the early 1800s, horses with Paint coloring were well-populated throughout the West.

Black and white overo Paint Horse
The overo pattern usually includes white on the belly, a darker color over the back and a mostly white head. Photo from Shutterstock

A favorite among Native Americans, the loud-colored Paint Horses were particularly well-liked by the Comanche Indian tribe. Evidence of this is found in drawings painted on buffalo robes.

Throughout the 1800s and into the late 1900s these painted horses were called pinto, paint, skewbald and piebald. In the early 1960s, interest grew in preserving and promoting horses with paint coloring and stock horse builds. In 1965 the American Paint Horse Association (APHA) formed, and today, the breed is extremely popular in traditional western events as well as a variety of other riding disciplines.

Pinto Horse Cantering
Photo by Janpla01/

Breed Characteristics

American Paint Horses sport a combination of white and any other color of the equine spectrum: black, bay, brown, chestnut, dun, grullo, sorrel, palomino, buckskin, gray or roan.

Markings come in any shape or size and can be located anywhere on the horse’s body. The variety of colors and markings appear in three specific coat patterns: overo, tobiano and tovero. These horses average 14.2 to 16.2 hands high.

For More Information

Further Reading:

This article first appeared with Horse Illustrated magazine in 2006. Click here to subscribe!


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