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Horse Riding and Training

What’s the Difference Between a Paint Horse and a Pinto?

What is the Difference Between a Paint Horse vs. a Pinto?

The short answer between the differences of a Paint Horse vs. a pinto is that Paint is a breed based on bloodlines, and pinto is a coat color pattern that can be found in horses of many different breeds. The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

Paints and pintos typically have one thing in common: a flashy coat featuring patches of white and a solid color, such as bay, black or chestnut. Beyond that, there are many differences.

For one, a Paint Horse is a breed that, according to the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), “has strict bloodline requirements and a distinctive stock-horse body type.” Paint Horses can only have the bloodlines of Quarter Horses, Paint Horses or Thoroughbreds in their pedigrees. In order to qualify for registration with the APHA, their sire and dam must be registered with the APHA, the American Quarter Horse Association or the Jockey Club (the breed registry for Thoroughbreds). 

What Kind of Horse is a Pinto?

On the other hand, “pinto” is a term that refers to the colorful coat pattern and is not the name of a particular breed of horse. Any horse that displays one of several coat patterns is considered a pinto. Breeds that commonly produce pinto horses include the American Saddlebred, Gypsy Horse and Miniature Horse. Breeds such as the Spotted Saddle Horse and Spotted Draft Horse are exclusively pintos. 

Paint Horses traditionally have pinto coat patterns. However, horses from APHA-registered stock that do not have pinto coloring can still be registered with the APHA as “Solid Paint-Bred” horses, formerly known as “Breeding Stock” Paints.

There are two main registries for pinto horses—The Pinto Horse Association of America and the National Pinto Horse Registry—and each separates pintos into categories depending on their breeding and conformation. The Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association and the International Pattern Sporthorse Registry also accept pinto horses. The Pintabian Horse Registry specifically registers pinto horses with primarily Arabian horse breeding. 

What is a Tobiano and an Overo?

Pintos and Paints are described by their coat pattern. The two most common patterns are the tobiano and overo. Horses that display characteristics of both patterns are considered toveros. There are also several other pattern types, but that’s another whole article in itself!

For more information about pintos and their various coat patterns, check out the following sites:

Pinto Horse Association of America
American Paint Horse Association
Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association
National Spotted Saddle Horse Association
International Pattern Sporthorse Registry
Pintabian Horse Registry

Kim Klimek

Kim Abbott Klimek first got involved with horses as a junior in high school, then went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies with a concentration in communications from Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J., in 2005. After college, Kim worked for model horse company Breyer Animal Creations, writing copy for products and helping to write and edit for Just About Horses magazine. In the fall of 2007, she joined the Horse Illustrated team.

View Comments

  • Well, I did learn somethings I did not know before. But, I did know wether it is a Paint or Pinto, both are very beautiful!!!

  • Paints and pintos are different, and people don't realize that. They aren't breeds either; they're types.

      • Paints started out as pinto QH's that the breed registry rejected because Native Americans liked them or Native Americans acquired them because the QH people didn't like them because they thought they were inferior. This is ancient history. Paints became a registry recently for stock horse types that happened to be PINTOS but the QH registry would not have them. Paints were never a separate actual BREED from QH's. Lately the QH folks have reversed their rejection and accepted pintos (Paints) into their registry mainly because all the Paints had QH's in their background.

        • I have to disagree with you. Paints became a breed because the QH breeders tried to produce more white in the pleasure show horses to get the judges attention. You can't win if the judge doesn't see you. In A shows you have entries of quite a few sometimes they even have to run 3 or 4 classes than take the winners and go again to pick the end winner. So what happened was they came up with quality horses that couldn't be reistered in QH because of the white restrictions at the time. EX: white couldn't be larger than a quarter, couldn't go higher than the knee or hock, or beyond the eyes. So the American Paint horse Assoc was established.

  • Thanks for the article, I can point to it if I ever get into a dispute about this.
    Ugh, I had a 'riding instructor' once that INSISTED that 'pinto' was a breed and 'paint' was a color. I tried changing her mind, but decided it wasn't worth it.

  • In other words, there's no difference. Paint is a just a description that was already in use that the APHA took for coloured or painted/pinto quarter horses.

    • Paint is a breed, while pinto is a color. The word "paint" is just short for the word "American Paint," which is a breed. They say that pinto is a breed, when really pinto is a color breed. A color breed is a color that refers to any true breed. So no matter the breed, the horse could be any color.

      (Why do people fight over the strangest things?!)

  • I have a pinto that is a tobiono.... his name is scout I always got confused about the difference between a Paint and a Pinto.... I love my horse!!!

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