Everyone knows “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and we also know that a good horse can come in any color. But let’s be honest. You’ve probably looked at a flashy, colorful horse and thought, “Wow!” And it’s easy to see why we’re drawn to these horses—they’re fun, they’re eye-catching, and they’re just plain pretty.
If you’ve ever seen the animated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron or the Netflix original series Spirit Riding Free, then you’re already familiar with the most famous buckskin horses of recent history. Spirit’s color is one of the things that makes him so distinctive and able to stand out from the herd.
Buckskin horses are striking with the combination of a light coat and dark mane, tail, ears and legs. Many buckskins are cream-colored, but some are more golden or tan—it’s the dark points that count. Genetically speaking, a buckskin is a bay horse that has a cream gene, which lightens its base coat to that creamy buckskin shade.
It’s easy to get confused by the terms “dun” and “buckskin,” but duns often have additional dark markings called “primitive” markings. These can include a dorsal stripe along the backbone and stripes above the black points on their legs.
Buckskins can be found in many different breeds, but they can also be registered with the American Buckskin Registry Association, Inc. (ABRA) or the International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA). Duns and grullas are also included. Grulla (pronounced “grew-yah”) is a mousy grayish-brown shade of dun.
The golden stars of the horse world, palominos always manage to catch your eye with their flashy coats and flaxen manes. It seems as if they were made for the spotlight. After all, palominos have long been a top choice for TV stardom: Trigger was cowboy Roy Rogers’ constant companion, and kids in the 1960s loved to tune in to watch the lovable Mister Ed.
Like buckskin, palomino is not actually a breed but a color, and palomino horses that meet the requirements can be registered with the Palomino Horse Breeders Association (PHBA).
In the olden days, breeders wanted to develop a breed of horse that was always born with a palomino coat, but they discovered that color genes just didn’t work that way. Remember how we said that a buckskin is essentially a bay horse with a cream gene? Well, a palomino is a chestnut horse with a cream gene.
Palomino coats can range in color from light buttery cream to a darker golden yellow. In fact, the PHBA says that “the ideal body coat color is approximately the color of a United States gold coin.” But I think we can all agree that any shade of palomino is a good shade!
Pinto & Paint
Be careful not to use these words interchangeably—even though pinto and Paint Horse markings look similar, there’s actually a distinction when it comes to bloodlines and registration. The American Paint Horse is a breed of horses known for their striking patterns of white markings that have Quarter Horse breeding, while the word “pinto” can refer to horses of many breeds (including Paints) that display patterns of white markings.
Like palominos and buckskins, pinto horses have their own registry, the Pinto Horse Association of America, Inc. (PtHA).
Pintos and Paints display a variety of beautiful coat patterns, but two of the most well-known are tobiano and overo. A tobiano can usually be identified by minimal white markings on the face, four white legs, and white markings on the body. Overos, on the other hand, often have a lot of white on their faces, sometimes even possessing completely “bald” (white) faces.
The PtHA registers horses and ponies in five different size classifications and six different type classifications, so there’s truly a pinto horse to suit anyone’s fancy!
Check out the groups that register, show and promote these colorful horses.
- American Paint Horse Association
- American Buckskin Registry Association, Inc.
- International Buckskin Horse Association
- Palomino Horse Breeders Association
- Pinto Horse Association of America
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!