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Genetics Index
Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: Feb 6, 2007
Apr 7, 2012

Pinto or Paint?

A question arises often with spotted horses: What is the difference between a Pinto and a Paint? Are they a breed? Are they a color registry? Are the both? The terms "piebald" and "skewbald" are also mentioned. What are the differences?

Piebald: Spotted horses with large, irregular patches of black usually on a white base are referred to as piebald.

Skewbald: Spotted horses with any color, except black, on a white base, such as bay, brown, chestnut, grey, dun or palomino. There may be some black marks in addition.

Piebald and skewbald are defined by their external visible coat and markings and not by genetic markings or type. There is a piebald and skewbald color registry, as well.

To answer questions regarding the differences between Pintos and Paints, the following has been taken, directly, from the Pinto Association and Paint Association, to insure that this answer is completely accurate.

History and Origin of the Breed

For its contribution to our predecessors dating back as far as history is recorded, the horse has been immortalized in story and song. A key part of civilization, it is also well represented in art. Studies of this art history reveal the early existence of what we recognize today as the Pinto Horse: a horse whose dual-colored coat pattern is comprised of white areas combined with another of the basic coat colors common to horses, making each Pinto unique. The Pinto is a color breed with documentation of pedigree as well as certain restrictions and exclusions that may apply depending on the sex, classification and background of each animal.

Though commonly associated with the Native American for its legendary magical qualities in battle, the Pinto horse was actually introduced to North America by European explorers, chiefly those from Spain, bringing their Barb stock that had been crossed with native European stock years before. It is believed that the Pinto patterns may have arrived in Europe via the Arabian strains, as Pinto markings appear in ancient art throughout the Middle East. However, evidence of the more dominant Tobiano pattern among the wild horses of the Russian Steppes suggests the introduction of Pinto coloring to Europe possibly as early as during the Roman Empire.

After the arrival of these European horses, great wild herds infused with the flashy color patterns we know today began to develop across America, eventually to be domesticated by the Native American. The white man continued to import many of the well-established and stylish European breeds as his foundation stock. Over time, however, with the civilization of the Native American and the white man's migration to the frontier, it often became necessary to cross these fancy, but less suitable breeds of the Eastern seaboard with the wild mustang stock to increase size and attractiveness as well as availability of a horse better suited to the strenuous working conditions of the day. This Western-bred horse became a fixture of America, especially the uniquely marked Pinto whose colorful presence in parades and films always added a little extra glamour.

Breed Characteristics

One of the most frequently asked question regarding the Pinto is "what is the difference between Pintos and Paints?" Simply put: The Paint Horse (registered by the American Paint Horse Association) is limited to horses of documented and registered Paint, Quarter Horse, or Thoroughbred breeding. The difference in eligibility between the two registries has little to do with color or pattern; only bloodlines. While most Paints can be double registered as Stock or Hunter type Pintos, the Pinto Horse Association (PtHA) also allows for the registration of miniature horses, ponies, and horses derived from other breed crosses, such as Arabian, Morgan, Saddlebred, and Tennessee Walking Horse, to name a few.

The color requirements for a registered Pinto is predicated on the age of the animal at time of application. Only four square inches of cumulative white in the qualifying zone is required to register a horse with the PtHA (only three inches for ponies and two square inches for miniatures.) Animals with insufficient "qualifying color" to be accepted in the regular color division but with at least two or more "Pinto" characteristics or solid colored animals with documented and registered pinto-colored sire and/or dam may be eligible for registration in the Breeding Stock Division.

There are two recognized Pinto color patterns: Tobiano (Toe-bee-ah'-no) and Overo (O-vair'-o). The Tobiano pattern appears to be white with large spots of color, often overlapping on animals with a greater percentage of color than white. Spots of color typically originate from the head, chest, flank, and buttock, often including the tail. Legs are generally white, giving the appearance of a white horse with large or flowing spots of color. Generally, the white crosses the center of the back or topline of the horse. It is considered necessary to have a Tobiano parent to achieve a Tobiano foal. The Overo pattern appears to be a colored horse with jagged white markings usually originating on the animal's side or belly, spreading toward the neck, tail, legs, and back. The color appears to frame the white spots. Thus, an Overo often has a dark tail, mane, legs, and backline. Bald or white faces often accompany the Overo pattern. Some Overos show white legs along with splashy white markings, seemingly comprised of round, lacy white spots. White almost never crosses the back or topline. A horse of Pinto coloration descendant from two solid colored parents of another typically solid colored pure breed is called a "crop-out" and is of the Overo pattern.

While PtHA accepts animals derived from many different approved breed/registry crosses, it does not accept animals with Appaloosa, Draft or Mule breeding and/or characteristics. Horse stallions must have both sire and dam registered with PtHA or another approved outcross registry. Pony/Miniature stallions must have at least one parent (sire or dam) registered with a recognized breed association [Effective 1-1-99]. Mares and Geldings can be registered on their qualifying color alone. PtHA accepts horses in four different height divisions: "Horse" for animals maturing over 56" in height at the withers;"Pony" for animals 56" and under, but over 34"; <Miniature" for animals 34" and under at maturity and "B Miniature" for animals over 34" but not exceeding 38" at maturity.

All registered Pinto Horses and Ponies are identified within one of the following four types. Type is determined by the conformation and background of each horse/pony.

The STOCK TYPE Pinto is an animal suitable for western events; hunter seat events; and a variety of other events. The Stock Type Pinto should display the conformation associated with Quarter Horse breeding. Generally, double-registered Paints (APHA) will be registered in this division. This photo to the left indicates conformation traits of the Stock Type and both mare and foal carry the Overo pattern.

The HUNTER TYPE Pinto is an animal suitable for: hunter seat Events; western events; and a variety of other events. The Hunter Type Pinto should display the conformation associated with Thoroughbred, approved Warmblood or running Quarter Horse breeding. This photo to the right indicates conformation traits of a Hunter Type with the Tobiano pattern.

The PLEASURE TYPE Pinto is an animal presented in a natural manner and suitable for: general western, English, and driving events; and a variety of other events. The Pleasure Type Pinto should display the conformation associated with Arabian or classic Morgan breeding. This photo to the left indicates conformation traits of a Pleasure Type with the Overo pattern.

The SADDLE TYPE Pinto is an animal suitable for: general English, western, and driving events; and a variety of other events. The Saddle Type Pinto should display the conformation associated with American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking or Missouri Foxtrotter breeding. The horse in the photo to the right is a representative of the Saddle type and carries a typical Tobiano pattern.

History and Origin of the Breed

Descended from horses introduced by the Spanish conquistadors, Paints became part of the herds of wild horses that roamed the Western deserts and plains. Once domesticated, because of their working ability and heart, the Paint was cherished by cowboys for cattle work. Native Americans revered the Paint, which they believed to possess magical powers.

While over the years the conformation and athletic ability of those rugged mounts of the Old West have been improved by breeders, the unusual coat patterns and coloring remain the same. The stock-type conformation, intelligence, and willing attitude make the American Paint Horse an excellent horse for pleasure riding, ranch work, rodeo, trail riding, racing, showing, or simply as a friendly mount for the kids.

Breed Characteristics

Built for versatility, the American Paint Horse is generally short-coupled, strong-boned and well balanced. Yet Paints display a remarkable degree of refinement and beauty, especially about the head and neck.

The Paint Horse's colorful coat pattern defines the breed, because it is perhaps the most obvious trait. However, Paint Horses must also possess a distinct stock-type conformation. Paints come in an endless variety of patterns. Their coat is always a combination of white with any of the basic colors common to horses: black, bay, brown, chestnut, dun, grulla, sorrel, palomino, gray and roan. Regardless of color, no two horses are exactly alike in coat pattern.

For registration and breeding purposes, American Paint Horses are categorized by three distinctive types of coat pattern. The tobiano (pronounced: tow be yah' no) pattern is distinguished by head markings like those of a solid-colored horse; their heads may be completely solid, or have a blaze, strip, star or snip. Generally, all four of the tobiano's legs are white, at least below the hocks and knees. Their spots are regular and distinctly oval or round, extending down the neck and chest, giving the appearance of a shield. Usually a tobiano will have the dark color on one or both flanks - although a tobiano may be either predominantly dark or white. The tail is often two colors.

The overo (pronounced: oh vair' oh) pattern may also be either predominantly dark or white. But typically, the white on an overo will not cross the back of the horse between its withers and its tail. Generally, one or all four legs will be dark. Also notable is that overos have bold white head markings, such as a bald face. Overos generally have irregular, scattered markings. The horse's tail is usually one color.

Not all coat patterns fit neatly into the tobiano or overo categories. For this reason, a number of years ago the APHA expanded its classifications to include "tovero" (pronounced: tow vair' oh) to describe horses that have characteristics of both the tobiano and overo patterns. What is especially fascinating about Paint Horse breeding is that the genetics of coat color inheritance is still not readily understood. Like when diving for treasure not every oyster produces a pearl, not every breeding of two Paint Horses results in a colored foal.

This makes each Painted foal that much more valuable.

Significant Paint Horses

Painted Joe

Painted Joe, a 1939 black tobiano stallion, made a name for himself long before the APHA was formed. He was a living legend to racehorse enthusiasts because of his running ability. Both a Champion performer and Champion sire, Painted Joe's progeny that were successful on the track and in the show ring.

Yellow Mount

The first horse to become an APHA Champion was the 1964 dun overo stallion Yellow Mount. Sired by a Quarter Horse and out of Lady Yellow Jacket, the APHA's Lifetime Leading Dam of World Champions, Yellow Mount greatly influenced the Paint breed. Of the 39 horses who have earned the title of APHA Supreme Champion, one is Yellow Mount and four are his progeny.

Mister J Bar

Another early Paint who proved to have the conformation to win at halter as well as the athletic ability to claim performance titles was Mister J Bar, a sorrel overo foaled in 1961. During his show career, Mister J Bar earned five APHA National and Reserve Championships in halter and roping, and as a sire. Tracing back to the immortal Thoroughbred stallion Three Bars, Mister J Bar's progeny went on to win numerous championships and produce the champions of today.

Breed Organization

Not satisfied to be only a color breed based entirely on coat patterns, the founders of APHA also set strict standards of conformation, athletic ability and performance, as well as demanding intelligence, a calm temperament and a willing disposition. As proof of their commitment to these ideals, the founders instituted a stringent stallion inspection program that remained in effect until the breed was well established.

To be eligible for registry with the APHA, horses had to come from stock registered with one of four recognized organizations: the American Paint Quarter Horse Association, the American Paint Stock Horse Association, the Jockey Club, or the American Quarter Horse Association. Today, the three recognized organizations are the APHA, the AQHA and the Jockey Club. And even though solid-colored horses with Paint Horse bloodlines are included in the APHA registry as breeding stock, the association maintains color requirements for registration in the Regular Registry.

The colorful coat pattern is essential to the identity of the breed, and preserving these unique coat patterns is the purpose for which the association was formed.

The American Paint Horse Association has come a long way since its formation. At that time there were approximately 3,800 horses in the registry. Since then, the APHA and its members have so effectively nurtured the breed that today the registry contains the pedigrees of more than 362,000 horses. This number continues to grow as nearly 41,000 foals are registered each year. Once an organization promoted and operated from a kitchen table in Gainesville, Texas, the APHA now conducts business on a global scale and has become one of the fastest-growing breed registries. It is the second-largest equine registry, in terms of the number of horses registered annually, in the United States. While the association's main purpose is to record Paint Horse pedigrees, it is also dedicated to preserving and promoting the history, breeding, training, racing, showing, sales and enjoyment of American Paints.

The American Paint Horse Association is at the hub of a wheel made up of nearly 62,000 members. The strong network of regional clubs and international affiliates are the spokes of the wheel, keeping members in close contact with one another so they can share their interests and activities.

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