Paints Pintos Paint Horse Pinto Horse Cowgirl Magazine
Photo courtesy of APHA and Bruce T. Smith.

In 1519, when the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed to the Americas, the horses he brought included, according to the Spanish Historian Diaz del Castillo, a “pinto,” and a “dark roan horse” with “white patches.” These are the first “Paint” horses known to the New World. Like the flashy Appaloosa, “painted horses” became popular among Native Americans. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that a cowgirl named Rebecca Tyler Lockhart gathered a group of passionate men and women together and started the breed registry known today as the American Paint Horse Association (APHA).

Although loud color was the initial attraction, the APHA also required horses to exhibit traditional stock-horse body conformation. “Stock horses” were bred for one thing only: their ability to effectively move and manage livestock for western cowboys and the cattlemen who depended on them. Thus, the American Paint Horse is often described as a “Quarter Horse with color.” That’s close, but not completely correct.

Today, for an animal to be registered as an American Paint Horse, either its sire or dam must be a registered American Paint Horse, although the other may be a registered Quarter Horse or registered Thoroughbred. Where does that leave the many other horses and ponies all over the world with gorgeous black and white or brown and white markings? They are Pintos!

The term Pinto refers to all horses with that splendid contrast of white areas and any other color in the equine spectrum! Pintos can be any breed, from draft horses to Arabians. Pinto is exclusively a color distinction, thus a Paint Horse is always a Pinto, but a Pinto may or may not be a Paint.

If you’ve ever shopped for a Paint or Pinto horse, you’ll soon come across the terms “Tobiano” and “Overo,” the 2 major coat patterns. Although both Paints and Pintos can be a combination of white and any other horse color—including black, white, brown, bay, roan, buckskin, dun, gray, chestnut, palomino, and others—the arrangement of the colors often falls into one of the two patterns.

For more information visit the American Paint Horse Association website:, or call (817) 834-2742.

(Originally published in the January/February 2010 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).