Paint Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Paint horse mare and foal in a field

Mark Newman/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The paint horse is a very popular breed, thanks to its flashy coloring, genial temperament, and versatility. In fact, the American Paint Horse Association counts around 100,000 members in roughly 40 countries around the world. Paint horses can suit riders and owners of all experience levels. They excel in various equestrian sports, as working horses, and as solid general riding horses. 

Breed Overview

Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

Body Type: Strong, well-balanced body; colorful coat patterns; powerful hindquarters

Best For: Owners and riders of all levels

Life Expectancy: 30 years

Paint Horse History and Origins

In the 1500s, Spanish explorers brought the predecessors of the paint horse breed to North America. These horses likely had Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian bloodlines and sported distinctive spotted and two-tone coloring. In fact, many experts believe explorer Hernando Cortes brought a particular sorrel-and-white stallion to North America from which the modern paint breed might be descended.

Many of these horses ended up roaming wild across the continent, catching the eyes of Native Americans. They adopted and bred the horses, admiring them for their coat patterns, strength, and friendly personalities. British colonists eventually introduced thoroughbreds to the gene pool, resulting in a sturdy working horse that was highly intelligent and steady on the trail. Some of these horses kept their spots while others were solid in color. 

Until 1940, paints shared a gene pool with quarter horses, at which time the American Quarter Horse Association formed and excluded horses with too much white—meaning all paints—from its registry. But the multicolored horses remained popular, and eventually the American Paint Quarter Horse Association and the American Stock Horse Association formed. The two joined in 1965 to form today's American Paint Horse Association, which keeps the breed’s registry. 

Paint Horse Size

The paint horse stands between 14 hands (56 inches) and 16 hands (64 inches) on average. Those with thoroughbred heritage are typically on the taller side. The average weight ranges from 950 to 1,200 pounds, a bit heavier than many full-size horse breeds.

Paint Horse Breeding and Uses

Besides their unique coat patterns, paint horses were bred for their friendliness, calm demeanor, intelligence, athleticism, and trainability. Due to their strength, speed, agility, and stamina, they were traditionally used for transportation and work.

Nowadays, paint horses are a very versatile breed with representatives in almost every equine sport. You’ll find them barrel racing, jumping in the stadium and in cross-country events, working cattle, trail riding, combined driving, and much more. In addition, many individual paint horses find success in multiple equine sports or activities. 

Colors and Markings

The paint's distinctive coat patterns can occur in any combination of white plus another color, such as bay, black, palomino, or chestnut. The patterns and colors vary greatly, and no two horses are precisely the same. Some paint horses are a solid or almost-solid color. 

Paint horses display several named color patterns. The three main ones are:

  • Tobiano: These horses usually have a color over one or both flanks with rounded white patches around their withers and tail. The head is colored and can have markings, such as stars, blazes, or strips. The tail and mane hair can be of two colors.
  • Overo: Horses with this pattern have irregular white patches across their bodies, though their backs are usually a solid color. The legs are colored but can have white stockings. The face is mainly white.
  • Tovero: These horses are mainly white on the body while the upper head, chest, and flank areas are a color. Some tovero horses have blue eyes.

All coat patterns may be interspersed with white hairs, known as roan. In addition, paints may have any of the typical equine facial and leg markings.

Unique Characteristics of the Paint Horse

The colored coat patterns are rightfully the paint horse's most distinctive trait. But the breed is about far more than color. Its colors, patterns, and markings combine with its muscular, well-balanced stature to create a truly striking physical appearance.

Beyond their beauty, paints are prized for their friendly, easygoing temperament. These are relaxed and highly social horses with natural intelligence that makes them unchallenging and rewarding to train. 

Diet and Nutrition

A general equine diet of quality grass, hay, grains, and some fruits and veggies is appropriate for a paint horse. Some vitamin and mineral supplementation might be necessary. But it’s important not to overfeed your horse, as this breed has a tendency toward obesity. 

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Paint horses are typically easy to work with and lack notable behavioral issues. But they are prone to a few genetic health issues, including some that also run in quarter horse and thoroughbred bloodlines.

One genetic disease associated with paints is lethal white syndrome. Some horses can just be carriers of the gene and have normal lives. But foals with two copies of the gene are typically born with a white coat and blue eyes. Internally their intestines haven’t fully developed, so they quickly show signs of colic. Because there is no treatment for the disorder and the foals usually die within a few days, humane euthanasia is recommended. 

Furthermore, some paints also might be prone to hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, a genetic disorder that causes muscle twitching and weakness. And some are at risk of hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia, a disorder that weakens tissue. These issues commonly affect quarter horses, as well. 

Grooming

Standard equine grooming practices will maintain the paint’s beautiful coat. Brush and comb your horse at least once or twice a week to remove dirt, debris, and tangles. And make it a daily practice to inspect your horse's hooves for debris, infection, and injuries.

Pros
  • Calm and friendly

  • Easy to train

  • Beautiful coat patterns

Cons
  • Prone to some genetic disorders

Champion and Celebrity Paint Horses

The first paint stallion registered was a black-and-white tobiano named Bandits Pinto. Another paint stallion named Gunner, born in 1993, was known for his good temperament and athleticism, amassing many equine competition wins. In addition, Gunner sired multiple champion horses.

Is the Paint Horse Right for You?

This versatile, genial breed is ideal for anyone who enjoys horses, including beginning equestrians. Paints are loving companions and easy to ride, yet they will step up enthusiastically to the rigors of competition and work. They are compliant and driven to please their riders and owners, making them easy to train. They also are generally healthy and easy keepers, often requiring a little less food than an average horse.

How to Adopt or Buy a Paint Horse 

Thanks to their popularity, paint horses are typically easy to find to adopt or buy. They cost between $1,000 and $5,000 on average, though that price can fluctuate depending on the horse’s age, health, training, and pedigree. 

When searching for a horse, aim to visit it at the breeder or rescue organization before committing. Make sure the organization can provide information on the horse’s history, health, temperament, and training. And have its training demonstrated for you if possible. Also, look for potential red flags, such as lameness or labored breathing, which might indicate injury or illness. 

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