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The desire for a horse with splashy color has not been a recent trend. Breeding for the unique pattern dates back to the Barb horses of the African frontier and eventually through the Spanish conquistador. Unintentionally they carried, preserved and created the color gene for all Paint Horses we enjoy today.
Paints are known to be as sturdy as the wild west is tough. Mustangs at heart, these bespoke types were selected, bred and refined into ranch horses with the help of stock and Thoroughbreds. Native Americans gave great importance to painted Mustangs that had particular markings and “medicine hat” designs with a spot pattern of a cap or distinctive coloring around the ears and forelock are still highly prized today.
Years of interested breeders brought the Paint horse from a minor gemstone of the American plains into competitive positions of various disciplines ranging from ranch work, reining, rodeo, trail, driving, hunter/jumpers, eventing and dressage. Some individuals registered with the American Paint Horse Association trace their bloodlines to old stock (today's Quarter Horse) and Thoroughbred lines. The early goal of the APHA was to create a muscular breed that was sure-footed, easy to take care of, have an overall a sturdy bone structure that was still quick and nimble enough to maneuver around cattle. A solid, well-tempered mind for continuous, strenuous ranch work was also a commonly bred trait. The average Paint horse ranges in 14.2 to 16 hands tall, can weigh between 950 and 1350 pounds and has sold the hearts of many beginner riders not only with their unique coat patterns but also with their sound temperament.
What is the difference between a these and a Pinto, you ask? All Paints are “Pintos” but not all “Pintos” are Paints. Recently the use of the word and name “Pinto” refers to non-stock-horse types that can't trace their complete bloodlines back to foundational Paint bloodlines- from either old Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred lines. These horses are typically crosses- Spotted Saddlebreds, Paint and Arabian crosses called Pintabians (a great, fun word to say), Spotted Drafts and so on and are registrable and show-able under the ever growing Pinto Horse Association of America.
The breed has a coat pattern that deserves a forum all to its own, beyond the basic coat colors due to complex genetics. You won't impress your horse friends when you properly identify a Paint horse but you can and will impress them when you can define the Paint's coat pattern. Although the color combinations and genetics of them can become quite complex, there are five “distinctive” coat patterns explained and presented officially. To keep it simple, we can think about a paintbrush with white shade (keep in mind white paint, not colored) as culprit to the colorful patterns and not complicated genetics.
The Tobiano pattern starts with the white paint brush above the horse and hits almost all legs with white below the knees and hocks. Surprisingly, their heads are normally not white and have normal strips, snips and that of non-Paint horses.
The Overo pattern starts with the white bucket of paint below the barrel (meaning you don't see it from above, on the back/topside of the horse) yet the legs are not completely white while the face oftentimes is bald or partly bald.
A Tovero is a mixture of the Tobiano and the Overo, fooling all regards to pattern standards. On the other side of the spectrum, a horse may carry all Paint horse genetics but remain completely solid in color.
A Sabino pattern has an even broader description, the body can be almost all white with roan colorings or it can be when a white paint brush hits random parts of the horses belly and face and is broadly solid in color. Spots that do not have distinctive colored lines between the color and the white and is roan in appearance instead also indicates the horse is a Sabino.
Lastly, a Splashed White Paint is where someone took a white paint brush first, almost like an eraser, to the external parts of the horse and then stopped- the head, legs, dock, tail and maybe the barrel will be white in color while the greater body area is completely solid. For whatever reason Mickey Mouse comes to mind when describing a Splashed White, they are almost cartoon-like in color contrast.