Horse Breeds Series: American Paint

The American Paint is an interesting combination – a mix between the colouring of a pinto and the characteristics of a western stock horse. It is one of the most popular horse breeds in North America and it is known for its signature colour pattern. It is well loved by ranchers, show jumpers and riding schools. It is a favourite breed because of its markings, but it is also loved for its intelligence, good nature and ability to perform.


Records and paintings in Spain dating back to 700 AD show spotted horses with the characteristic patterns seen in the American Paint horse. They were mixed from spotted Oriental horses that were brought from Eurasia and interbred with the native horses in Spain. When the Spanish conquistadors came to the New World, they brought their horses along with them. These horses became the early ancestors of the American Paint Horse. In fact, it is thought that we can trace back the ancestors of the American Paint horse to a specific set of 17 horses brought to the New World by Hernando Cortes in 1519.

The American Quarter Horse Association emerged in 1940 to preserve “stock” horses and it excluded any horses with painted coat patterns. In reaction to this, fans of colourful stock horses formed organisations to preserve and promote Painted horses. Over the years, breeders gradually improved the athletic ability and the beautiful markings of these horses, creating a breed that was perfect for trail riding, showing, ranching and racing. The American Paint Horse Association and its breed registry is now one of the largest in North America.


The American Paint is an attractive horse with a firm and muscular neck, a short back, strong legs, medium sized ears, sloped shoulders and intelligent eyes. The white splotches on this distinctive horse are combined with other common horse colours such as bay, black and brown. The white spots can show up anywhere, which makes this pattern different from the leopard spots that are distinctive of the Appaloosa.

This horse comes in an array of colours, including black, chestnut, bay, palomino, buckskin, grey and blue roan. There are several different coat patterns and they all have their own names – such as overo, (egg shaped markings) and tobiano (solid coloured head with a white spot). Overo horses will typically have all four legs dark coloured and will have irregular white markings all over the body. The tail will be solid in colour and the horse can be either primarily white or primarily dark. Most overo-patterned horses will have blue eyes.

On the other hand, the tobiano pattern refers to horses that have a solid coloured head with a white spot which can be any shape – such as a star or a blaze. The legs on this type of horse are white, which gives the appearance that it is wearing white stockings. The spots on the rest of the body sharply contrast with the coloured areas. Some tobiano horses will have a large amount of white, while others have so little white that they don’t appear to be spotted at all. A tobiano variety of American Paint will usually have a bi-coloured tail and dark brown eyes.

There is also a third type of colour marking – Tovero (A combination of tobiano and overo). This is when the coat is dark around the ears and one or both eyes are blue. The flanks, chest and base of the tail will have spots of varying sizes.


The American Paint is a multi-talented horse that is capable of performing many different tasks. Often this horse is used for jumping, racing, riding, dressage, rodeo and work. Because this type of horse has such a wide range of abilities, it will be able to accommodate the needs of the horse owners. Also, this breed has a good “cow sense” which means that they are excellent for using on ranches for cutting, roping and reining.

Because of its good nature and amiable personality, as well as its intelligence, this breed of horse is a pleasure to train for performance competitions and also makes a great companion. It is also ridden in English show jumping or hunt seat competitions.

The American Paint is a light horse breed that generally weighs under 680kg, which means that it is agile and swift. This makes it ideal for using in the show ring or on the racetrack and means that it can jump and manoeuvre in quite a graceful way.

Health Concerns

This breed is generally very healthy. However, there is one specific known health issue that is characteristic to this breed – which is lethal white syndrome. This genetic disorder causes foals to be born which appear normal, although they have all white coats and blue eyes. Internally, these foals do not have a functioning colon. They will die within a few days. Because the death is incredibly painful, foals born with this condition are often humanely euthanized as soon as the syndrome is identified.

This genetic disorder is due to a defective gene that appears to have been selected for in horses where white spots are a desirable trait. The cells in the body which play a role in determining skin colour are also those that form nerves within the gastrointestinal system. There is a DNA blood test which should be done in order to avoid breeding any horses that are likely to produce an OWLS affected foal.

Also, it is important not to overfeed a Paint Horse because this breed has a tendency toward obesity. They will need regular exercise to stay fit and keep at a healthy weight. When a horse becomes overweight, a number of health problems can arise. It is important to be aware of these health issues, to feed your horse a healthy diet and to make sure that they get enough exercise so that they can live a long and healthy life.

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