The American Paint Horse is often confused with the pinto—after all, they both share a distinctive flashy color pattern. Unlike the pinto, however, the Paint is truly a breed, developed from a subset of horses with pinto coloring.
The pinto horse was once popular throughout the world, but it was perhaps most common and favored in Spain throughout the Middle Ages. The color was cultivated among wealthy horse owners as a status symbol. Not surprisingly, a few pinto horses landed in the Caribbean with Spanish explorers in the 1500s as breeding animals.
Two pinto horses accompanied Hernán Cortés to Mexico in 1519, and it was the descendants of these and other painted horses brought by the conquistadors that became the foundation of the Paint breed. The earliest history of the Paint parallels that of the Spanish mustang. Paint horses roamed in wild herds and were bred and traded by Native Americans. The flashy color won the admiration of Plains Indians and was eventually considered magical.
Paints met with mixed responses among North Americans, however. While many New Englanders in colonial days respected Indian ponies, the Paint was considered too gaudy for a Puritan culture. However, French-Canadian trappers, American mountain men, Mexican vaqueros, and Southwestern cowpunchers came to appreciate the Paint horse. It possessed all the toughness of any other good mustang or Indian horse—with a touch of show!
But the Paint horse suffered the same fate as the mustang after the Civil War. The government directed its energies at wiping out the Indian’s horse in hope of breaking the Indian’s power to resist Westward Expansion. At the same time, prejudice arose against both the mustang and the Paint. Few whites wanted anything to do with Indian culture, including Indian horses, and the feeling persisted for decades. When ranch horses were first organized and registered in 1940 as Quarter Horses, horses with pinto coloring were excluded.
Only a handful of ranchers preserved the Paint horses over the years, refusing to give up an animal that had proven itself time and time again. Their efforts began to pay off in the 1950s, as pleasure riding became a popular pastime across America. By that time, the old prejudice had lost its sharp edge, and the Paint horse was received with interest and enthusiasm. And not simply for its color, either—breeders had been careful to preserve the working stock type, making the Paint equally useful on the trail and on the ranch.
Today, a Paint horse is defined by its ancestry, rather than its color. A registered Paint may come from two purebred Paint parents, or it might have one Paint parent and one Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse parent. Not all Paint horses have loud patches of color. Solid-colored Paints are registered as breeding stock.
The Paint has overcome its perilous past and is rising to new heights of popularity, not just in America, but worldwide. There are about 460,000 Paints in the United States alone, and over a million across the globe.
Paint horses excel in every discipline—pleasure, work, and competition alike. They can participate in English-style sports, and can perform well in everything from hunting to eventing.
However, the Paint horse really shines in ranching and Western events. It lends itself well to all aspects of this style of riding, including reining, cutting, roping, barrel racing, and Western pleasure.
For those who enjoy the slower pace of trail riding, the Paint horse is an excellent choice. Its stable personality makes it safe both as a children’s mount and in group riding situations.
Finally, the Paint horse can also be used as a packhorse.
Overall, the Paint is an extremely well-mannered breed. It loves people and is willing to please, making it very trainable. It can keep its head in most circumstances.
There are slight variations throughout the breed, as it is raised and trained for many different purposes. Paints bred for pleasure tend to be the most laid-back, even bordering on lazy. The working stock type is more alert and energetic, although still sensible and good-natured. Paints with Thoroughbred ancestry, typically preferred for English sports, have more of the fire and spirit that their disciplines demand.
Paints are generally sturdy and suffer from few health problems aside from genetic defects.
Color-related problems are a risk, however. Horses with blue eyes and extensive areas of white, especially on the face, are prone to deafness. Also, Paints that carry the frame overo gene should not be bred to each other to avoid producing a foal with lethal white syndrome. This is a genetic defect that causes incomplete development of the gastrointestinal tract.
Paints with Thoroughbred ancestry may display health problems common in purebred Thoroughbreds. Wobbler syndrome, incoordination caused by compression of the spine, is one of the more common issues.
Also, crossbreeding with popular Quarter Horse bloodlines has introduced many other disorders. Paints descended from the Quarter Horse Impressive may suffer from hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, which is displayed as twitching, weakness, and sometimes death. Influence from the stallion Poco Bueno has also introduced hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia, a painful condition in which the horse’s skin peels away. Other Quarter Horse health issues present in the Paint include malignant hyperthermia, equine polysaccharide storage myopathy, and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency.
- Affordability of pleasure-quality horses.
- Suitability for beginners.
- Ease of training and handling.
- Fairly low maintenance requirements.
- Cow sense.
- Expense of top bloodlines and trained horses.
- Large number of genetic defects.