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Paint Horse Types, Colors, Pictures, and 6 Fun Facts.

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American Paints horses are an eye-catching splash of equine colors. The variety of colors and their locations makes me wonder if the patterns are haphazard or have a specific design and what colors can be in their coats.

Paint horse colors are a mixture of white with any other equine color. Their coat designs are unique, and the swatches of colors can be any shape or size or anywhere on its body. There are three types of Paint horse patterns: tobiano, overo, and tovero.

The vibrant colors of Paint horses stir feelings of freedom and embody the spirit of wild mustangs. There are many interesting facts about this unique horse color pattern, so let’s dive in and learn something new about Paint horses.

Picture of a paint horse and her foal.

The three types of paint horse color patterns.

Paint Horses have a base color coat just like all other horses, but unlike other horses, Paints have a gene that overlays white-colored hair and creates a spotting pattern on their coat.

No two Paint horses have the same pattern; they can be any combination of white and any other equine color. The different shapes and colors can be anywhere on the horse’s body, face, or legs.

Because there can be infinite color arrangements, you would expect a similar amount of categories for pattern names. Still, there are only three main types of Paint patterns, tobiano, overo, and tovero.

Picture of a paint horse standing near a fence.
American Paint Horse

1. Tobiano

Tobiano (or “toby”) horses typically have a solid-colored head with some white over their back and on their legs. Tobiano’s often have white below their hocks and knees on multiple legs.

Other variations of tobiano include a primarily solid-colored head with a white star, snip, strip, or blaze. The patterns of toby horses are distinct, with defined boundaries and multicolored manes and tails, and they typically have dark eyes.

Tobiano patterns include mostly solid colors with minimal white to horses that are almost all white with color only on their head. Tobiano patterns are prevalent in many horse breeds, and it’s widespread among pony and draft breeds.

Below is a short YouTube video with some pictures of paint horses.

Tobiano gene

Genes are inherited units that link to chromosomes and control many traits of an organism. For our purposes, we are looking at the genes that control hair color and patterns in horses.

The tobiano color pattern is created by the dominant gene, “TO.” Most tobiano Paint horses have the genotype “TOto,” which indicates one dominant and one recessive tobiano gene.

Picture of a paint horse with an Overo pattern.

2. Overo

Horses with the overo paint pattern often have one blue eye, and their underbelly, legs, and heads have white markings. The lines between the colors of overos aren’t as clearly defined as seen in tobiano patterns.

Recently I read an apt description of the overo pattern I’ll share. Overos look like they played in a shallow pool of white paint, with the paint splashing on their head.

Under the overo umbrella, there are three genetically different types.

Splashed white overo

Splashed white Paint horses are categorized as “overo” Paints. These horses have white markings on their underbelly and legs, with a white head and blue eyes.

Most of these horses have solid colored backs, but the white will reach a horse’s topline on occasion. The demarcation of their colors is typically crisp and clear, with no roaning in their coat. Splashed white is the least common of the overo patterns.

Interestingly splashed white horses have a high rate of deafness.

Picture of a paint horse.

Sabino overo

Paint horses with the sabino pattern are usually solid-colored with two or more white feet and splashes of white up their flanks with specks and flecks.

They also commonly have a white blaze that causes spots on the lips and chin. Some sabinos resemble roan horses with undefined white markings, which seems appropriate because sabino means pale or speckled in Spanish.

Many horse breeds have sabino coat patterns, including Clydesdales, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter horses. But a true sabino is created by a specific genotype, Sabino 1 (SB1). However, many horses called sabinos likely aren’t genetically sabinos.

Frame overo

Frame overo Paint horses typically have extensive white markings on their head and blue eyes. Their body has large patches of white that don’t cross their body’s topline and are crisply delineated from their colored sections.

Its legs are usually dark with white feet. Frame overo Paint horses are predominately found in horses with Spanish heritage and are the paint pattern most closely associated with Lethal White Syndrome.

Picture of a tovero paint horse.
Anna from British Columbia, Canada

3. Tovero

Tovero is a combination of tobiano and overo coat patterns, and it’s often used as a catch-all phrase for Paints. Toveros have more white in the face and chest area than tobianos, and they can have blue eyes like overos.

The tovero pattern is typically displayed in horses that are crossed between over and tobiano Paints. These horses inherit traits from each parent and don’t fit the definition for either.

Since these horses don’t classify as either, they are considered tovero, a hybrid cross between a tobiano and overo. However, it’s important to note that some tobiano Paints are the product of standard breeding practices.

Medicine hat

Medicine Hat is a type of tovero paint horse with a specific pattern. A Medicine Hat horse has a predominantly white coat with a colored patch covering the ears and the top of the head.

Medicine Hat horses may have other markings, but the less color they have, the more desirable they are. They typically have pink muzzles and blue eyes. Medicine Hat horses are rare.

Medicine Hat Paints have resulted by crossing breeding frame overos with tobianos, sabinos with frame overos, and sabinos with tobianos.

Picture of a paint horse used a companion for racehorses.
Paint horse

6 Paint horse facts

1. Paint horse’s origins

Paint horses have been around for a long time and can be traced to 500 A.D. in Europe. They were popular in Spain and brought to North America by Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s.

When conquistadors traveled across the new continent, their horses often escaped or were intentionally left behind. These free animals typically joined other horses and became wild mustangs.

2. Native Americans treasured Paint horses.

The leaders of Native American tribes often rode Paint horses they captured from wild mustang herds. Paint horses were preferred because of their flashy coats, athletic ability, and temperament.

Picture of an Irish draught paint horse.
Irish Draught Paint

3. Not all Paints can register as American Paint Horse.

The American Paint Horse Association requires horses to meet strict guidelines to register as American Paint Horses.

  • The foals’ sire and dam must be registered with either the American Paint Horse Association, the Jockey Club, or the American Quarter Horse Association.
  • The horse must have some Paint characteristics such as white leg markings, blue eyes, a bald face, or a two-color mane (one color is white).
  • Must carry a Paint gene confirmed through APHA genetic testing. Accepted genotypes are: Tobiano; Frame Overo; Sabino 1; Splash White 1, 2, or 3; Dominant White 5, 10 or 20

4. Medicine Hat Paint horses have special powers.

Medicine hat horses are primarily white with a splash of color on top of their head and ears. These horses were treasured by Native Americans who believed they had special powers that protected their rider.

Often tribes would steal medicine hat horses from other tribes to gain the horse’s power.

5. Each Paint horse pattern is unique.

Paint horse patterns are like snowflakes; each one is different. You may see some that look very similar, but they are each unique, if only by the smallest degrees.

6. Overo’s original Spanish meaning is “like an egg.”

Understanding the origins of words is interesting and helps you grasp the original intent when adopted into our language. Overo is a prime example; In South America, the Spanish initially used overo to describe all spotted horses.

In the United States, we use overo to describe specific Paint horse patterns.

Picture of a paint mare.


Are paint horses good horses?

Horses are individuals, and I’ve known some difficult paints, but in general, the paint breed is well-known for its pleasant temperament. They also have the willingness to work when they’re asked.

Is a paint horse a Warmblood?

Paint horses aren’t warmbloods. Warmbloods are a mix of cold and hot-blooded horses. Paints are descendants of quarter horse crosses.

Is a paint horse the same as a quarter horse?

A paint horse isn’t the same as a quarter horse. Paint horses have their own breed registry, and to be included, offspring must have one parent registered as a Paint and the other parent a registered paint, quarter horse, or Thoroughbred.