Pinto vs Paint Horse – What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on November 23, 2021

Pinto vs paint horse, which one do you choose? Do you have an interest in horse breeds and pedigrees? Have you ever heard people talk about their paint or pinto horses, but don’t understand the difference? Despite the amazing similarities in coloration, pinto and paint horses are not the same thing. In fact, one of them isn’t even a breed of horse. 

And if you’re in the market for a horse, surrounded by horse fanatics, or merely interested in horse genetics, being knowledgeable about the difference between the two may be helpful to you. 

Thus in this article, you will get to learn the difference between a and a paint horse.

Pinto vs Paint Horse: Types of Paint Horses

Paint horses are notoriously recognized for their spotted coat patterns, ranging from combinations with white and any equine coat coloring. The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) says that “Paint Horses are unique… because of their spotted coat patterns. Even though their base coats are the same in color like that of other breeds, nevertheless, superimposed over these colors are a variety of white-spotted patterns.”

Pinto vs Paint Horse: Types of Paint Horses


A Paint is actually a breed of horse that has stringent bloodline requirements. They (Paint horses) can only have the bloodlines of Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, or other Paint Horses in their pedigrees. And the APHA, the American Quarter Horse Association, or the Jockey Club (Thoroughbreds) must have registries for its sire and dam, for the foal to be a qualified registrant with the APHA.

Color Patterns

Paint horses can boast of an array of colors with different markings. Nevertheless, the three distinct coat patterns are the tobiano, overo, and tovero.

  •       Tobianos have a solid dark covering while the legs are white. The tail and mane can be either color, and the head is often dark with typical facial markings, like a blaze, strip, or star.
  •       The overo (Spanish for “like an egg”) horse has dark legs with a white face. The back, tail, and mane all have a solid color.
  •       The tovero horse is often mesmerizing because they have striking blue eyes against a mostly white body, with a dark head, flank, and chest.


Pinto vs Paint Horse: Body Type & Temperament

Since Paint horses exhibit characteristics of quarter horses and thoroughbreds, Oklahoma State’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources explained that Paints are stocky and powerfully muscled. They are usually between 14.2 and 15.2 HH but can get taller than this.

Furthermore, PetMD explained that “The Paint horse is known for its amiability.” It’s good nature, plus its innate intelligence, makes them a pleasure to train for competitions, and above all, an ideal companion outside of the ring.” 

Pinto Horses

The term pinto denotes just the coloration of a horse and not the breed. This means that a pinto horse can be any breed that has a coat with patches of white and other equine coloration.

Pinto horses are registered according to the variation in their color. As what the Pinto Horse Association of America (PtHA), “A Pinto horse must have four square inches of cumulative white. This is needed in the qualifying zone, and an underlying pink skin or have documented color on outcross papers.”

Color Patterns and Types of Pinto Horses

The coloration and patterns that make a horse a Pinto, is often due to a recessive gene. This causes albinism in different parts of the skin. Just like the Paint horse, the Pinto horse has tobiano and overo patterns.

Pinto vs Paint Horse: Body Type & Temperament

The PtHa explains that there are four types of Pinto horses, which include stock, hunter, pleasure, and saddle.

  •       Stock: Generally, a Quarter Horse or a Paint, the stock horse is a western-style horse that is often used for working livestock and barrel racing.
  •       Hunter:  Predominantly Thoroughbred and a certain specie of European Warmbloods, hunter horses are often used in hunter-jumper competitions for their gait, manners, and jumping style.
  •       Pleasure: Usually an Arabian, Andalusian, or Morgan, the pleasure horse is often known for its relaxed appearance and pure gaits in Western pleasure riding.
  •       Saddle: Mostly Saddlebred, Hackney, or Tennessee Walker, the saddle horse is a selectively-bred gaited horse which is known to have ambling gaits resulting in a notoriously smooth ride.

How does a paint horse and pinto horse differ?

The main difference between a pinto and a paint horse is in the fact that the paint is a breed of horse. On the other hand, the pinto is a term used to describe the spotted color patterns. SaddleOnline explains that a Paint horse is a breed of horse that combines pinto coloring. This type is like the western stock horse.

Both Pinto and Paint horses have strict requirements to be registered. These agencies are the APHA, the PtHA, the National Pinto Horse Registry, and other groups of registries. Nevertheless, the Paint horse has strict genealogy and body type obligations, stemming from Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred bloodlines. What’s even more interesting is the fact that the properly pedigreed horse doesn’t necessarily have to have pinto coloration. It is not necessary in order to be registered as a Paint. She will simply be considered a solid-Paint bred horse.

How does a paint horse and pinto horse differ?

For the Pinto horse, even though it can be from a variety of breeds, it must have some spotted coloration. This is needed to be registered. Same applies to the Miniature Horse and the utility-type Gypsy Horse, The PtHa which does not accept horses with Appaloosa. But the Spotted Saddle Horse and Spotted Draft Horse according to Horse Illustrated.


The differences between a pinto and a paint horse are apparent because, while the term pinto refers to the coloration and pattern of a horse, a Paint is a specific breed of horse that often has pinto coloration. 

And I believe that from today henceforth, you won’t have any misunderstanding. I’m talking about when you hear people talk about their pinto or paint horses. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Paint horse colorations and breeding, the APHA provides a detailed list with pictures (page 18).

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or more insight into pinto vs paint horses. 


Are all paint horses pinto?

Yes! Paint horses are pinto, but pinto horses are not always paint.
Paint horses are pinto. They carry paint genetics, which makes them pinto. Pintos have patches of white and any other color, so paint horses need to be neither all-white nor all-black. Pinto is a term for one of many possible paint patterns rather than the name of one specific paint horse breed. Pintos can be any breed so long as they possess paint genetics. Therefore, paint is a term to describe characteristics of certain horses rather than the name of one specific horse breed.

Do pinto horses always produce pinto offspring?

Paint horses are pinto because one of their parents was pinto. However, pinto horses do not always produce pinto offspring together. When pinto horses have a baby, there is a 25% chance that it will be pinto. It all depends on what type of pinto the parents are - sabino or frame pinto.
If both parents are sabino pinto, their babies will always be paint. If one parent is frame pinto and the other is sabino, there's a 50% chance that their offspring will be paint. For paint horses with no paint genetics carried in their bloodline whatsoever, only the father can pass paint genetics to his offspring.
So to answer your question, pinto offspring can only come from pinto horses, but pinto horses can have babies who aren't pinto.

Are pinto horses rare?

Pinto horses are not rare, but pinto itself is. Pinto is a simple dominant gene, meaning the offspring will always be pinto regardless of what other color genes the parent has. Therefore pinto can be carried along within a horse without ever being expressed as pinto. This means that these horses often have some pinto family members who are not pinto themselves.
Pintos are also not common because many breeders don't like to keep them around their breeding stock due to the pinto gene being so dominant. Many breeders who do allow pinto parents in their stud books will charge more money for pinto offspring because of this.

Are paints good horses?

Yes! Paints are one of the most popular paint horse breeds. They have beautiful color markings and are very smart, athletic horses. However paint horse breeders must be careful to maintain a diverse gene pool in order to keep paint horses healthy and happy for generations to come.

What is the Paint horse known for?

Paint horses are known for being beautiful, athletic and intelligent!
Paint horses have been around since the beginning of the North American stock horse in the 1700's, although their true ancestry is unknown. They were primarily bred to be working ranch horses and paint strains still remain among the best of western stock breeds today.
Paint horses often win in the show ring and on the track, and their pinto color patterns make them really stand out.

Can you register a paint horse without knowing the parents?

No! Paint horses must be bred from paint parents in order to be registered as paint.
This is because pinto patterns are controlled by a dominant gene, meaning they always show up even if one parent isn't pinto. This is why it's very important to make sure paint horses come from parents who both have the paint gene before you try to breed paint horses.
Of course paint horse breeders do sometimes make mistakes and accidentally breed two horses with no paint gene together. This can cause paint offspring that aren't actually paint horses at all.