The “Painted Ponies” of the American West

What is a Paint? This is a question we get all the time. People see our logo and start asking questions about how much we charge to paint their house or office. We chuckle and set them on the right path. When Stoney Hollow Paints comes up in conversation, you better believe that conversation is about horses. What is a Paint? A Paint is one of the best horses found on this green earth.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to interact with or ride a Paint, you are missing out. Paints are some of the most patient, easygoing and gentle horses found not only in the United States, but around the world. With their versatility, stamina, natural aptitude for long rides and sturdy confirmation, it’s no wonder they became a favorite of the American Indians. And they gained the name “Painted Ponies” because of the two-tone color variation in their coat. These stunning horses are not to be missed.

Dakota taking a evening stroll.

Dakota taking a evening stroll.


In the early 1500s, Spanish explorers arrived in North America and brought “painted ponies” with them. It was the first time the native Americans had ever seen Barb, Andalusian or Arabian-bred horse and these horses helped form the wild herds of mustangs that were so prevalent through the American West. At the time, the term pintados or “pintos” was used to describe any multi-color or dappled horse. Just to be clear, Paints and Pintos are two different breeds, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Native Americans loved these horses so much that they raided farms and other tribes to obtain them. They were especially favored by the Comanches, who decorated their buffalo skin robes with images of the horses. Paints allowed the Indians to keep up with the buffalo herds, turning the plains tribes into nomadic hunter and warrior. Paints were given magical properties by the Indians, especially those with “medicine hat” markings. The Native Americans believed these horses could protect them from death or injury during a conflict. We’ll talk more about this pattern below.

 The horse gene pool expanded with the introduction of Thoroughbred horses by English settlers. These horses bred with the “painted ponies” and created a working stock horse that had stamina and a good nature. They were also wonderful trail horses and became the best-known foundation of the Quarter Horse. Those quarter horses with enough color range became what we know now as American Paint horses.

Gypsy and Jesse visiting.

Gypsy and Jesse visiting.

Color and Patterns

Paints are known for their patterned coats. Their coats are a base white that is “splashed” with a variety of colors such as black, brown, chestnut, bay, dun and more, sometimes two or three at once. Their coats are like human fingerprints, no two are alike. Paints can also have markings of any size, shape and be located anywhere on their body. Their markings tend to be one of three base coat patterns. Let’s look at the patterns and some of the most common variations that can be found.

Tobiano: Paints with white over their backs and up their legs are sporting the Tobiano pattern. Their legs are white below the hocks and knees, sometimes all four legs, sometimes only two. Their head is normally solid with a star, strip, blaze or snip of color. Spots are regular and distinct, and their tails and manes are typically two colors.

Overo: Overo’s are opposite of Tobiano’s with white starting at the horse’s belly and moving up but rarely crossing the back. Colors tend to show up on all four legs and where the color meets white, you will find irregular borders. Spots on an Overo are bordered in a mixture of white and colored hair. These Paints usually have a lot of white on their heads and can be bald-, apron- or bonnet-faced. Plus, one or both of their eyes will be blue.

Tovero: Paint’s that throw Tovero get the best of both worlds, displaying both Overo and Tobiano characteristics. They could have Tobiano colors with a bald face or be almost completely white with their color showing on their face, chest and flank.

Now that we looked at the three basic patterns you’ll find in a Paint, let’s look at some of those variations.

Sabino: If you see a Paint that has wide blazes or completely white legs, it could be a Sabino. Sabino’s usually have so much white that you’ll only find color on their ears and chest or on the dock of their tails. Their base coat color is mixed with white hairs, giving them a roaning look that starts on their stomach and works up their sides.

Medicine Hat: Paints that have Medicine Hat markings were prized among the Native Americans. They believed that the markings gave them spiritual protection in battle. This Paint is almost completely white with a color patch on their ears and the top of the head, a “medicine hat.” Some may also have colored markings across the chest, their “shield,” and pink muzzles.

Splashed White: One of the most interesting variations is the Splashed White. These Paints look like they’ve been picked up and dipped in a vat of white paint. For example, the bottom half of the body and the legs on a dark-colored Paint will be white and sometimes the head will be white with blue eyes. You usually do not find any roaning on a Splashed White.

Physical Appearance

An average Paint can stand anywhere from 14.2 to 16 hands high, or 58” to 64”, at the withers. They are muscular but are graceful and well-balanced, making them great for trail riding, ranch work, jumping, and showing. They have a low center of gravity and powerful hindquarters, but that doesn’t mean they are slow. Paints are very athletic horses and can reach speeds of 55 to 60 mph.  To this day, they are still favored by cattle ranchers and cowboys.

The Painted Ponies

Gentle, intelligent, calm, patient and willing, Paints are a joy to work with. They are easy to train, and are affectionate, and you could even say they choose their partner to be in the saddle. From trail riding to the show ring, Paints are a great horse for any level of rider. If you get a chance, take one out on the trail and enjoy the ride.

Trust us. You’ll be hooked.