PAINT HORSES: PHOTOS, Pictures, and History

American Paint Horses in America

The history of the Paint Horses begins in 1519 when the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed to North America along with his entourage of conquistadors.

He also brought warhorses, one of which was a sorrel and white horse with spots on its belly. That spotted horse bred with native American mustangs and consequently laid the foundation for what is today the American Paint Horse breed. By the early 1800s, on the American western plains, this peculiar spotted Horse was becoming the favorite mount of the American Indian. In particular, the Comanche Indians, considered by many authorities to be the finest horsemen of the West, preferred these strikingly colored Horses.

These spotted horses were called by a variety of names: pinto, paint, skewbald, and piebald, which eventually formed the Pinto Horse Association in the late 50s. This in turn finally led to the creation of the modern day American Paint Horse Association.

Although all Paint-Horses have a particular combination of white and any color of the equine spectrum: black, brown, bay, chestnut, sorrel, dun, palomino, buckskin, gray or roan, there markings can be any shape or size, and located anywhere on the body. While American Paints come in a variety of colors there are only three distinct coat patterns: overo, tobiano, and tovero. All this, combined with an athletic ability and agreeable disposition, make the American Paint-Horse an excellent investment in quality.

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When Columbus discovered the New World, there were no Paint Horses here.


This is strange, for horses were abundant in North and South America over ten thousand years ago. Why these animals became extinct in still a puzzling question: conditions were excellent for their development with the open grassy plains and the high plateaus of the interior. Some unknown factors were involved in their extinction, since other prehistoric animals disappeared at the same time.

Like all other horses, Paints arrived in America in two general ways. The first and most significant, was by way of the Spanish conquistadors. The second was through importations from England.

In the years intervening between 1492 and settlement of the mainland, it must have become apparent that there were no horses in New Spain. Letters to the homeland continually stressed the need for additional mounts, and those that arrived were more precious than the soldiers who accompanied them. It is reasonable to assume that the horses that arrived in the Southwest during the sixteenth century were of the same type as those ridden by Cortes and his men and that their coloring and characteristics were much the same.

The mounted Spaniards held the upper hand over the Indians. To prevent the natives from obtaining their horses, they issued decrees forbidding Indians to own or ride horses. Despite these ordinances many tribes built up horse herds by stealing, bartering, and attacking the Spanish ranches and missions.

Indians seemed to prefer the gray, white, and Painted Horses above all others. The grays and whites could easily be colored Paint-Horse style by the imaginative Indians if there were not enough spotted horses to go around. Besides their love of color, the Indians had a practical reason for owning Paint Horses. The colors were the easiest to alter to coincide with the changing seasons. The American Indians were experts in the ancient art of camouflage. They devised protective tactics of camouflaging their Horses and themselves in enemy territory and ably outmaneuvered seasoned soldiers and unfriendly tribes. So that both horse and rider could pass unobserved across open plains, the Indians chose horses of a coloring to blend with the natural and seasonal background of the country. The warriors, skillful riders that they were, dropped to one side of the horse and passed undetected by the human eye. Horses of the color of the prairies--dun, roan, or light sorrel--were ridden in summer and fall. In winter white or Palomino horses were indistinguishable traveling across the snow. In sagebrush country the gray and blue roan colors were ideal. The techniques employed by the Indians were in no way unusual. They utilized nature's own mode of concealment to aid animals in protecting themselves from predatory animals.

These spotted horses were called by a variety of names: pinto, paint, skewbald, and piebald, which eventually formed the Pinto Horse Association in the late 50s. This in turn finally led to the creation of the modern day American Paint Horse Association.

American Paint--Pinto Horse

The American Paint Horse or Pinto was the Indian's favorite horse.

The American Paint was the Indian's favorite horse. He was variable and could be transformed to suit any surroundings or any season of the year. Simply by shading or rubbing out one color, his owner could easily alter the body colors. If the Indian wanted a dun or gray horse, he had only to darken the white areas of the body. For a light-colored coat the dark areas could be rubbed with sand or ashes and faded out. Many western tribes decorated their Horses for battle with paints, feathers, and beads. As the warriors painted themselves with war colors, they also decorated their horses for the battlefield. The Paint Horse, already decorated by nature, added color to the visual spectacle, and in the heat of battle his colors would not run and blur, as would those with paint added for the occasion.

To the Indian the Paints were more than a warhorse or a means of travel. He was a medium of exchange and a status symbol. The number of Horses he owned determined an Indian's wealth, and any wealthy hunter owned at least a half dozen horses. Paint-Horses were especially treasured and prized. Even though they never bred their horses carefully, the Indians took pride in their animals and made some attempt to breed for the coloring they admired so much.

The Paint Horse has always been associated with the Indian in legends, stories, songs, and even in today's television programs. At the siege of the Alamo, at the Fetterman massacre, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Paint Horse was there.

herds of wild paint horses

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries vast herds of wild horses roamed the western deserts and plains. Although the wild horses of America were not of the unrestrainable character as the truly wild horses of Europe and Asia, they ranged freely in great numbers and could be claimed by anyone willing to attempt their capture. These horses, known as mustangs and broomtails, had their foundation in Spanish Barb stock. They were descendants of the domestic horses imported from Spain and the islands off the Florida coast that had been driven off or stolen by the Indians.

lmportations of Paint-Horses were relatively few and were for the most part of the Hackney and French Coach lines, which were by and large indirectly descended from the early English Thoroughbred foundation sires, the Godolphin Barb, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk. The Horses of this blood were showy animals with a natural gait, making them excellent harness horses.

Paint Horse Lover with foal

By 1700 the sport of horse racing was well established and Paint Horse Lovers
and had spread throughout Maryland and Virginia

Because of his many varied coat colors and patterns, the Paint-Horse probably has been called by more names than any other horse. Dating back to the earliest Horses in Arabia, the Moslem called him a kanhwa, which meant blotched with white and chestnut or black. In India a Paint-Horse was a pulwahri, meaning a white horse that "flowers" with black spots, and in Spanish the Paint Horse was derived from the word pintado, meaning painted or mottled.

The cowboys applied such names as piebald, skewbald, calico, overo, spotted, pinto and old paint. Generally, piebald horses were black and white, calico horses were roan and white, and skewbald horses were bay, sorrel, or dun with white. Among the ranch hands there were mixed views on the ability of a Paint Horse. As in every breed there were superb performers and mediocre ones. Those who rode one, owned one, or worked one knew that most Paints possessed action as quick as any horse of their time. They were willing to give credit where credit was due.

Each of the forty-odd wild-west shows added its own special features, sometimes bulldogging, calf roping, wild-cow milking, or steer wrestling. When the shows faded in the 1920's, one of the most spirited of American sports, the rodeo, came into national prominence. Rodeoing had begun years earlier among the cowboys after roundup. Annually in cow towns throughout the West at these roundups, stampedes, or rodeos the Paint horse gained a new recognition for his terrific action, strength, and athletic ability. Paint-Horses, whose ancestors a few generations back were applauded for their good performing ability in conveying the message of the wild-west Shows, were now cheered for bucking or cutting skills that brought to the arena a true frontier background. There is no denying the fact that the Paint-Horse contributed his part to American History extremely well.

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