What Is a Pinto Horse? (Background, Temperament & Care)

Have you heard of pinto horses and wonder what breed they are? Generally associated with the Native Americans, these horses are characterized by a patched coat that displays a combination of two or more colors. Most pinto horses have white and brown patches, although white and black or white and yellow are other common combinations. That said, what is a pinto horse?

In a nutshell, the pinto horse term is used to describe a horse with a patched coat regardless of its breed. We can talk about Thoroughbred pintos, Quarter pintos, and American Paint horses, to name just a few. Curious to find out more about their background? Read on.

Pinto Horse Origin and Background

Pinto Horse Origin and Background

Pinto horses originated in Spain, where breeders crossed Barb horses with other European and Arab strains. It is unlikely that they wanted to obtain patched horses; however, the unusual coloration gained the pinto name, which means painted.

When the Spanish explorers colonized America, they brought over the first pinto horses. These horses were largely let to roam free into the wild, where they mixed with wild horses. Later on, pinto horses were domesticated by the Native Americans and then became a favorite of cowboys due to their resistance to arduous conditions.

Today, pinto horses are selectively bred for good color and conformation. However, they can be bred from a variety of bloodlines, including Thoroughbred, American Quarter, American Shetland Pony, American Miniature Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Arabian.

Pinto Horse vs. Paint Horse: What Is the Difference?

Pinto means painted or paint in Spanish; thus, many people believe that pinto and Paint horses are one and the same.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. American Paint is a specific breed of horses limited to registered bloodlines of Paint, Thoroughbred, and American Quarter horses. Pinto is a coat pattern that horses belonging to any breed can have.

Since all American Paint horses have a patched coat, all Paint horses are pinto. However, not all pinto horses are American Paint.

Pinto Horses Appearance and Varieties

Because pinto horses can belong to any breed, they don’t have a consistent set of standards. However, we can distinguish between four major types:

  • Stock Pinto: Predominantly American Quarter and American Paint conformation and standards
  • Saddle Pinto: Predominantly Hackney, Saddle, or Tennessee Walking Horse conformation and standards
  • Hunter Pinto: Predominantly Thoroughbred conformation and standards
  • Pleasure Pinto: Predominantly Arabian horse, Morgan horse, or Welsh pony conformation and standards

Regardless of their type, all pinto horses can have different coat patterns and colors.

Pinto Patterns

Pinto horses can have one of the following six patterns:

  • Tobiano: Horses with a solid-color head and distinct color patches covering the flanks. The spots are generally round or oval and can also cover the neck or chest. All four legs are generally white, and the white appears to flow down the horse’s body from the topline.
  • Overo: An overo horse is mostly dark, with the color patches stretching along the back. At least one leg is colored, and the horse has a very distinctive solid-color head with a white face. The white is generally splashed on the sides from where it stretches in all directions; however, it rarely crosses the topline.
  • Tovero: These horses display a combination of tobiano and overo patterns and can have rare markings, such as white ears. Tovero horses are generally rare.
  • Sabino: A pattern generally found on Clydesdale and Arabian horses, this pattern is mostly dark with white legs and white splashes onto the flanks and belly. Most white marks have a lacey edge.
  • Medicine hat: One of the rarest patterns, medicine hat pintos, is mostly white with small patches of darker color on the head and ears.
  • Splash white: The rarest type of pintos, the splash pattern is similar to the medicine hat, but the horse appears to have been dunked in white paint with only patches of dark color reaching from top-down. Their entire body is white.

Pinto Colors

Although all pinto horses have white patches in their coats, there are several darker colors accepted by horse associations. These include:

  • Black: Ebony-colored patches that can have a rusty tinge during certain times of the year. Foals may have a mousey grey color that becomes black in time.
  • Chestnut: Dark red or brownish-red color. The brownish-red variety can only be distinguished from brown or black by the bronze or copper highlights.
  • Brown: A variety of brown shades, from rusty to almost black.
  • Cremello: Cream or off-white color with enough yellow hue that allows for a clear distinction between the dark and white markings.
  • Bay: A reddish-brown color that can vary from light to fiery red.
  • Palomino: A diluted body color that can range from rich gold to pale yellow.
  • Red Dun: Yellowish or flesh-colored patches.
  • Sorrell: Body-color reddish or copper-red.
  • Grullo: A smoky grey or mousey grey color. The color intensity can vary from one patch to another, with the dark patches on the head usually a darker hue compared to the body.

Pinto Horse Sizes

We can distinguish between four different sizes:

  • Standard: At least 14 hands in size
  • Pony: Between 9.5 and 14 hands in size
  • Miniature: Up to 8.5 hands in size
  • MiniatureB: Between 8.5 and 9.5 hands in size

General Pinto Standards

In general, pinto horses are considered light horses of riding type. As such, they should have a head proportionate with the body with the eyes well-set to the sides and teeth that meet evenly.

The neck should have an evidenced top line and be well-set and proportioned to the body. Regarding the body, it should have a natural curve on the back with proportionate loins. Overall, the body should appear harmonious and well-balanced, set on muscular legs that should be set squarely.

When moving, the horse should exhibit a fluid motion that should track up in all paces, and that should never trot wide behind.

While all the colors and patterns above are accepted, the horse must have a total of four square inches of white coat within a qualification zone. The qualification zone excludes the face and the legs from the knee and hocks down since these areas are generally white anyway.

Typical Behavior and Temperament

All pinto horses are considered to be intelligent and easy to train. They are popular not only because of their attractive coats but also for their easy-going personality. However, it is difficult to denote a common temperament.

The behavior and temperament of each pinto horse will be determined by the temperament and behavior specific to its breed.

Like all horses, pinto horses are herd animals and generally get along well with other animals and pets.

How to Take Care of Your Pinto Horse?

How to Take Care of Your Pinto Horse

The diet and amount of space your pinto horse needs depends on the type of horse you have. As a rule of thumb, consider at least 1.5-2 acres of space for your pinto if you’re using a combination of grazing and hay feeding.

Horses fed only by grazing or that don’t get a lot of exercise outside of their living habitat may need more space than that. If that’s the case, consider adding at least an extra acre.

If you have more than one horse, you should also add an extra acre of space for each horse you have. So, if you own two horses, consider at least 2.5-3 acres of space and so on.

When it comes to nutrition, you should consider the general guidelines for your pinto’s breed. For the most part, you should feed your horse a mix of grass, hay, and grain. Depending on the amount of grazing available, you can decide on the quantity of hay and grain your horse needs.

Protein, vitamin, and mineral supplements may also be beneficial, especially in the colder months when grazing may not supply a sufficient amount of nutrients. Older or ill horses may also need supplements – always ask your veterinarian for advice before giving any type of supplements to your horse.

Like all horses, your pinto requires regular grooming. You must pay particular attention to keeping the teeth clean and healthy. Furthermore, you’ll have to change the horseshoes regularly.

Regular vet visits are necessary for vaccinations and parasite control. Healthy horses under 20 years of age will generally require a yearly vet visit. For older horses, it is recommended to have them checked every six months.


Pinto horses may not belong to a specific breed, but nothing takes away their beauty. They come in a variety of colors, and the unique, eye-catchy patterns make them easy to appreciate.

Very affordable to own compared to purebred horses and generally low maintenance, pinto horses are an excellent choice for enthusiasts who don’t necessarily want a horse for performance. All they need is a warm place to sleep, good food, and sufficient training space.

With this in mind, don’t forget that owning a pinto is like owning a piece of American history, considering how this horse type has helped shape the US culture and society.

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