Color Patterns in Paint Horses

Each Paint Horse has a particular combination of white and any color of the equine spectrum: black, bay, brown, chestnut, dun, grulla, sorrel, palomino, buckskin, gray, or roan. Markings can be any shape or size, and located virtually anywhere on the Paint’s body. Although Paints come in a variety of colors with different markings, there are only three specific coat patterns: tobiano, overo, and tovero. Here’s a rundown of these patterns, plus a few common variations.

Tobiano: The tobiano (or “toby”) typically shows white over his back and up his legs; it’s common for two, three, or all four of a tobiano’s legs to be white below his hocks and knees. His head is normally like that of a solid-color horse, either solid or showing a star, snip, strip, or blaze. His spots are regular and distinct, with clear borders. His mane and tail are usually two colors.

Overo: With the overo, the white originates on the horse’s underside, and rarely crosses his back. He tends to show color on all four legs. There’s typically a lot of white on his head; overos may be bald-faced, apron-faced, or bonnet-faced. Often, one or both eyes will be blue. Where color meets white, the borders are often irregular, and the spots of color may be “bordered” (surrounded by a mixture of colored and white hairs).

Tovero: The tovero horse shows both tobiano and overo characteristics. For example, this horse might have basic tobiano coloring, but with a bald or “apron” face. Or, he might be almost all white, showing base color only on his muzzle, ears, chest, and flanks.

Sabino: The sabino has an entirely different white pattern, usually including wide blazes and completely white legs. Some have so much white that color may appear only on his ears and chest (see medicine-hat coloration, below), or on the dock of his tail. The sabino’s base coat color isn’t solid, but mixed with white hairs – this looks like roaning, but it’s not. He might sport a “roany” white that begins on his belly and reaches up his sides.

Splashed white: Splashed white is a spotting pattern that often makes the horse look as though it’s been dipped in white paint. For instance, on a dark-colored horse, the legs and bottom portion of the body are often white, with a white head and blue eyes. Normally, there’s little or no roaning.

Medicine hat: A dark-colored cap at the horse’s poll is called a “medicine hat.” Horses distinguished by this marking usually have a predominately white coat, often with a dark “shield” pattern across their chest. Native Americans believed these markings carried special spiritual protection as they rode into battle.

Photos Courtesy of the American Paint Horse Association

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!