The Paint Horse

Paint Horses are the Masarati of the equine world,” Paint Horse owner Alice Singleton says, smiling. “With all their chrome, they’re simply a little snazzier and flashier than any other ‘model.’ I just love them!”

The former city girl, who spent 20 years working in investment banking, had never been on a horse until she met and married cowboy veterinarian Jerry Singleton. “He had a Quarter Horse, but it was Quarter Horses with spots that captivated my imagination,” she says.

Made in America

When the first Spanish explorers landed on North American shores in the early 1500s, “painted” or two-toned horses were among the first arrivals. Those Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian-bred horses eventually formed the foundation for the wild herds of mustangs found throughout the American West. The Spanish term pintado or “pinto” was commonly used to describe a multicolored or dappled horse. Native Americans prized their painted ponies, and many tribal communities assigned magical properties to their mounts’ resplendent, colorful markings.

Centuries passed, and Thoroughbred horses brought to North America by English settlers added to the equine gene pool. Early horse breeders sought to create working stock that also had the stamina and good minds to be dependable trail partners. Some were solid colored, some not. But records show that some of the best-known foundation sires of the Quarter Horse breed had sufficient color to be regarded as American Paint Horses today.

In fact, Quarter Horses and Paints shared a common history and gene pool until 1940, when the American Quarter Horse Association was formed. At that time, the AQHA excluded horses with “excessive white” – in other words, Paint Horses – from its registry. Even “cropouts” – the painted offspring of two registered Quarter Horse parents – were denied entry into the AQHA.

Twenty years later, this virtual shutout resulted in the formation of two organizations, the American Paint Quarter Horse Association and the American Stock Horse Association. Both registered Paint Horses with Quarter Horse ancestry. In 1965, they united to form the modern American Paint Horse Association.

Today, the APHA boasts 108,000 active members in the United States, Canada, and 39 additional countries and territories. Characterized by an irresistibly upbeat and inclusive outlook, the APHA experienced record growth during the 1990s, while maintaining its family orientation and broad appeal to all generations.

The APHA recognized that whatever the primary focus of their members (recreation, competition, breeding, etc.), the vast majority – more than 76 percent – were trail riders, too. In response, such programs as Ride America and the APHA-sponsored extended-day wilderness rides were developed to welcome trail devotees and their colorful mounts into the organization.

Eventually, Alice brought home an eye-catching sorrel overo gelding, with medicine-hat and splashed-white markings. And, she discovered what many Paint Horse aficionados profess: While the Paint Horse’s colorful coat initially attracts their attention, the breed’s easygoing temperament, sturdy conformation, versatility, and natural aptitude for the trail are what capture their hearts.

In 1992, when Alice took her favorite Paint gelding, Sir Jeta Moon (“Kacee”) on their first trail ride – the American Paint Horse Association Wilderness Lodge Ride in southern Missouri, she knew she’d found her niche. She’s been on every Lodge Ride since. Today, the Singletons have 11 Paint Horses on their Arkansas farm, and Alice and Kacee have logged more than 5,380 miles on the trail. Alice also serves on the APHA Executive Committee.

The APHA (817/834-2741; encourages trail enthusiasts with its Ride America program ( Nearly 5,000 participants log their trail miles to receive national recognition and prizes. The APHA also sponsors several annual wilderness rides ( Read on to learn more about the Paint Horse, and to see whether this colorful breed might brighten your time on trail.

A Work Horse

Iowan Pat Meade has owned Paint Horses since 1952, when he was a sophomore in high school. Like many, their color first caught his eye, but it was their disposition, working ability, and versatility that made him a lifelong champion of the breed. As a teenager, he competed in local playdays and later roped calves off his Paints in rodeos.

Today, Meade and his wife, Nancy, use their eight Paint Horses both for trail rides and to work the cow herd on their farm. They favor Paint Horses with either Mardele Dixon or Judy’s Lineage bloodlines, as both have earned a reputation for strong, well-conformed horses with good minds.

In 1990, Meade and former APHA executive secretary Ed Roberts united to establish the organization’s trail-riding programs. Every year, Meade and his wife attend at least five APHA-sponsored extended day rides (3 to 5 days long), and he often serves as trail boss.

Riders enrolled in the Ride America program can earn double credit for their hours in the saddle when they participate in APHA-sponsored rides. The most popular is the Fort Robinson Ride held every year over Labor Day weekend. Routinely, between 120 and 150 horses and riders enjoy spectacular scenery in the Ponderosa Pine forests and tall-grass prairies of Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford, Nebraska.

“The 2000 ride was unforgettable,” Meade says. “First, it’s always an incredible sight to see so many colorful Paint Horses together on the trail. But that year, lightning strikes started eight fires in the area, and the government sent 500 firefighters to work out of Fort Robinson. So all of our Paint trail riders pitched in every day to make sandwiches and meals for the fire crews – but we rode every day, too. Paint Horse people are the greatest!”

Fellow trail riders think Pat Meade’s pretty great, too, and not just for his cowboy expertise. A talented crooner, Meade has recorded country CDs, such as Come Ride with Me (see Hot on the Trail on page 12), and when persuaded will serenade trail companions with his Marty Robbins’ repertoire.

“Paint Horses will always be my family’s choice, because they’re versatile at home and adapt to trail riding with ease,” says Meade. “Our APHA trail rides are laid back, and our common-sense rules maintain the safety of horses and riders. The quality of the people and the family orientation has kept me involved in the APHA. And on the trail, we’ve been fortunate to meet many skillful horsemen, devoted to the breed, who have become lifelong friends.”

Pattern Terms

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.

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.

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.

Photos Courtesy of the American Paint Horse Association

Spotted On Trail

Shanda Zessin and her husband, Gregg, are carriage-driving buffs who, until 10 years ago, owned a team of Belgians. But Gregg had always been drawn to Paints, especially bay-and-white horses. So when the Oregon-based couple attended a collectible-carriage sale in Rocksprings, Wyoming, what happened there wasn’t a complete surprise to Shanda.

“We drove home in a snowstorm, not with a new carriage, but with a bay-and-white tobiano Paint Horse in our trailer,” she says, laughing. The gelding was named Jokers Magic, but they soon nicknamed him “Wyoming.” Within a year, an almost identical tobiano, JD Stormin Norman (“Montana”) joined him in the barn.

“We’re hooked on Paints Horses, because there isn’t anything they won’t do,” she says. “We ride and drive them on trails and old logging roads, we use them as pack horses, and, at home, we gather cows with them.”

One of Shanda’s favorite trail rides was deep into the Eagle Cap Wilderness area of Northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. “Gregg dropped me, my sister, and her family at the trailhead, and we met again five days later,” she says. They spent lots of time in the saddle, and relaxed in broad, unspoiled mountain meadows. “One afternoon, Wyoming laid down to sleep in a peaceful meadow, and I stretched out, leaned against him, and enjoyed the afternoon sun, too.”

One memorable day, Shanda and her nephew, David Huffman, rode through deep canyons, across the next valley, and climbed to the top of a steep ridge. They arrived just before sunset. From their vantage point, they spotted deer, elk, and other wildlife quietly grazing, and enjoyed breathtaking views across the La Grande Valley, far below.

“It was unforgettable,” she says. “Then we rode off the ridge in pitch dark. Riding down steep mountain trails and across water in complete darkness, you quickly find out what kind of relationship you have with your horse – and how much you trust him. That’s when I’m glad to be riding my Paint Horse – surefooted, calm, and the best partner you can hope for in challenging times on the trail.”

Easy Riders

“I loved their color – no two are ever alike – and their Quarter Horse conformation,” says Nancy Fawcett, who, with her husband, Elsworth, has owned Paint Horses since 1974. The couple has bred and raised four generations of Paints, and today they have 10 horses, mostly toveros (see “Pattern Terms” on page 56), on their 50-acre farm in New York.

“My favorite trail times are the quiet rides on our property and nearby in the 64,000-acre Allegany State Park,” she says. “Wildlife abounds, from fox and coyote to wild turkeys and ducks. We have a creek, and not only is the water a good training opportunity for our horses, but you never know when you might happen upon a doe and her twin fawns drinking. It’s special.”

Fawcett, who starts her homebred Paints herself, believes that trail riding provides excellent training. “It’s an opportunity to gain confident attitudes, condition their young bodies, and fine-tune their responses to a rider’s requests. Paints are very willing and learn quickly, but we take each new step slow and easy.”

Paint Horse owners report that the breed presents no unique challenge to good saddle fit. Some use saddles with wide trees, while many trail riders prefer “treeless” saddles (such as those made by Bob Marshall Sports Saddles; 614/837-7299; These saddles provide a secure, stable fit, and by eliminating direct pressure on the back, do away with most sore back woes.

Those who frequently ride their horses through deep water swear by Cordura saddles (such as those made by Fabtron; 865/982-2321;, because they dry quickly.

Art of Selection

We asked Paint Horse owners and trail riders for their best advice for folks who’d like to see spots in their barns, too.

• Visit owners and breeders whose horses do well on the trail. Ask questions. Do your research. Learn from their experience.

• Find a horse whose training level is appropriate for you. If you’re inexperienced or returning to the saddle after a long absence, a trail veteran probably will be a better partner than a young horse. Combining a green horse with a green rider is a formula for failure.

• Look for a horse with a friendly disposition that displays an interest in people. This usually indicates a willingness to please, invaluable in a trail horse.

• Find a calm horse, one not easily startled or spooked. Is he excitable in the pasture? A “hyper” horse will waste his energy on the trail (not to mention yours) while those with a calm temperament will conserve their energy and have the stamina to carry you the distance.

• Select a size that complements yours. Paints can run from 14.2 to more than 16.2 hands high, so make certain you can mount and dismount easily – you’ll be doing lots of that on the trail.

• Finally, have fun and choose your color, but keep in mind that you ride the horse, not the color.

Shanda Zessin offers a final bit of wisdom. “I always ask newcomers, ‘What can you offer the horse?’ Paint Horses are brave, strong partners on the trail, and we should be skillful, knowledgeable partners for them.

“Condition them before you tackle long rides, and provide them a comfortable, healthy environment at home. The greatest challenge is being patient until you find exactly the right Paint. When you find the colorful horse of your dreams, you’ll be rewarded with years of memorable trail rides!”

Ready to look for the right horse for you? Go to, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network, to search for the perfect horse!

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