Paint, pinto or piebald?

The old English terms for a white horse with black patches and a white horse with chestnut or bay patches are, respectively, ‘piebald’ and ‘skewbald’.

The American Paint stallion, Amarillo Poco EazyMcQ, owned by Adèle Pretorius (Uniquine Paint & QH Stud). ‘Roaning’, also called a ‘halo’, can be seen around the coloured patches.
Photo: Dr Mac

In North America, a similar coat pattern appeared in mustangs and became popular with Native Americans. These coloured horses probably came to the continent in the 17th century, and were called pintos, from the Spanish word for ‘painted’.

In the US, they use the terms ‘bay pinto’ or ‘sorrel pinto’ rather than skewbald. The word ‘pinto’ applies to horses of any breed and is not considered a breed in itself, but a colour registry.

There is, however, a registered breed of coloured horses known as the American Paint Horse. They can be traced directly to American Quarter Horses that show colour.

At one stage, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) did not register Quarter Horses that showed too much colour, and breeders who liked such animals started the American Paint Horse registry.

In South Africa
An American Paint Horse Association (APHA) horse has to be bred from an APHA-registered parent. The only approved outcrosses are American Quarter Horses (AQHA-registered) and Thoroughbreds (Jockey Club-registered).

In South Africa, Pinto horses are recognised by SA Studbook; however, there is an APHA registry where horses are directly registered in the US. Paint Horses can be registered as Pinto Horses in South Africa, but Pintos cannot be registered as Paints.

Recognised patterns
For registration and breeding purposes, American Paint Horses are categorised by specific colour patterns – Tobiano, Overo, Frame Overo, Sabino, Splashed White, Tovero and Solid.

Tobiano horses’ heads may be a completely solid colour, or have a blaze, strip, star or snip. All four legs are usually white, at least below the hocks and knees. Spots are regular, distinctly oval or round, and extend down the neck and chest, giving the appearance of a shield. The tail is often two colours.

Typically, the white of an Overo will not cross the back of the horse between the withers and tail. One or all four legs will be dark and the tail is usually one colour. Overos are separated into three sub-categories.

Frame Overos have a ‘frame’ of dark colour, usually along the topline. They can pass on the lethal white syndrome if inbred: affected foals appear normal at birth, but have a non-functioning colon – and die a painful death within a few days. For this reason, such foals are humanely euthanised once identified.

Sabino is a slight spotting, with white legs, belly spots and white face markings with ‘roaning’ (a halo effect) on their edges.

The Splashed White gene results in a horse with a bald face, long white stockings, a belly splash and a white or white-tipped tail. They often have blue eyes.

Tovero horses are those that show both Tobiano and Overo patterns.

Solid horses are those that comply with APHA registration rules, but do not show ‘colour’. Instead, they carry Paint genes and can breed Paint foals if bred to an APHA horse with colour.

A solid American Quarter Horse can be registered as a Solid Paint; this allows outcrossing to lines that show good performance and conformation traits, but no colour.

Dr Mac is an academic, a practising equine veterinarian and a stud owner.