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Paint Horse vs Pinto Horse: What’s the Difference?

Dean Eby

February 18, 2021

Paint horses and pintos are often mistaken for each other. In fact, the two terms are used interchangeably by many people, though this is incorrect. Horses of either type look strikingly similar, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the same thing. Visually, it’s pretty hard to tell these horses apart because they do share the same colorations and patterns. So, what exactly are the differences between these two types of horses? Is there any way to tell them apart?

When you start diving deeper, you’ll notice that things get a bit complicated. It turns out that Paint horses are pinto horses, but pinto horses are not always Paints. Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re here to help clarify. Let’s take a closer look at each of these horses and see if we can determine what the differences between them are.


Visual Differences

Left- Paint Horse, Right- Pinto Horse | Image Credit- Pixabay

At a Glance

Paint Horse
  • Average height (adult): 14 – 16 hands
  • Average weight (adult): 950 – 1200 pounds
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Breeds: Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred with verifiable pedigrees
Pinto Horse
  • Average height (adult): 16 hands
  • Average weight (adult): 1050 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Breeds: Any except Draft Horses or Appaloosas


Paint Horse Overview

paint horse
Paint Horse

Paint horses are a specific breed, and there are several associations built around this breed, including the American Paint Horse Association or APHA. APHA has laid out rules and regulations regarding what constitutes a true Paint horse. In order for a horse to be considered a paint, it must meet all of these guidelines. This means that horses that look like paints but don’t qualify can’t be considered paints.

Pinto Coloration

All paint horses could be considered pinto as well. However, not all pintos could be called paints. Paints have pinto coloration, but there are only two pinto patterns that can qualify to be a paint horse. To be a paint, the horse must have either a tobiano or an overo pattern. No other colors or patterns will qualify a horse to be considered a paint.

Verifiable Pedigrees

The second and equally important requisite for being considered a paint horse is a verifiable pedigree. Paint horses must either be a Thoroughbred or a Quarter Horse with the papers to prove it. More specifically, the parentage must be proven from one of only three approved registries. Those are very specific qualifications to meet since the horse must also be a very specific color pattern.

paint horse close up
Paint Horse

The Difference:

Paint horses must have a very specific proven parentage. They can only be Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds from parents registered in the AQHA, APHA, or TB. Furthermore, Paint horses must meet very specific coloration requirements; a pinto pattern of either tobiano or overo. This means that all paint horses are pintos. Not all pintos will qualify as Paint horses though.


Pinto Horse Overview

pinto horse close up
Pinto Horse

Pinto horses run wild across much of North America, and they were favorites of many Native American tribes that would capture them and tame them to ride. These horses are beautiful with varying color patterns that are all grouped together and considered to be pintos.

Pinto Isn’t a Breed, It’s a Color Pattern

Many people mistakenly think that pinto horses are a breed. They’re considered to be a color breed, but that’s not the same as a true breed. Any type of horse can be a pinto, except for Draft horses and Appaloosas. That’s because pinto is really just a color scheme.

Pintos can display one of five different color patterns, which include tobiano, overo, tovero, sabino, and splash white. Any horse that exhibits one of these color patterns is considered to be a pinto, regardless of breed.

They Look Like Paint Horses…

Pinto horses are commonly mistaken for Paints. This is an understandable misconception as the two look almost identical in many cases. That’s because all Paints are pintos. But pintos can display one of five different patterns. Paint horses can only be overo or tobiano. Plus, pintos can be any breed while Paints must be either a Thoroughbred or a Quarter Horse with a verifiable pedigree.

pinto horse in the water
Pinto Horse

The Difference:

Pinto horses can be any breed other than Appaloosas and Draft horses, so you can find a pinto horse in just about any breed you want. They can also display five different color patterns, giving pinto horses far more versatility in their appearance than Paint horses, which are relegated to just two color patterns.


Paint and Pinto Patterns

There are five patterns that you can find pintos in, but only two of these can qualify a horse to be a Paint.


tobiano horse
Image Credit: ldc_foto, Shutterstock

Tobiano pintos and Paints have a head that’s solid colored with face markings like a star or blaze. The horse’s white coloration seems to flow down from the topline, starting at the neck, hips, and shoulder. All four legs will also have white, and it can even reach the white of the body in some cases.


overo horse close up
Image Credit: Paula Cobleigh, Shutterstock

Paint and pinto horses with overo patterns can be any solid color and will have white markings on their face, making them bald or apron most of the time. At least one leg has the horse’s dark base coloration, but the rest are white. White patches on the horse’s body start on the sides and spread out, though they rarely cross the topline.


Tovero pintos are a combination of the tobiano and overo patterns. Sometimes, these horses can display interesting and unique markings like white ears.


sabino horse
Image Credit: WLen, Shutterstock

Sabino pintos can have roan coats, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as sabino roans. The horse is mainly its dark base color with white or roan beginning at the legs with three or four stockings. From there, it continues up into patches on the flank and belly with a roan appearance on the edges. They also have a bald face or a wide blaze. This pattern is most often seen on Clydesdales.

Splash White

These pintos are extremely rare. Their entire underside is white like they were just dipped in a pool of white paint. Legs, belly, chest, neck, face, and even tail are all white with dark coloration on the back and top of the horse.


What’s the Difference?

Paint and pinto horses are not the same, but they’re similar. All Paints are pintos as well, but they can only have an overo or tobiano pattern. In contrast, pintos can display one of five different patterns, giving them a wider range of possible appearances. The other big difference is that Paint horses are a true breed. They have a specific bloodline requirement to be considered a Paint. Pintos, on the other hand, can be practically any breed at all, because they’re not a true breed, just a coloration.

See Also:

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.