As a favorite steed of frontiersmen and Native Americans, the Pinto horse is one of the most recognizable symbols of the American West. Yet as easy as they are to envision, these colorful steeds are more diverse than many realize! There are plenty of misconceptions and confusion around this “breed.” Let’s sort out the facts as we discuss the Pinto horse’s temperament and traits.
|Colors:||Black and white, color and white|
|Height:||Up to 39” (Miniature), 39”–56” (Pony), 56”+ (Horse)|
Although Americans consider it a true breed, the Pinto label focuses only on color, like Palominos. A Pinto combines white patches with a dark color, such as black, chestnut, or bay, in various piebald or skewbald patterns, giving each horse a unique appearance.
Whether it’s a horse, pony, or miniature, a specimen from any breed can be a Pinto if it has the proper pattern. The only exceptions are Appaloosas and mules. As a result, the Pinto category of horses covers a broad spectrum of temperaments, builds, and potential uses.
Pinto Breed Characteristics
What Are Pinto Horses Used For?
Because Pinto horses come in all shapes and sizes, they can have several uses for work, show, racing, and pleasure-riding. Native Americans valued Pintos for riding and as warhorses, while settlers and pioneers bred them for work on the ranch. Breeds like Arabians, Icelandic Horses, and Saddlebreds give us some of the most common Pinto varieties. Certain draft-type horses, including the Gypsy Vanner and American Drum Horse, are typically Pinto.
Where Did These Horses Originate From?
The Pinto coloration arrived from Europe with Spanish settlers as early as the 16th century. The original stock consisted primarily of crosses between Barbs and European horses such as Andalusians. Many believe the defining coloration came from either Middle Eastern horses or breeds arriving from the Russian Steppes, as Pinto patterns have appeared in ancient artifacts from both areas.
Once in America, the European horses bred with wild horses, inspiring multi-colored herds across the land. The Native Americans took a keen liking to the Pinto horses, believing they had magical qualities to aid in battle. As settlers expanded westward, pioneers often crossed their European stock with wild varieties to produce a hardier, stronger horse for work.
While no less capable than horses of any other color, Pintos were favorable for their gorgeous patterns, eventually becoming frequent features in parades and movies because of their captivating qualities. The Pinto Horse Association of America was established in 1956. Pinto coloration often limits any horse’s ability to meet purebred conformation standards, and the new organization hoped to promote responsible, enthusiastic ownership and excellence among multi-colored horses.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Pinto Horse
With countless Pinto horse outcrosses, the temperament and intelligence of this color breed aren’t well-defined. Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Hackneys, Oldenburgs, and several other horses can all be Pintos, offering different levels of trainability and energy. Pintos are generally easy to train, outgoing, and relaxed around people and other animals.
Appearance & Varieties
Pinto horses will take on the size and shape of their outcrossed breeds. For registration with the PtHA, a horse needs a certain amount of white within the qualifying zone above the knees. Though most Pintos show significant white patches, the requirements only call for four square inches of white in the qualifying area. Ponies and miniatures need only three and two square inches of white, respectively. The ideal Pintos have a 50-50 white and color pattern distribution.
While every Pinto horse’s particular pattern is distinct, several categories exist. The PtHA currently recognizes the two primary color types: Tobiano and Overo.
Tobiano is the most common Pinto variety. In this pattern, the head has minimal white markings, and the body sports large colored spots above the horse’s white legs. White sections cross the top line, and color covers at least one flank.
The Overo pattern consists primarily of a solid color with patches of white on the side of the body and neck. White markings often have a more jagged appearance and do not cross over the back, instead appearing in a frame of color. The tail and mane are colored, but the face is bald. Unlike Tobiano, there are several Overo patterns, including:
Tovero blends Tobiano and Overo genes. The predominantly white Pinto will often have colored patches of varying sizes on the chest, flank, and neck and dark coloration around the mouth and ears. One or both eyes will be blue. The Tovero coloration includes the rare Medicine Hat pattern. Featuring a colored area atop a white head, these horses were desirable warhorses for Native Americans. Legends described the horses as having the power to protect riders from injury and alert them to coming danger.
Things to Know When Owning a Pinto Horse
Habitat & Stable Requirements 🌾
A Pinto’s living environment will depend on its breed and size. Horses need plenty of room to stand, turn around, and lie down when kept in a stall. In general, a 12×12 area with ceiling 10–12 feet high is sufficient for a 1,000-pound horse. Stables need regular cleaning and consistent temperature control and ventilation to prevent illness.
If you keep your Pinto confined to a stable, they still need a paddock to roam and play to expend energy. Wherever you keep them, providing easy access to food and clean water is essential. Enrichment items like mirrors and toys can help stave off boredom and negative behaviors if your horse spends a decent amount of time in their stall.
Food & Diet Requirements 🥕
The bulk of a Pinto horse’s diet consists of roughage. High-quality hay or pasture forage is foundational to supply essential nutrients and allow for proper digestion. Pintos feed throughout the day, eating small portions at regular intervals. If stabled, they’ll need a consistent supply of hay to work through.
A Pinto should eat 1%–2% of their body weight in dry matter daily. Roughage should make up at least 50% of the horse’s diet. Hay and pasture may be sufficient for a practical diet, but concentrates and other supplements could be necessary for old, ill, or heavily worked horses. Diets and feeding schedules should be consistent, and any changes should occur gradually over several weeks.
Healthy horses need frequent exercise, making access to an enclosure an essential part of their environment. High-quality pasture areas will help encourage activity because Pintos will continually move around in search of fresh plants to eat. Bursts of running make for a good workout, but horses usually get their fill of activity when they keep moving around the paddock.
Even with decent feeding opportunities, Pinto horses like having other horses in their enclosure, or they may not move around much at all. Companions will keep your horses active as they interact while helping to decrease stress and loneliness. If you can’t give your horse several hours to move outside, you must work out a hand walking or riding routine to provide adequate exercise.
The trainability of a Pinto depends primarily on the breed, but the average horse’s temperament is friendly and compliant. Bonding and training are relatively easy, whether you’re keeping your Pinto for pleasure riding, working around the property, or competitions.
Pinto horses have a few unique grooming considerations due to their white coat. Although the general routine is familiar, stains are more apparent against the white. While you need to remove them, you can’t use an aggressive approach with harsh detergents, as they can cause dry, fragile hair. A quality curry comb and stiff brush are critical, while a gentle spot cleaner can resolve the toughest stains.
The pink skin under the white patches on Pinto horses also needs a delicate touch. Since they’re susceptible to sunburn and other irritation, their skin requires frequent monitoring for issues. Hair may need to stay longer at certain times of the year if your Pinto is extra sensitive.
Lifespan & Health Conditions 🏥
A Pinto horse’s expected lifespan and susceptibility to particular health problems vary significantly depending on its genetics. But one notable condition unique to the color breed is lethal white overo syndrome.
The disease stems from a recessive gene, which expresses itself when two-frame Overo Pinto horses breed. Affected foals are born completely white and suffer from a constricted intestinal tract that doesn’t let them pass waste. If not euthanized, they typically die within days from GI rupture.
Male vs Female
With all the variation in breeds among the Pinto population, there are no clear-cut differences between the males and females other than what you would expect from any horse. Males are slightly larger than females of the same breed, and hormonal differences play a role in temperament. Geldings are usually less aggressive than stallions, but mares are generally the more relaxed sex.
3 Little-Known Facts About Pinto Horses
1. All Paint Horses Are Pintos, But Not All Pintos Are Paints
Many view the American Paint Horse and Pintos as indistinguishable breeds, but there is a clear distinction in their definitions. Pinto horses are purely a color breed. With limited exceptions, any breed from miniature to draft horses can be a Pinto if they have the minimum number of white markings on their body.
As a type of Pinto horse, Paint Horses are a less inclusive category. Although they share the same piebald and skewbald patterns, only horses with Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred lineage qualify as Paints. A Paint Horse can have dual registration as a Paint with the American Paint Horse Association and a Pinto with the PtHA.
2. Pintos Are Hollywood Icons
Pintos were a natural choice for filmmakers when the script called for a horse. The colorful steeds already had a famous association with cowboys and Native Americans, making them perfect for Westerns, and it didn’t hurt that they were one of the more attractive breeds to watch. Several Pintos have earned enduring Hollywood fame, including Little Joe’s horse, Cochise, from Bonanza and Scout, Tonto’s faithful Paint Horse.
3. Pinto Horses Fell Out of Favor in Europe
Part of the reason Pintos had a chance to prosper in America was that Europeans began losing interest in them. Though once all the rage, multi-colored horses became less desirable by the 18th century. To avoid social backlash from owning them, many owners shipped their horses overseas for release into the wild.
Pintos may have been magical for the Native Americans, but these magnificent creatures can capture anyone’s heart. As enduring icons of the Old West, these horses continue to delight and impress at home and in competition. With numerous breeds under the Pinto umbrella and infinite pattern possibilities, every horse is undeniably exceptional.
Featured Image Credit: Callipso, Shutterstock