Paint or Pinto?
by Annamaria Tadlock

One of the most common color questions I'm asked is, "What is the difference between a Paint and a Pinto?"

The confusion comes from the fact that both bring to mind horses with white body markings, and some people use the terms interchangeably. Basically, a Paint is a breed of horse, and Pinto is a color.

The word "Pinto" means to be spotted-- like the pinto bean, a pinto horse will have patches of color. But with horses, it's their base color and white patches without color. It is caused by color genes that make patches of the skin lack pigment. A lack of pigment results in pink skin and white hair. But pinto coloration isn't unique to horses. Cattle, dogs, cats, goats, and even humans can be pintos.
Piebald is a term used in some fields to describe these patches of white. It's thought to have been derived from the terms "pie" as in magpie (a black bird) and "bald" from the bald eagle. When humans have pinto coloration, the condition is called piebaldism. It usually appears much like a horse's blaze-- a person may have lighter skin on the forehead and almost all will have a little white on the front of their head called a forelock! Surnames such as Whitlock, Blaylock, and Horlick are often derived from this pigmentation difference.

Pinto color in horses is caused by four different "pinto genes": Tobiano, frame overo, sabino, and splashed white. This is just an overview so I won't go into the differences, but each creates a white pattern with certain characteristics. Many different breeds of horses can be pinto. Tennessee walking horses, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Mustangs, Clydesdales, Miniature horses, and even Quarter Horses can carry these pinto genes and be pinto-colored.
Some pinto horses may have just a little white on their legs and face, others are your "classic" pinto-- white and dark spots-- and some can be pure white.

Pinto isn't a breed, but there are registries for horses of this color. Like the Palomino Horse Breeders Association, which registers palomino-colored horses of different breeds, pinto registries accept various pinto-colored horses. These are not breed registries, but color registries. The Pinto Horse Association of America (PtHA) accepts a wide range of horse and pony breeds for registration, as long as the horses meet color requirements.

Paint horses, just like Arabians and Quarter Horses, are a unique breed of horse. Registered Paints are part of the American Paint Horse Association. One characteristic of many Paint horses are their pinto coloration, however the registry is based on bloodlines, not just color. Horses of Paint blood may be registered even if they have little or no white. Such horses are called "breeding stock" Paints.
Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds that are born with pinto markings are also allowed in the registry. When you think of a Paint horse, however, you're usually thinking of one that's pinto colored.

Paints can be pintos, and pintos can be Paints, but not all Paints are pintos and many pintos aren't Paints. If you see a horse with white patches and you don't know what breed it is, it's safe to call it a Pinto-- no matter what breed it is.



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