Pinto vs Paint Horse – What’s the Difference?

Jessica McDaniel
Written by
Last update:

Pinto vs Paint Horse: Types of Paint Horses

Not all horses are created equal! There are numerous subspecies of the horse, with the Paint Horse and the Pinto being two of the more popular one. If you are purchasing either a horse or a pony, keep in mind that some Paint horses are purebred, while some Pintos are not.

Granted, the differences between the two are at times slight and may be hard to tell apart, but they do have their unique characteristics. Because of that, we have decided to elaborate on the differences between Pintos and Paint Horses.

While referring to the Paint Horse and the Pinto as two breeds of horses, it really isn’t the case. In fact, there are only two species in the horse family: the Pinto and the Paint. Because of this, technically they are sometimes considered a single species, known as the Paint horse.

Paints and Pintos are closely related to each other and are often regarded as separate breeds of horses. But that is because of their coloring and marking patterns and not because of the way they look, or how they are trained or tempered. That said, Pintos and Horses are now often referred to as "Paints", as that is what is printed on the official registrations.


Not Appearances, Define Genetic Variations of Horses.

Although it looks like a solid, conformationally based definition, the difference between a Pinto and a Paint Horse is based on genetics.

There are several types of horse variations, but two of the most common types of variations are the Paint and Pinto. Both are similar in terms of genetics. They are both simple recessive genetic traits.

In Paint Horses, the variants Paints Squared (PSQ) and Quarter Paints (QP), are based on coat color. So the variants are based on certain coat colors. In Pintos, the variants are based on white patterning. The Pinto is considered a “white horse,” with no non-white markings. All markings have to be mostly white for a horse to be a Pinto.

All Paint Horses and Pintos have the PSQ and QP genes, meaning they can pass their traits on to offspring. However, since Pintos are a white horse with no non-white markings, without the presence of the Q allele, they would not have any non-white markings. The Q allele allows the horse to be a Paint. The Q allele is the non dominant gene.

Color Patterns

While both pintos and paint horses are spotted breeds, they are quite different in terms of color and pattern from each other. The color pattern is probably the most noticeable difference between these two equine breedings.

You’ll notice that pintos are most commonly roan in color with blocks of color overlaid on a white base coat. Paint horses typically have an overo pattern with blanket-type spotting and minimal clear markings.

Five different color patterns are typical of each breed. The predominant color for the Pinto is white with varying color patterns overlaid on the base coat. For the color patterns of a Paint Horse, the overo, leopard, tobiano, and snowflake type are most common.

Pintos are seldom solid colored. Pinto colors include, bay, black, brown, chestnut, gray, gray roan, sorrel, palomino, dun, buckskin, gold, red roan, dark red roan (cayenne), and red dun.

These colors are overlaid with white spots, usually small and round. Duns and buckskins may have small irregular shaped spots and can have roan or darker legs and facial markings.

Color pattern combinations are unlimited. Each individual horse or pony has their own unique color pattern.

Tack is always darker than the body. Tails and manes are black.

Pinto vs Paint Horse: Body Type & Temperament

Pintos and Paints come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. It is impossible for the untrained eye to tell the difference between a Pinto horse and a Paint horse just by looking at them. While there have been instances where an ill-tempered and short-lived horse was mislabeled as a Paint horse, it is important to note that temperament and genetic makeup are more defining characteristics than body type and markings.

Generally, people know if they are dealing with a Paint or a Pinto because the pattern and color are so unique. These horses have been bred for generations to be so, and they have characteristics that enhance both their working ability and the look.

The body type and appearance of pintos and paints varies tremendously, but generally speaking, these horses are stocky, short and have a muscular build. When you think of the American Quarter Horse, you will notice that while they have a large body frame, they are not stocky with sloped shoulders and long backs.

Temperament-wise, Pintos and Paints are both bold and intelligent and more than any other horse, they are known for their desire for interaction and training. These horses are not just attractive classic breeds with flashy color, but they are competitors. Paints predate the Quarter Horse and were selectively bred for working ability, and their physical and mental attributes have added to their popularity.

Pinto Horses

A pinto is defined as any horse with large patches of white and any other color. The word pinto means “spotted” in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. It can also be referred to as leopard spotting.

When “pinto horses” refer to horses spotted with only two colors, such as black and white, they are known as “painted horses.” (Each color has a different name such as: piebald, skewbald, etc.)

To the untrained eye, a pinto looks like a solid colored horse with a few white spots. The reality is that a pinto is a non-standard horse coloring, which means it’s a horse with a unique coat color that is not recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club).

Pinto is mostly used to describe a horse that is flaming color or a paint. Pinto can also be used to describe a white stud that is partially covered in color. There are many ways to identify pinto markings in a horse, which is why you might see white horses with different names. Some of these names include splash white, quater horse, and Cremello overo, to name a few.

Color Patterns and Types of Pinto Horses

Originally bred from the Paint horse, the Pinto horse is also white and pinto in color. Because of the similarities in looks and coloring, it can be difficult at times to tell Paints and Pintos apart.

However, there are some key differences between Paints and Pintos.

The Pinto Horse is defined by white body with splashes of solid color. To be more specific, pintos are any horse with mainly white coloring with one or more colored body markings.

Paint Horse – Is solid black, brown, bay, chestnut or any other solid color with no markings.

Is solid black, brown, bay, chestnut or any other solid color with no markings. Pintos are rarely born solid colored; most are spotted.

Are rarely born solid colored; most are spotted. Paints may also be spotted, but most are piebald or skewbald.

May also be spotted, but most are piebald or skewbald. Piebald horses have a white body with colored markings.

Have a white body with colored markings. Skewbald “ Horses with white splashes on one or part of the body, with the rest of the body colored.

How does a paint horse and pinto horse differ?

A pinto horse is a horse with a random and irregular pattern of white spots on a body that is otherwise colored (pinto is the colloquial name for horse with a broken-colored body with white; white "splash" markings). A pinto horse is any broken-colored (bald) animal, including a horse, with white splashed in a non-conventional pattern on the body, with or without the head. Pinto can be any horse-like animal such as a pony or donkey. Technically, the horse with a whitish color shows a white pinto, and the other color is a base color of chestnut, buckskin, seal brown, bay, black, or gray. Pinto horses are genetic mosaics that have a unique calm disposition.

Pinto horses are not a breed, but a coat color so there is no such thing as a pinto horse breed. A pinto can be any animal with white splashes on a colored body of any breed. Paint horses are a breed and a pinto can be any breed or a mix of breeds.

The above are the differences between a pinto and a paint horse.


Generally, the Pinto is bred for colorful markings, while the Paint Horse is bred for performance. There are a lot of different organizations that act as registries for horses. When you buy a horse that is color-bred, you need to make sure to ask what registry they are registered with and what they are registered as.

On the other hand, if you buy a horse that is bred for "paint" (which is most likely a Quarter Horse variant), you need to ask if it's a Quarter Horse, regardless if their markings are white.

Technically, a Crabbet is a Pinto horse and not a Paint horse but if you are not familiar with horses, and you're looking at a horse that's Crabbet or Crabbet Arabian, you're going to have a hard time knowing if you are looking at a Crabbet horse or a Paint horse. Asking if it's Crabbet or Arabian will make it easier to figure out which registry it is registered with.

A Paint horse is registered with the American Paint Horse Association, while a standard horse that is considered Paint is registered with an organization called AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association). There are a few other smaller breed registries for Pinto horses.