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Paints, Pintos and Roans – Oh My!

Updated on February 19, 2012

Amazing Pictures Of Paint Horses

Colorations and Patterns

Since I mentioned the most common solid colors and their variations in the last hub, it only makes sense to move to the next level and take a shot at describing the different multi-color variations of horse coats. Most people mistakenly believe that all color patterns on horses, especially those with patches or spots, are all just considered paints or pintos. In reality there are several different descriptors for the type of coloration, plus there is a real distinction between paints and pintos.

A Paint is a breed of horse that is specifically designated by lineage as well as by coloration. With that being said the Paint horse is a stock horse that is developed from the American Quarter Horse and some infusion of Thoroughbred bloodlines. They have their own registry, the American Paint Horse Association (APHA), and both parent horses must be registered with the APHA, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), or in the case of the Thoroughbreds the Jockey Club. Paints are typically white and any other base color including the solid color variations of dun, grulla, buckskin, palomino and even cremello and perlino. To make matters just a bit more confusing, APHA also recognizes solid colored paints, which have both parents that are registered APHA horses but that exhibit no markings themselves. These horses are registered in a category of "Breeding Stock" but may be eligible for some events and shows within the association. A solid colored breeding stock paint usually will have foals that have the typical Paint characteristics.

A Pinto, however, is any type of horse that exhibits the white and any other color coat patterns. There is no specific breed requirement for a pinto and they can be of any type including stock horses, mules, miniatures, sport horses, racing and draft animals. Pinto coloration is sought after in many types of horses because they are very eye catching and flashy.

The colorations and patterning on either a Paint or a pinto will determine what type of coat coloration is present. There are also combinations of these patterns possible, however these are less common but highly interesting to see.


This is the patterning most often considered when someone thinks of the terms Paint or pinto. These horses generally have a lot of white on the legs and very rounded looking spots and patches, mostly in a vertical type of orientation. The spots are round or oval and flowing in shape and very smooth and defined in the transition from white to the other coloration. Either color, white or dark, may be in the largest amount on the body, this is not a determining factor. There is white extending somewhere across the back between the withers (shoulders) and the tail. The mane and tail may be white or white and another color.

Generally the face of the tobiano horse will be dark and will have the same white markings seen on solid colored horses. The mare and foal on the opening picture video clip are tobiano.

Texaco - Sorrel Overo - Registered Paint Horse

No white over the back, dark legs
No white over the back, dark legs
Same Horse Different Side - Notice the white on the face and the white spot starting at the belly
Same Horse Different Side - Notice the white on the face and the white spot starting at the belly


The overo is almost the opposite of the tobiano with very jagged and irregular patches of white with usually the majority of the body being the dark color. The patterns tend to run more horizontally along the body, plus the legs are often dark right down to the hooves. The face is usually predominantly white, often extending beyond the eyes, and the eyes themselves may be blue or blue and brown in color. Roan coloration may be found between the white markings and the solid markings on the horse. The mane and tail are predominantly dark and there is very little if any white extending over the back between the withers and the top of the tail.

There are three different types of overo colorations that are most common. The frame coloration is as the overo pattern described above, however the outline of the horse, especially along the back and the mane, tail and legs is solid, making a "frame" or dark outline appearance when the horse is viewed in profile.

Splashed white is a relatively uncommon overo pattern that gives the horse the appearance of being dipped in white paint if held from the back. They have solid white on the legs, usually beyond the knee or hock, and ending in a clear line. The faces are solid white, extending beyond the eyes, and the eyes may be blue. The ears and the line just below the ears is dark in coloration. The belly is white and it may extend up the chest, but heavy white marking is not seen elsewhere on the body. The tip of the tail is often white, just like it too was dipped in a can of paint.

The sabino coloration in the overo is more common than the splashed white but fairly similar. The legs are usually white and the white coloration seems to spread up from the belly along the body. The face is typically very white with dark ears. Spotting along the body tends to be surrounded by roan colorations in a ring or band around the white markings.

Reba - Overo Face with Sabino Markings - Pinto as she is part Arabian

High white on the legs - hind legs are solid white from the hooves up
High white on the legs - hind legs are solid white from the hooves up

Reba - Sabino from the side

High white on near hind leg, lots of roaning on the body. It has just finished raining so she is very muddy!
High white on near hind leg, lots of roaning on the body. It has just finished raining so she is very muddy!


A tovero color is a mixture of the tobiano and the overo markings. Usually this means that the head color is opposite as to what you would expect for the body markings. This can mean a solid colored head on a sabino or the unusual blue eyes on a tobiano. Tovero colorations often create the most unique markings and provide a lot of flash, also known as chrome, which is in demand for show horses and parade horses.

Blue Roan - Mixture of black and white hairs



Roan coloration is an equal or relatively equal mixing of a solid color and white within the coat to create a unique color appearance. It tends to be relatively uniform over the body and is most commonly found in two colors, blue and red. Blue is a mixture of black and white hairs, typically with a dark mane and tail and red is a combination of a chestnut coat with white. Bay is also seen in a roan coloration, typically with the black mane and tail. Most roans will have dark legs ending in an inverted V-shape or point above the front of the knees, and may or may not have white on the feet and face.

There is also another very specific type of roan coloration known as Rabicano. This is typically only seen in specific breeds, generally those that are not commonly associated with a true roan coat color such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians. Rabicano looks like a mixture of white and colored hairs but is only found on the belly and ribcage or on the flanks. White hairs are typically found around the base of the tail, which is sometimes known by the unflattering term of "skunk tail" coloration.

A great picture of a classic rabicano coloration can be found at


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    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 5 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Net. Those registries are tricky but my horses are all just pets, two are registered but only because they were before I got them! Lots of appaloosa, paint, pinto and spotted horse breeders here. I am partial to those Tiger Horses, man those are a nice breed but sooooo pricey!

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 5 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Ahh the tobiano, a coat pattern often seen by breeding appaloosa horses to coloureds, skewbalds or piebalds. I love the pattern, but sadly I am not allowed to breed my stallion to coloured mares, as the progeny have no register for the resulting foals. Thank you for including these markings in your horse line up of colours. Interesting hub my friend. Net:)

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thank you apeksha, pets are wonderful aren't they!

    • apeksha profile image

      apeksha 8 years ago from India.

      pets.... I lke subject keep it up...

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks Julie-Ann. I am partial to the pinto colors myself but I know you like the bays!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Another great hub - thanks!

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      That is a beautiful horse I agree. Not mine, but still wonderful to look at in a photo.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Loved the photos! The one titled Dipped in Paint was appropriately named. Horses are so beautiful.