Pinto Horse


This tobiano colored Pinto Pleasure type horse shows classic, elevated movement.

Pinto Horse Association of America, Inc.

7330 NW 23rd Street

Bethany, Oklahoma 73008

Pinto Horses are a refreshing change of pace from the average horse. It is easy to pick them out in a crowd, as they stand out from all others with their attractive and colorful patterns that are unique and distinctive. Their spots can be seen from a distance, setting them apart from everything else. Even within the breed, each color pattern is different from all others, with no two looking exactly alike. To have a horse that is so unique that it can never be mistaken for any other, gives a great feeling of pride and appreciation.

Pintos are distinctive in more ways than just their color. They have diverse styles of types, enabling them to exhibit a range of versatile talents. There is a type that fits everyone. Owners are pleased with the differences and the attention their beautiful horses attract.


A Stock type tobiano Pinto in a reining class. This type is associated with the Quarter Horse.


Studies of historical art reveal the early existence of what is recognized today as the Pinto Horse. Horses with Pinto markings appeared in ancient art throughout the Middle East. The more dominant tobiano spotting pattern became common among the wild horses of the Russian Steppes, suggesting that the introduction of Pinto coloring spread to Europe possibly as early as during the Roman Empire. For many years, European breeders crossed their native stock to Barb horses, which were introduced there following the Moor invasion of Spain in 711 AD and which also had spotted coat patterns.

European explorers, and especially those that were Spanish, brought their light riding stock, including Pinto spotted horses, to America. In time some of their horses escaped, and eventually spotted mustangs ran wild on the American range. Around the same time period, early Americans imported many of the well-established and stylish European breeds as foundation stock. With the American settlers’ migrations to western frontiers, it often became necessary to cross these fancy, but less suitable, breeds of the Eastern seaboard with the wild mustang stock. This was to increase size and attractiveness, as well as availability of horses better suited to the strenuous working conditions of the day. Eventually, great wild herds infused with the flashy spots began to develop across America. They became associated with Native Americans, who domesticated and greatly valued them for their legendary “magical” qualities in battle.

Thus the Western-bred horse became a fixture of America, especially the uniquely marked Pinto, whose colorful presence in parades and films have always added a little extra glamour. Exhibitors crossed their spotted horses with other breeds to produce specific types that also had color patterns.


The first Pinto organization was the Pinto Horse Society formed in 1941, but it slipped into inactivity. Other attempts at registries for Pintos seemed to fail because they attempted to restrict conformation type, or failed to develop enough publicity to unit Pinto fanciers. Yet some of the breeders with the Pinto Horse Society continued breeding with the principles set down by that organization, even after its demise. The society had created a great deal of interest in the Pinto Horse, particularly in the California area where it was based.

A major problem was that Pintos with coldblooded ancestry were bred in great numbers, producing poor quality riding horses. As a consequence, the general public and horse show judges associated the word “Pinto” with loudly marked, but poorly conformed, animals. By the early 1950s, this attitude had become so prevalent that even well-built Pintos could not place in a show and had to work twice as hard to warrant even a glance from the judge.

This situation was covered very well in “The Plight of the Pinto,” an article by Kay Heikens, which appeared in the December 1954 issue of Western Horseman. Heikens was speaking from personal experience of discrimination against the Pinto, as well as citing several episodes involving other Pinto exhibitors. The article inspired others throughout the country to write of similar experiences.

These articles and letters aroused interest in starting a Pinto Horse association and registry. Eventually, the Pinto Horse Association of America (PtHA) was established as a registry and incorporated in 1956 to encourage the promotion of “quality with color” of horses, ponies, and miniatures. There was an astounding response to the PtHA announcement that registration applications for Pintos of all types were now being accepted; more than forty letters per day were being received by PtHA.

Members decided to register Pintos with a wide variety of types so that suitable Pintos could be bred and shown in all areas of horsemanship. PtHA, however, stressed the importance of fineness in the conformation of horses accepted for registration. This emphasis has contributed immeasurably to the improvement of the flashy horses throughout the country. Breeders hoped that the Pinto would be more accepted by the show horse establishment and that all their hard work in selective breeding would pay off.

Their efforts over the years have produced much success. Today, PtHA maintains a registry of more than 135,000 horses, ponies, and miniatures throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, and the numbers continue to grow on a daily basis. It registers over five thousand Pintos per year. Cash and prizes from the Pinto World Championship total more than $100,000.

There are a variety of classes for an equally wide variety of Pintos. From Halter, Dressage, Competitive Trail, and Endurance classes, to the vast array of driving and riding disciplines available, Pintos have proven their quality and diversity. With so many different types of Pintos represented in such a wide assortment of classes, it is clear to see the breed offers something for everyone.

Breed Characteristics

Of the many questions posed to the PtHA, the most frequently asked is: What is the difference between Pintos and Paints? The main difference between the Pinto Horse and the Paint Horse (registered by the American Paint Horse Association) is that the Paint Horse must be of documented and registered Paint, Quarter Horse, or Thoroughbred breeding. The difference between the two registries has little to do with color or pattern; only bloodlines matter. Most Paints can also be registered as Stock or Hunter type Pintos. Other breeds as well as Paints can also be registered. PtHA allows for the registration of miniature horses, ponies, and horses derived from other breed crosses, such as Arabian, Morgan, Saddlebred, and Tennessee Walking Horses, to name but a few.

The Pinto Horse is a color breed with documentation of pedigree. “Color breed” means it is a breed with specific color requirements—or in PtHA’s case, is a registry with certain colors required of its registered horses. A horse that qualifies as a Pinto must have spots. The accepted spotted pattern must have white areas combined with another basic coat color, making each Pinto unique. Its spots are the kind with which the horse is born and that never change. In other words, Pinto spots are not to be confused with Appaloosa spots, which can change as the horse matures.

Spotting Patterns

There are two recognized Pinto color patterns: tobiano and overo.

Tobiano (toe-bee-ah´-no) appears to be white with large spots of color that often overlap and have a greater percentage of color than white. Spots of color typically originate from the head, chest, flank, and buttock and often include the tail. Legs are generally white, giving the appearance of a white horse with large or flowing spots of color. Generally, the white crosses the center of the back, or topline, of the horse. It is necessary to have a tobiano parent to achieve a tobiano foal.

Overo (o-vair´o) appears to be a colored horse with jagged white markings, usually originating on the horse’s side or belly and spreading toward the neck, tail, legs, and back. The color appears to frame the white spots. Thus an overo often has a dark tail, mane, legs, and backline. Bald or white faces often accompany the overo pattern. Some overos show white legs along with splashy white markings, seemingly comprising round, lacy, white spots. White almost never crosses the back, or topline.

Color Requirements for Registration

The color requirement for Pintos to be registered in the Regular Color Division (tobiano or overo) is a minimum of at least four square inches of cumulative white hair with underlying pink skin located on the body, or on certain designated areas of the head (eligible zones). This is compared to Pinto ponies, which must have three square inches of cumulative white, and miniatures, which must have two square inches of cumulative white in eligible areas to qualify for registration. There is no limit to the amount of white a Pinto can have.

The qualifying white does not all have to be in one area; it can be accumulative as long as some white is in one of the eligible areas. Eligible areas include the entire body and upper portion of legs, midway between the point of hock, and the center of the stifle. If the leg white starts below the qualifying line, but extends to or above it, then all connected white below the line will count.

Here is a more detailed description of the eligible areas: The white must be above an imaginary level line drawn around the front legs, midway between the center of the knee and the floor of the chest, or above a line around the back legs, midway between the point of the hock and center of the stifle. If white markings start above these lines and continue down below them, all of the connected white will count. For face white to count, it must be behind a line drawn from the base of the ear to the corner of the mouth, and from the corner of the mouth, under the chin, to the other mouth corner.

Breeding Stock

This is the registry division for Pintos that are solid colored or lack sufficient white to be registered in the regular registry. Animals with insufficient qualifying color necessary for acceptance in the Regular Color Division, but with at least two or more Pinto characteristics, or solid colored animals with documented color (Pinto spotting patterns) within two generations, may be eligible for registration in the Breeding Stock Division.

Pinto characteristics are blue eyes, high leg white above the knee or hock, white hooves, multicolored/striped hooves, pink skin, and collective white in eligible zones, but not enough white to qualify for color.

Pintos registered in the Breeding Stock Division are not allowed to participate in PtHA events, unless the event rules specify that they can. Solid colored mares that are not eligible for Breeding Stock Division, but will be bred to potentially produce Pinto foals, can be registered as Broodmares, but they are not considered Pinto and are not eligible for Pinto shows.


The elegant Pinto Saddle horse is appropriate for driving and saddle seat riding.

Pedigree Requirements and Restrictions

While PtHA accepts animals derived from many different approved breed/registry crosses, it does not accept animals with Appaloosa, draft, or mule breeding or characteristics. Horse stallions must have both sire and dam registered with PtHA or another approved outcross registry. Approved registries include various breeds, from warmbloods and gaited breeds to miniatures, so there are many types accepted for registration. Mares and geldings can be registered on their qualifying color alone. Ponies and both types of miniatures can be registered if their color qualifies, regardless of their sex or the registration of their parents.

Diversity of Divisions

Originally established as primarily a color registry, the association accepts a variety of breeds into its registry. To properly classify the different types, PtHA has established two main methods of classification: size and type.

Size: There are four size classifications of registration: One for horses, one for ponies, one for B miniatures, and one for miniatures.

Classification terms:

Horse: Any equine measuring more than 56 inches (14 hands).

Pony: Any equine measuring over 38 inches and up to 56 inches.

B miniature: Any equine measuring over 34 inches, but not exceeding 38 inches.

Miniature: Any equine measuring 34 inches or less.

Type: Pintos are exhibited and bred according to their type. Each owner decides what type classification his or her Pinto fits best, although types do not apply to miniatures. Basic guidelines for determining types are:

• Hunter: displays the carriage and conformation associated predominantly with Thoroughbred, Connemara or Welsh pony breeding

• Pleasure: displays the carriage and conformation associated predominantly with Arabian or Morgan horse, or Welsh or Shetland pony breeding


Miniature Pintos are fun to drive. This is a black tobiano.


This striking Hunter-type stallion is a good example of the lacy patterns overos can have. Duane and Tammi Vogel

• Saddle: gaited horse or pony displaying the carriage, animation, and conformation of Saddlebred, Hackney, Tennessee Walking Horse or modern style Shetland pony breeding

• Stock: displays the carriage and conformation associated with Quarter Horse or Shetland pony breeding

By providing two height divisions for miniature horses and four distinctly different conformation type divisions for horses and ponies, there truly is something for everyone in the Pinto. Each division, having its own rules and standards, allows for exhibition against like conformation and styles.

At some shows, color classes are offered. Tobianos and overos are judged individually on the most ideal markings of the Pinto. Ideal markings are defined as a 50/50 distribution of white and color overall on the Pinto. Classes specifically identified and offered as color classes for these patterns are not judged on conformation, as other normal Halter classes are (in part).

In summary, the Pinto is the breed choice for equine enthusiasts of virtually all disciplines and events. It also can be just for pleasure riding, to get a job done, or when a horse, pony, or miniature with color and eye appeal can be used or shown.

Credit: Pinto Horse Association of America, Inc.

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