What’s the difference between a Paint and a pinto?

Do you think you know the difference between a Paint and a pinto? Have you been using these terms correctly? Read this quick explanation to find out!

You come across horses with bold white markings on their bodies… What do you call them?

A large part of what determines your answer is where in the world you are from. However, there are two terms in particular that come up time and time again. These two terms cause endless confusion: “pinto” and “Paint”.

So, what is the difference between a pinto and a Paint anyway?

Well, the simple answer is that one is a breed and the other describes a set of coat patterns.

“Paint” is actually short for “American Paint Horse” and this term is the name of a particular breed.

The word “pinto” on the other hand, is a loose term used to describe any horse with bold white markings on its coat… 

However, this is the horse world! If you dig deep enough, you’ll always find plenty more ways to complicate things!

The American Paint Horse is a breed governed by the American Paint Horse Association (APHA). The APHA describes itself as promoting the “world’s most colorful breed” and originated as a registry for loudly marked stock horses. In order to qualify for the APHA, a horse must meet both bloodline and pattern requirements. However, because the APHA is a breed registry and doesn’t purely register horses of a particular pattern, solid horses from Paint parents are also permitted and referred to as “Solid Paint-Bred”. This means that some Paints do not have bold white markings at all!

On the other hand, a “pinto” is any horse with loud white markings. It is a purely descriptive term and refers to a coat pattern phenotype; not genetics.

There is a prominent Pinto Horse Association of America (PtHA), which acts as a registry and organises competitive events to showcase horses with this type of coat pattern. As well as horses of specific breeds or breed crosses, the PtHA admits horses of unknown parentage. They simply require that the horse meets the pattern requirements of a minimum quantity of white coat/pink skin, excluding appaloosa patterns.

What does this all amount to? 

Well, what this means is that a typical purebred American Paint Horse, with loud white markings, can in fact also be called a “pinto”. However, many pinto horses cannot be called “Paints” because they would not meet the bloodline requirements of the APHA… And then there are those unpatterned registered Paints that can’t be called “pinto” either!

Of course, terminology varies by country! For instance, if you happen to be in the UK, you may call a horse with flashy white markings “piebald”, “skewbald”, or simply “coloured”! But that’s a story for another time…

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