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Colorful History of Paint Horses
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Colorful History of Paint Horses

Who can look at a paint horse and not be reminded of the Old West, the “Cowboy and Indian” days? For many years paint horses were an integral part of the Native American Culture and have since made their way into the hearts (and barns!) of many 21st Century Americans.

I’ve always loved this gorgeous breed of horse and not just due to their looks….the history of the American Paint horse is also fascinating.

The first known record of a pinto colored horse reaching the shores of America was in the year 1519, when Hernando Cortes sailed to the new world.

A horse fancying member of the group, Diaz Castillo, kept a diary in which he wrote down descriptions of the horses brought on the voyage.

He wrote of one that was a “pinto with white stockings on his forefeet” and also a “dark roan horse with white patches on his side”.

Thus began the story of Paint Horses in America.

By the late 1700’s huge herds of wild horses roamed America’s plains, and among them were the beautiful pinto colored horses.

Indians prized these horses above all the others. Even today on movies and western shows, pinto colored horses are still traditionally associated with Indians.

However, back then, it was that very fact that inhibited these pinto colored horses from excelling.

Unfortunate racial biases made white men prefer solid colored horses…..some extremes even despised paint colored horses.

There are stories of white men shooting their mare’s newborn foal if the foal was pinto colored.

This was a shaky start for the Paint horse breed. But thanks to the perseverance of some of their admirers who began to breed selectively for pinto colors, their population continued to grow.

Before long, it was hard for anyone to deny the beauty of these wonderful horses.

It was not until the 1950’s that the Pinto Horse Association was founded to help, preserve, protect, and further promote Pinto horses.

In 1962, another group of pinto horse enthusiasts founded an association, only this time dedicated to preserving and promoting the paint coloring, and stock-type conformation…the kind of horse that was most valued and used on traditional ranches in America.

The group was called the American Paint Stock Horse Association. The founder, Rebecca Lockhart, is still alive today. She started by simply writing information about each horse down and putting the slips of paper in a box atop her kitchen table. Soon she started getting far too many registrations to handle on her own, so she called in a couple friends to help her write it all out.

That worked pretty well, until she came down with the flu!

So she asked three men from Gainesville, Texas, who had expressed interested in starting an association to contribute. Before long, there was a whole group of people writing down information about paint horses from all over America. Slowly the American Paint Stock Horse Association began to lift off, and by the end of 1962 Rebecca had attracted 150 members and registered 250 horses.

In 1963 Rebecca handed the reins over to Ralph Morrison, and the association moved to Amarillo, Texas.

Again, however, in 1964 the Association's records were moved to downtown Fort Worth, Texas.

Later on that year, Sam Spencer was employed as executive secretary. By the end of 1964 the association had registered 1,269 horses, and had 1,005 members, six regional clubs, and hosted its first National Show.

Meanwhile, in Abilene, Texas, a group of pinto horse enthusiasts had founded another Association, the American Paint Quarter Horse Association. However they were never able to gain momentum, and a few years later they approached the American Paint Stock Horse Association to see if they could merge together. After a long, heated debate, both groups reached an agreement in May of 1965. The consolidation resulted in what is now the American Paint Horse Association that we know today.

At that point, they had 1300 members and 3800 registered horses.

After that, the Association very rapidly grew into what is now one of the biggest horse associations in the world. The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) today is still dedicated to preserving, promoting and protecting the beautiful paint horse and its “colorful” history.

Of course how could I write about Paint Horses and not include something about their colors?

There are two main color patterns, Tobiano and Overo, and several variations of these patterns, including Tovero, Sabino, Frame Overo, and Splashed White.

What is the difference between a Paint Horse and a Pinto?

It actually has more to do with breeding requirements than color. The Pinto Horse Association will register any breed of horse as long as it exhibits pinto coloring. The APHA will register any paint-bred horse with Quarter horse or Thoroughbred bloodlines.

APHA will also register what is called “breeding stock horses”. These horses have paint ancestry but exhibit solid coloring. They can still be used as breeding stock to produce horses with paint coloring.

Today APHA boasts around 80,000 members and 1 million registered paint horses with about 30,000 new horses registered every year.

Paint horses are seen excelling in every different sport or discipline. A few examples are for instance, Got Country Grip, an APHA race horse who was named one of the top to fastest horses in America and won 16 races in a row!

Another example is the late Colonel’s Smoking Gun. “Gunner” is an NRHA 6 Million dollar sire who has left his stamp on the reining industry.

Paint horses can be seen successfully competing in jumping, dressage, barrel racing, driving, reining, racing, roping, western pleasure, dressage, and ton more besides.

Many paints are also valued family horses for their wonderful personality.

My very own first “real” horse was a little Paint mare who remains one of the sweetest horses I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Paint horses remain an integral part of our American heritage, and a breed that we can all be proud of.

Now I want to hear from my fellow ‘Of Horse’ members….tell me about your favorite Paint horse! Please share!

More information can be found the American Paint Horse Association website, APHA.com

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