Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paint Horse Color Patterns

As one who has long been fascinated by the many beautiful colors produced by the numerous equine color genes, variations and combinations you'd think that I'd take greater interest in the dramatic effects produced by the genes of an American Paint Horse. But no matter how often I read the terminology or how studiously I try to memorize the rules and regulations of the different patterns and their many variations, I seem to have only retained the very basics.

I thought maybe I'd write this post in hopes that I'll come out the other side with a better ability to remember the "rules" associated with the color patterns of the Paint (APHA) horse breed in the field (so to speak) by sharing a few pneumatic devises I've come up with. Warning: some are a little odd!

Please keep in mind that a paint horses genetic markings can present in many different variations from horse to horse. I suggest but the crudest of guidelines.

For a much more detailed explanation of APHA's color patterns you can read a fascinating article called Genetic Equation on the APHA's website.

Most of us know that there are three base color patterns to the APHA breed: Overo, Tobiano and Tovero.

Of course the names of these markings couldn't be big spot, little spots, lots of spots....cause that'd be easy!

Tobiano: (Click for a more detailed description). The main clue that you are looking at a Tobiano is that there is usually a lot of white on the legs but little white on the head.

This is not commonly seen in solid colored horses, (usually if a horse has a lot of white on their legs they will also have a bold amount of white on their face.)

I try to remember this by thinking that Tobianos have a name that starts with the word "Toe" because they have white toes (or more accurately most tobianos have high white on their legs.... but Tobiano ends in "No" because they have little to no white on their NOses. (usually have a solid head with only a normal star, strip or blaze).
Tobianos are white on the toes but not the nose.

The other "T"association with Tobiano is that the white markings of a Tobiano usually run vertically...from Top to bottom. This means that the white markings seem to runs downward, not across the body. Also, the white usually crosses the Topline (crest of neck and spine).

Your going to have to excuse me on the next one.... but Tobiano also kinda has the word "beano" in it...which is product I associate with gas or bowel dysfunction...and well... The tobiano often has a tail with two colors in it...a bit of light and bit of dark...which looks as though maybe he has a case of the *ehem* shits....and could use some beano. I do apologize.

Ready for the next one?

Overo: is much easier to understand if you think of it as "not Tobiano"...The most common characteristic of all types of Overos is a lack of white crossing the topline (the crest of the neck and spine) but a larger amount or wilder pattern of white on the face.

I like to think of the word overo as "missing" the "T" because the overo has no white on the toes....(The "To" in tobiano represented the white toes)meaning that Overos usually have dark legs (they can have socks but only a "normal" amount as you'd find on a solid colored horse)).

Overos also usually have a lot of white on their faces and commonly have blue eyes ...which I try to remember in a ridiculous way that probably wont work for you.... but I'll go ahead and tell you anyways....

I try to visualize Overos as a big oil stained pair of overalls (overo - overall) with holes worn through (as in the jumpsuit worn by mechanics) that cover most of all the body but leaves the head bare and a few patches of white skin showing through.

As with the beano thing, I am sure you are going to laugh at my stupid little pneumatic devise but I also actually think Overies when I think Overo. Yes, I'm talking about the reproductive organ of females! Because the white patches on an overo usually are towards the centre of the body around the flanks and belly and the patches are usually horizontal.... meaning side by side (like ovaries), not like tobiano that runs top to bottom (virtical).
Remember that those are general rules. Overo is actually a term applied to three different color patters that are grouped together because they are similar in the above noted ways. It is easier to understand overo if you think of it as three distinctly different color variations.

Framed Overo- The most common overo is easy to remember as the white patches are usually in the centre of the body and are framed (or surrounded by) the darker color (the dark legs, belly and topline.)

(Colonels Smoking Gun- Framed Overo)

Splashed Overo- I try to remember this one by thinking of a horse that has wandered into a pond of white paint. He dropped his head to it to sniff, as horses do but accidentally dunked his head in.... and then he splashed around in the paint. This leaves him with very high white on his legs and belly and a white head but little to no other white markings on the rest of his body.

Sabino: This is a hard term to remember but can be the most distinct of patterns. Sabino is a spanish word meaning "pale or speckled" and usually has a roany type molted appearance like an Appaloosa. While Sabinos tend to follow the "general" Overo rule of having a light colored head and blue or speckled eyes it cheats by usually having high white that extends up the legs in spotchy patches. This paint color is the most commonly color paint found in other breeds (clydesdale pictured). There is a large variation in how Sabino presents.

Those are your three Overo types: Framed, Splashed and Sabino.
The last pattern that needs to be mentioned is a Tovero: This is a deviation from the general parameters of a horse either being Tobiano or Non-tobiano (some type of Overo) It is one of the many combinations of genes that confuse and complicate our ability to distinguish one type from another. But the Tovero does follow a few rules..... Toes and Noes are usually white (hence both a T and an O in the name). Actually most of the body is white except for a patch on the flank, base of tail, the chest and ears and dark splotches around the mouth.

These Tovero horses were of special significance to some Native American tribes and were valued as special war horses. This pattern is also known as "Medicine Hat".
In summery....
Tobiano: White on the toes but not on the nose.
Overo: No white on the toes but white on the nose.
Tovero: White on the toes and on the nose.


  1. You are so funny! Love how you explained the Paint Horse colors!
    It took me a long time to remember the difference between the colors. I have always preferred tobianos. Maybe since my Paint is tobiano? BTW, loved that first black and white tobiano! Gorgeous!!!

  2. I have a hard time remembering those too! I try to think oVero's have jagged spots and Tobianos have rounded spots. But I liked the way you made up some devices to remember- think I'll try those too!

  3. Happy Belated Birthday...you gorgeous woman you!! Wow!:O

    We have 3 tobianos and Megan's Strawberry is overo(technically a frame overo). All purchased. My dad always said, don't breed for color...buy it. LOL

    When I was little, I learned how to tell the difference between the two by remembering that for the Overo, no white goes "overo" the topline. So white in the mane, tail or over the back must mean it's a Tobiano.

    Haven't come up with anything to easily recognize a Tovero though. Will have to remember your method.

    "Back in the day" Paint horse breeders did not like to cross a Tobi and an Overo. They didn't appreciate mixing the two patterns.

    Speaking of...does anyone know if a Tovero can produce a lethal white foal?

    And one other dumb trivia fact. A tobiano will always have at least one parent who is a Tobi. Just like a gray horse must always have one parent who is gray.

  4. Paint colors can be real hair pullers for sure.
    Cricket is a overo, with minimal body white and one partial blue eye, her sire, Scribbled Graffiti (may or may not have sabino)

    Dolly is frame overo with roan and again may or may not have sabino (need to do a blood type) she has one blue eye.

    Domino has minor sabino expression with roaning in his flanks, pair of white feet, wide blaze and white hairs at the tail head, sabino is common in the Sheldon mustangs.
    He is in no way a paint.

  5. Pssssst.....!

    What is Patrick? I suppose I could look at his APHA papers but they are at home.

    Those color patterns confuse the crap out of me.

  6. What a great post, Chelsi!! I like your way of remembering all of the color patterns, and will have to adopt some of those myself. That Colonel's Smoking Gun is a handsome boy, isn't he?

  7. I love your educational posts! So interesting. As a researcher, I find it fun to have someone else summarize a topic for me once in awhile :) You had me laughing at your mnemonics too. I always used "overo" to remember the white goes over the face/eyes.

  8. Your mnemonics cracked me up Chelsi. I don't think I'll be able to look at my paint mare in the same way ever again! lol!

    My mare was originally registered as Tobiano, which is what I think she is, too. But about 6 years ago, someone updated her registration papers with a sticker that says she is a Tovero. She has white that goes over her back and she has white toes and a white nose (but so do the other two Tobianos you posted). She has a pretty wide blaze actually, but black shoulders and head. White stockings that go way above her knees and a tail that starts out at the top white and changes to black in the middle.

    She also has one half-moon blue eye.
    Baby Doll's white neck marking resembles a lightening bolt and goes more horizontal like an overo, while the rest of her white markings are more vertical.

    Oh, and I wanted to add that my mare's white stockings are amusing to me. They remind me of a fancy lady wearing white stockings underneath her black dress, especially when I look at her head-on. Makes me laugh.

    Anyway, what do you think my mare is: Tobiano? Tovero?


  9. Lovely blog! I was looking for the meaning of a horse with a white face... I heard/read somewhere that Native Chiefs regarded them as very spiritual... Do you know anything about that?

  10. I am very honored to be part of your blog about horse. Wild horses have always been my passion. It is so sad to see how the BLM are doing round ups :(
    I heard next month they will try to exterminate 2000 of them in the areas of Nevada and Colorado.
    I found a link to support where my favorite actor Vigo Mortensen is in. He is a horse activist too!!


    I order the poster.
    ps love your painting!

  11. That was great! I'll have to remember the toes and nose thing! :) I happen to own a tovero, a medicine hat about two, she has two partially blue eyes!

  12. I love horses i would like to ride one one day:)..they are very pretty!!!

  13. Hiya! I simply wanted to say the fact that you actually managed to create a magnificent resource. Also I want to know one thing. Have you ever participated in any kind of competitions between online blogs?

  14. I just purchased my first horst today. They said that she is a Tobiano Overo. When I looked at your post I think that she is a Tovero. Thank you so much for explaining to me what the markings mean.

  15. Well, I'm interested on where you got the photo of the Champagne Palomino? I know this stud, and I know the woman who owns him. His name is "Hotshot Ashwood." A gold Champagne Stallion. He sired my gelding, Bandit.

    1. Terri what is your geldings name and birth year?
      Would love to see a picture
      Can you email me