Horse Color - Seeing Spots

by Leah Posey-Patton

One of the more misunderstood equine colors is by far the pinto. Most people consider this to be simply, a white and color "patched" appearance. What they do not realize is that there are several distinct "patterns" within the general definition of PINTO. We begin by first outlining the various pinto patterns that occur in horses. For this purpose, we ask that you discard the terms Piebald (meaning black & white) and Skewbald (any other color & white), as they do not allow for the numerous range of colors and patterns in the pinto pattern. Basically, there are four true coat patterns in Pinto horses, although the American Paint Horse Association (APHA) uses only two of these terms. The four coats patterns are Tobiano, Overo, Sabino, and Splash White. Tovero is not actually a fifth pattern, but rather, a combination of tobiano and overo.

1) The Horse


Tobiano. The horse will have a solid colored head with normal face markings (star, snip, blaze, etc.), and with all four leg stockings white and increasingly higher until merging with the body patches. White will appear to "flow" from the topline down. The neck, shoulders, and hips are usually marked (white) first in the progression. A horse with a white hip will have a two-toned colored tail. The markings may not be similar on both sides of the same horse. Colored edges are usually smooth and may have a blue or roaned edge ("mapping").



Overo. The horse will be of any solid color, with an extensively marked white face (usually bald or apron). The body can appear mainly dark or nearly white, depending on the pattern. White originates from along the sides and spreads outward, with secondary patches beginning on the neck. Generally, white will NOT cross the topline (between withers and tail) EXCEPT in extreme cases like among color patch breaks along the mane/neckline or where dark spotting begins to narrow on the back. One or more legs will be colored (normal stockings may appear, but the mid area will be colored). Blue eyes are common. Edges may be hard and crisp ("frame overo") or jagged and lacy with roaning ("rosette overo").


Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat. Many overos of the extreme-white variety, fall into a special subcatergory called the "Medicine Hat" Pinto. These legendary pintos were once believed by Native Americans to have special magic powers and sported a head or "War Bonnet" (colored patch on the top of the head and ears) and/or a chest "Shield" (colored patch across its chest). It was believed that enemy arrows could not penetrate these areas on the animal. Below are examples that could be termed "Medicine Hats." Not all are overo origin of course as some tobianos, toveros, and sabinos may likewise carry the same markings correct for a "Medicine Hat."





Sabino. Sometimes called "Sabino Roan" as it can have true roaning in the coat, this is the pattern seen most often on Clydesdales. Some Arabian horses, especially of Crabbet breeding, also display this unusual pattern, though some researchers point out that the genetic marker for this pattern occurs on a different gene than the true sabino. The face will generally have a wide blaze or bald face, occurring when large portions of the neck are also marked with white. The white/roaning begins with three or four stockings and progresses up the leg until it "splashes" up on the belly and flank areas. The edges usually have a lacy (roan) appearance. The APHA in turn, tends to lump Sabino with Overo in its registry. HOWEVER, KEEP IN MIND THAT THEY ARE NOT THE SAME! The white stockings are the quickest way to tell Overo from Sabino.



Splash White


Splash White. This is the rarest form of pinto. The horse looks literally as if it has been dunked, lower body and head, into a tub of white paint. The extent of white splash may range from high white stockings connected to a white patch on the belly with a bald face to a horse that is nearly white over the entire body, with only a patch of the base color covering the ears, neck, and withers. Blue eyes are common and most seem to be in the darker spectrum of patch colors, like bays or blacks. The tail tip is generally white at the same point in the tail where the body color ends. Stallions who carry the splash white gene have been known to have sired overo, sabino, or other splash foals. Because the APHA lumps all non-tobianos together as OVERO, genes from all non-tobiano patterns may have been inadvertently combined.

Tovero. The combination of the tobiano and overo patterns. Unusual markings such as WHITE ears can be seen.

2) The Ass

Donkey Spot. This pinto pattern is as unique to the donkey as any of the other patterns are to the horse. Spotted donkeys come in all sizes, from Miniature to Mammoth. The spotting can overlay any base color, and most will keep their mealy point (light belly, eye rings, and nose) and crosses (dorsal & shoulder stripes). Donkey Spot pattern, if compared to horse patterns, resembles overo or tovero to an extent. It also resembles (believe it or not), the spotting pattern in Longhorn cattle. Color will stay around the eyes, on ears, down the topline, and on one or more legs. A few donkeys may have bald-looking faces, but often the eye on one side will have a color patch around it. The lips and skin around the eye can be pink, black, or splotched.

It is believed that the spotted donkey is a white animal with dark spots on top. Some white donkeys are actually an extreme form of the spotted pattern, where only small "smudges" of color (often pale and roaned) are seen along the back, tail, or ears. If the spotting pattern is small and numerous, one might be tempted to think that donkeys also come in Leopard Appaloosa. Comparisons to the appaloosa horse pattern show however that this is NOT true. Donkey Spot pattern is just a unique spotting form. Donkeys that exhibit a small peppering of round spots over the body are sometimes referred to as "Tyger Spotted." The edges of these spots can be crisp or roaned (mapped).

3) The Mule

Mule Spot. This is where nature has a ball and often wreaks havoc. Mules do not usually come in true overo, sabino, tobiano, OR donkey spot. These regular patterns generally show up enlarged or "skewed" (Crazed) in the mule. If you want color on a mule colt, breed for the appaloosa pattern. Appy spots are easily transmittted by the mare to the mule foal by way of roaning, blankets, spots, or leopard patterns. Appy mules may have HUGE spots, or hundreds of smaller spots. Likewise, the blanket variety may only be a few white splashes with gigantic spots overlaying, or obliterating all but a few areas. Just as in the Appaloosa horse, the mule foal may develop its markings or pattern as it matures.
Another way to get good color in a mule is to breed with a spotted jack who has spotted