When it comes to American history, no other animal is more closely associated with the story of this country than the horse. Inseparable from the Wild West, and indistinguishable from the image of the American cowboy, horses will be forever identified with the picture of early Americana. But no breed of horse is more interconnected with this cherished history than Paint horses.
But as closely associated with American history as they are, ironically, Paint horses had their start in America via Spain. When Spanish explorers came to the New World in 1519, they brought with them an enormous amount of supplies and a number of horses. These Paint horses eventually dotted the landscape in wild herds, and by the 1800s tribes of American Indians were using the breed for riding.
There were a variety of names attached to these spot covered horses throughout the 1800s and 1900s, but the name that seemed to stick was the Pinto horse.
History records that the Apaches and Comanche were among the first tribes to obtain horses in the American Southwest. It appears these two tribes first obtained horses in trade or by stealing them from Spaniards. They preferred horses that were already broken for riding to the wild mustang. It is thought some Indians in Texas had horses as early as 1659.
The importance of the horse to the Indian was obvious—it gave him mobility and importance. Indians were quick to realize the potential of horse and rider and became a master at horsemanship.
In cowboy movies, it isn’t unusual to see Indians riding paint/pinto horses. Indians had a practical reason for riding paint horses. The colors were the easiest to alter to coincide with changing seasons. Also, the American Indians were experts in the art of camouflage. They devised protective tactics for camouflaging their horses and themselves in enemy territory and ably out maneuvered seasoned soldiers and unfriendly tribes.
So that both horse and rider could pass unobserved across the open plains, the Indians chose paint horses with colors that blended with the natural and seasonal backgrounds of the countryside. For example, dun, roan or light sorrels were ridden in summer and fall. In the winter, white or palomino was indistinguishable in snow.
An Indians wealth was determined by the number of horses he owned. Paint horses were especially treasured and prized. Once an avid horsewoman, I, like the early Native Americans preferred the pinto over horses with solid colors.