Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 2/1/95; 10:00:00 AM.

History of the American Paint Horse

Paint horses have been a colorful accent to nature and a partner of mankind from time immemorial. Primitive representations, painstakingly scratched into the walls of prehistoric caves by early man, attest to this fact. As civilization developed, and with it, man's involvement with the horse, these strikingly marked animals took their rightful place beside their masters and were frequently depicted in the art of each age. Mosaics, paintings on walls, statuary, pottery and jewelry decorated with the likeness of American Paint Horses, have all been left as records of past civilizations and give strong evidence of the popularity of these animals with early horsemen. Egyptian tombs dating from the 4th Century B.C. have been found and are lavish in their treasures of artifacts, which include representations of American Paint Horses in every aspect of daily life. The verbal, and to a lesser degree pictorial, history of the wandering tribes of the Gobi Desert, from whom Genghis Khan recruited the fierce warriors who conquered all of Asia and nearly subdued Europe as well, is extensive in references to Paints. Early statues unearthed in Chinese burial mounds and at the sites of ancient Indian cities testify that Asian horsemen of the past knew and respected Paints.

In Europe, the great paintings of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries include the likenesses of many Paint Horses. The colorful animals were well-known and played their parts, both at war and in peace, in the development of Western civilization. Spanish riders of this period, basing their skills on the lessons learned from the Moorish invaders, attained a high degree of excellence in Iberian horsemanship. The greatest of all being, according to both Spanish legend and history, the war leader El Cid.

Horses returned to the American continents in 1519 when the Spanish Conquistadores, led by Cortez, landed 16 war mounts at Vera Cruz, Mexico. Indispensable to the conquest of Mexico, these hardy animals set a tradition of Western horsemanship that still exists. Records indicate that at least one of these animals was a Paint. The Ranchos of Colonial Spain developed rapidly and by the early 16th Century, horses were common. These animals were stolen from ranches by marauding Indians. Later, some of the horses escaped their captivity and, running free, formed the nucleus of the Mustang herds that spread across the Great Plains and gave the Indians a reservoir of breeding stock from which to draw. By the early 1800s, the West had thousands of wild horses. Prominent among these free-ranging herds, according to observations by travelers of the period, were Paints.

Acquisition of the horse changed the Indians' way of life, transforming him from a plodding pedestrian to a nomadic warrior and hunter. This change had its greatest impact on the great buffalo herds. With their ability to travel faster, their hunting grounds were expanded and the Indians developed a dependence upon the buffalo. The Comanches, considered by many authorities on Indian life of that time to be the finest horsemen on the Plains, favored Paints and had many among their immense herds.

Evidence of this favoritism is exhibited by the many drawings of spotted horses found on the painted buffalo robes that served as records for the Comanches.

The American cowboy, always aware of the importance of being mounted on the best available horses, displayed a strong preference for Paints. During the last third of the 19th Century, bellowing herds of Longhorn cattle journeyed up the long, dusty trail from Texas to the Missouri Breaks in Montana. Driving these half-wild cattle were suntanned men, often riding Paint Horses. Cowboy songs of this period have numerous references to the colorful horses, including one that begins, "I ride Old Paint and I lead Old Dan."

Contemporary artists of the time, leaving their records of both cowboy and Indian life, often included Paint Horses in their paintings. Russell, Forney, Remington, Seltzer and Demming repeatedly included Paints in their portraits of the Old West, not just as colorful accents, but because the animals were a normal part of the scenes these artists depicted.

Then during the early years of the 20th Century, mechanization began to take its toll on the Old West. The population of horses, Indians and cowboys began to decrease as the entire world moved into the machine age. As with the other breeds of horses, Paints began to drop from common sight. They were retained by only a few scattered individuals who knew and loved the colorful horses. At the same time, breed registries which sponsored solid-colored horses were formed and began to achieve great popularity. This move pushed the Paints further into the background.

In the 1950s, interest in pleasure horses once again came to the fore and public awareness of Paints began to rise. Always noticeable because of their color, Paints became favorites in all fields of equine use. A few dedicated individuals, knowing of the high regard that early day horsemen had for the colorful mounts, quietly began to develop breeding programs to promote the American Paint Horse.

The APHA is devoted to preserving the stock-type American Paint Horse. The APHA Registry is based upon the bloodlines of horses registered exclusively with any of the following organization: The American Paint Stock Horse Association, the American Paint Quarter Horse Association, the American Quarter Horse Association and the Jockey Club of New York and its recognized-affiliates. However, regardless of bloodlines, regular registry American Paints must meet a minimum color requirement. At the 25th anniversary of the APHA, in 1989, the APHA had registered just over 170,000 American Paint Horses.

American Paint Horses represent one of the major horse breeds in the United States and the APHA promotes a wide-range of activities for those who own these colorful animals. The versatility and beauty of this dynamic breed have contributed to the American Paint Horse's reputation as an American treasure.

From the APHA Equine Information Series, No 5: 3-90

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