pinto and paint horse grooming tips

What is a painted horse?


  • You don’t have a gray, and you don’t have a solid chestnut, black, or bay, either. You have a pinto horse! Or, depending on a few things, a Paint horse. What’s the difference? A Paint horse is a breed, and must only include bloodlines from registered Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, or Paint Horses.


  • Pinto horses have the same sort of coloring – but the breeding can vary. Somewhere along the line I just started calling all Paints and pintos by the name “painted”, but now I stand corrected. Their patterning determines if they are overo or tobiano.


  • Overo horses have no white crossing their spine. Typically, their color is largely dark, with white patches. Overo horses usually have dark legs, as well, and the hoof color doesn’t really matter.


  • Tobiano horses have white patches that do cross the spine. Manes and tails are also interspersed with white hair. Leg hair on tobiano horses is typically white and hoof color is inconsequential.

two paint horses standing in a field

Pinto and Paint horse grooming tips.


  • There’s one big challenge with colored horses, and that’s the white hair. Unlike a gray horse that has dark skin, white hair comes with pink skin. Typically, this is more sensitive skin, and more likely to be sunburned or show signs of photosensitivity. In winter, care should be taken to keep the clipped hair a bit longer than usual so that the pink skin has some protection.


  • The white coat also is a grooming challenge. Lots, and lots, of obvious stains can happen. You should take the same measures to keep things clean and naturally oily. In case you are unfamiliar with my take on grooming horses, it goes something like this:


  • Keep your curry comb or grooming gloves at the very top of your grooming arsenal. This spreads your horse’s sebum, AKA his natural oils, all over his body and hair. Incidentally, sebum is responsible for shine and stain repelling.


  • It’s tempting to blast stains away with harsh soaps and detergents. You will strip away oils, and create brittle and dry hair that soaks up stains more than normal.


  • Be selective about the stain removal process and use spot cleaners if curry combing and a damp rag don’t do the trick.


  • Use whitening shampoos, commonly referred to as blueing shampoos, according to the directions. If a 5-minute soak is what’s called for, stick to that. More isn’t always better, sometimes more means a lavender horse.



hands on grooming gloves currying a dark horse

If your arms aren’t tired after grooming, you should probably groom some more.



Tips for keeping the dark hair gorgeous.


  • It’s the same as another part of your horse. Curry ‘till you look like every day is arm day.


  • Make sure your horse’s diet is spot on, this prevents sun bleaching from the inside out.


  • Be diligent in washing away or currying away sweat before your horse goes back in the sun. Sweat is easily rinsed away without any shampoo if you find yourself needing to do this daily.


  • It’s absolutely fine to use a color-enhancing shampoo on your horse, just skip the white bits. The secret to keeping it from running onto the white hair is to tone down how much water you use to lather things up. When you are rinsing the colored shampoo, it’s perfectly fine to wash over the white areas. It won’t be on those white hairs long enough to do anything.



pink nose of a paint horse

Pink skin can easily get burned. Keep it covered, please.



Horse grooming practices that benefit both the light and dark parts of your pinto horse:


  • Fly sheet and other coverings. This is triple duty here. Flies won’t be as annoying, your horse’s white patches will have another layer of stain protection, and the dark areas will be shielded from the sun to hopefully prevent sun bleaching.


  • Sunscreen. You can find spray-on sunscreens for horses, which are great to use for all-over body protection. For white noses and bald faces, go for a thick zinc oxide product. I will pair this with a fly mask that has a nose covering, too.


  • Whitening shampoos for all areas. You can absolutely use a whitening shampoo for non-white areas of your horse. Some even contain extra brighteners, which will shine everything up.


  • For show day prep, use cornstarch or Show Touch Ups to highlight white areas. You can also use darker colors of Show Touch Ups to enhance dark coat colors. These pigments in a can are also appropriate to use for tails, and it’s easy to separate the white hairs out to spruce them up.



paint horse with blue eye and white forelock


Eye area concerns for the pinto and Paint horse.



  • Many pinto and Paints have bald faces. As such, their eyes are often surrounded by pink skin and some horses even have pink eyelids. This area is highly susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer. UV light is a major component of this condition. Fly masks that block UV light to prevent this cancer are the best thing you can do for your bald-faced horse.


  • It’s also possible to tattoo this skin. The pigments in tattoo ink are thought to decrease the chance of squamous cell carcinoma from happening. Obviously, you are going to have your Vet involved in this and not haul your horse to the local tattoo shop.


  • You may have heard that blue eyes, which can occur quite frequently in pinto and Paints, are not as healthy as other eye colors. This is largely false. It’s just a different eye pigment color. Some blue-eyed horses can, as they age, develop a condition called iris atrophy which makes them more sensitive to light. Basically, the iris of the eye starts to shrink a bit. This is very uncommon and also remedied by using a fly mask.


  • On a related note – fly masks can, and should, be used all year long for some horses. A bald-faced one for sure!



bald faced horse with pink eye area

This horse’s pink eye skin definitely needs some protection.



Skin concerns for Paints and pintos.


  • The white hair and underlying pink skin do bring up some things to be diligent about. This skin is highly susceptible to sunburn. I’ve seen horses with blisters along their backs on the white areas. This is definitely not ok!


  • Pink skin is also susceptible to all sorts of equine pastern dermatitis (EPD). Fly boots, skipping the leg clipping, and getting your Vet involved at the first sign of a scab is important. EPD is a large umbrella term for many skin conditions, so there are many ways to treat. Loop your Vet in!


  • Do watch out for photosensitivity. This is a problem that falls into the realm of EPD, but usually starts inside your horse. Plants that are eaten can create metabolites that travel to your horse’s skin and react with UV light to create blisters and sores on pink skin. It’s also possible that liver issues trigger photosensitivity.



Happy grooming!




If you need an extra layer of protection for your horse’s legs and face, I suggest these. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are no additional cost to you. I greatly appreciate your support!



Sox for Horses – for any skin funk, fly problem, summer sore, stomping, etc.


For special eye masks:

For another style of eye mask:

I love this fly sheet – it’s super light and covers a LOT of your horse. Not good for destructive horses, though.

Keep snoots boopable and sunburn free.

Non-stripping stain and odor removal.

Show Touch Ups for color correction. These are also good for tails.

Thank you!