Paint Horses are the Masarati of the equine world," Paint Horse owner Alice Singleton says, smiling. "With all their chrome, they're simply a little snazzier and flashier than any other 'model.' I just love them!"
The former city girl, who spent 20 years working in investment banking, had never been on a horse until she met and married cowboy veterinarian Jerry Singleton. "He had a Quarter Horse, but it was Quarter Horses with spots that captivated my imagination," she says.
Made in America
When the first Spanish explorers landed on North American shores in the early 1500s, "painted" or two-toned horses were among the first arrivals. Those Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian-bred horses eventually formed the foundation for the wild herds of mustangs found throughout the American West. The Spanish term pintado or "pinto" was commonly used to describe a multicolored or dappled horse. Native Americans prized their painted ponies, and many tribal communities assigned magical properties to their mounts' resplendent, colorful markings.
Centuries passed, and Thoroughbred horses brought to North America by English settlers added to the equine gene pool. Early horse breeders sought to create working stock that also had the stamina and good minds to be dependable trail partners. Some were solid colored, some not. But records show that some of the best-known foundation sires of the Quarter Horse breed had sufficient color to be regarded as American Paint Horses today.
In fact, Quarter Horses and Paints shared a common history and gene pool until 1940, when the American Quarter Horse Association was formed. At that time, the AQHA excluded horses with "excessive white" - in other words, Paint Horses - from its registry. Even "cropouts" - the painted offspring of two registered Quarter Horse parents - were denied entry into the AQHA.
Twenty years later, this virtual shutout resulted in the formation of two organizations, the American Paint Quarter Horse Association and the American Stock Horse Association. Both registered Paint Horses with Quarter Horse ancestry. In 1965, they united to form the modern American Paint Horse Association.
Today, the APHA boasts 108,000 active members in the United States, Canada, and 39 additional countries and territories. Characterized by an irresistibly upbeat and inclusive outlook, the APHA experienced record growth during the 1990s, while maintaining its family orientation and broad appeal to all generations.
The APHA recognized that whatever the primary focus of their members (recreation, competition, breeding, etc.), the vast majority - more than 76 percent - were trail riders, too. In response, such programs as Ride America and the APHA-sponsored extended-day wilderness rides were developed to welcome trail devotees and their colorful mounts into the organization.
Eventually, Alice brought home an eye-catching sorrel overo gelding, with medicine-hat and splashed-white markings. And, she discovered what many Paint Horse aficionados profess: While the Paint Horse's colorful coat initially attracts their attention, the breed's easygoing temperament, sturdy conformation, versatility, and natural aptitude for the trail are what capture their hearts.
In 1992, when Alice took her favorite Paint gelding, Sir Jeta Moon ("Kacee") on their first trail ride - the American Paint Horse Association Wilderness Lodge Ride in southern Missouri, she knew she'd found her niche. She's been on every Lodge Ride since. Today, the Singletons have 11 Paint Horses on their Arkansas farm, and Alice and Kacee have logged more than 5,380 miles on the trail. Alice also serves on the APHA Executive Committee.
The APHA (817/834-2741; www.apha.com) encourages trail enthusiasts with its Ride America program (www.apha.com/rideamerica). Nearly 5,000 participants log their trail miles to receive national recognition and prizes. The APHA also sponsors several annual wilderness rides (www.apha.com/trailrides). Read on to learn more about the Paint Horse, and to see whether this colorful breed might brighten your time on trail.
A Work Horse
Iowan Pat Meade has owned Paint Horses since 1952, when he was a sophomore in high school. Like many, their color first caught his eye, but it was their disposition, working ability, and versatility that made him a lifelong champion of the breed. As a teenager, he competed in local playdays and later roped calves off his Paints in rodeos.
Today, Meade and his wife, Nancy, use their eight Paint Horses both for trail rides and to work the cow herd on their farm. They favor Paint Horses with either Mardele Dixon or Judy's Lineage bloodlines, as both have earned a reputation for strong, well-conformed horses with good minds.
In 1990, Meade and former APHA executive secretary Ed Roberts united to establish the organization's trail-riding programs. Every year, Meade and his wife attend at least five APHA-sponsored extended day rides (3 to 5 days long), and he often serves as trail boss.
Riders enrolled in the Ride America program can earn double credit for their hours in the saddle when they participate in APHA-sponsored rides. The most popular is the Fort Robinson Ride held every year over Labor Day weekend. Routinely, between 120 and 150 horses and riders enjoy spectacular scenery in the Ponderosa Pine forests and tall-grass prairies of Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford, Nebraska.
"The 2000 ride was unforgettable," Meade says. "First, it's always an incredible sight to see so many colorful Paint Horses together on the trail. But that year, lightning strikes started eight fires in the area, and the government sent 500 firefighters to work out of Fort Robinson. So all of our Paint trail riders pitched in every day to make sandwiches and meals for the fire crews - but we rode every day, too. Paint Horse people are the greatest!"
Fellow trail riders think Pat Meade's pretty great, too, and not just for his cowboy expertise. A talented crooner, Meade has recorded country CDs, such as Come Ride with Me (see Hot on the Trail on page 12), and when persuaded will serenade trail companions with his Marty Robbins' repertoire.
"Paint Horses will always be my family's choice, because they're versatile at home and adapt to trail riding with ease," says Meade. "Our APHA trail rides are laid back, and our common-sense rules maintain the safety of horses and riders. The quality of the people and the family orientation has kept me involved in the APHA. And on the trail, we've been fortunate to meet many skillful horsemen, devoted to the breed, who have become lifelong friends."