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Are Paint Horses Good For Beginners?

Perhaps, you watched the movie “Hidalgo” or have fallen in love with a friend’s Paint Horse, and now you’re wondering if a Paint Horse would be a good fit for yourself as a beginner rider?

American Paint Horses can be good horses for beginners, as the breed is sensible, stoic, and hardy. The Paint Horse has comfortable, economic gaits that are easy for riders to learn to follow and stay in balance. However, not all Paint Horses are reliable beginner-safe horses.

The colorful Paint Horse was initially bred to be a working horse on the large American ranches. The Paint Horse exceeded all expectations as a working stock horse, but how well do they perform as a beginner-safe horse?

What Does The Official Breed Registry Say About Paint Horses?

The official breed description dictates that the American Paint Horse needs to have either tobiano, overo, or tovero coat patterns with any base color being acceptable. The horses are typically between 14hh and 16hh with the powerful compact body of a stock horse or working American Quarter Horse.

The American Paint Horses, also known as the Paint Horse, should be intelligent, eager to work, sensible, patient, and hardy as befits a stock horse-type. They should have an innate sense of balance and coordination proved by their quick-footed cattle work and agile way of scrambling up rocky ledges.    

What Is Classified As A Beginner Rider?

This question may seem like the height of redundancy. I have recently had the pleasure of helping some of my students buy their first horses. I have been somewhat shocked by the horses that people consider beginner-safe, thus the need to define what a beginner is!

A beginner rider is a person who is still working on mastering the basics of riding, e.g., rising trot, steering, sitting into the canter, stopping, going forward, etc.

A beginner rider cannot cope with bucking, spooking, napping, or overly forward-going horses. They also cannot help the horse or set them up to succeed, e.g., a beginner rider can’t help, an anxious horse overcome its nerves, or an uncoordinated horse find its balance.

What Criteria Are Important For A Beginner-Safe Paint Horse?

The ideal beginner-safe horse does not have to be a fancy horse. A beginner-safe horse should be:

  1. Schooled
  2. Not too sensitive or reactive to rider aids
  3. Kind and patient
  4. Sensible and bombproof
  5. Balanced
  6. Have comfortable, easy movement

Schooled Paint Horses

Beginner riders are not trying to master a single aspect of horsemanship; they’re trying to master ALL of the basics. As such, they cannot effectively teach a horse something they themselves do not know.

A schooled horse is confirmed in its training and thus responds appropriately when the rider asks for a specific movement. A Paint Horse with years of schooling can often correctly guess what the rider is asking for, even if the beginner rider does not give the aid clearly.

A Paint Horse Who Is Not Too Sensitive Or Reactive To Rider Aids

It can be tempting to buy a competitive, winning American Paint Horse, but these winning horses are not always suitable for beginners. Most horses competing in working classes are brilliant because they are sensitive, highly schooled horses.

These Paint Horses respond to the slightest weight shift or hand movement. The rider’s aids are so refined and subtle that it can appear that the horse is reading the rider’s mind while the rider sits there doing nothing. Don’t be fooled; both Paint Horse and rider are a highly skilled partnership!

Imagine that highly reactive, schooled Paint horse working with a beginner rider. If the rider loses their balance, as is inevitable when learning to ride and pulls on the reins, the horse may respond by suddenly stopping, spinning, going faster, or going backward.

The horse’s “obedience” could result in the rider falling off or getting a fright. The Paint horse will also become upset and confused with all the conflicting aids given by the rider.

A Kind And Gentle Paint Horse

The best beginner horses are gentle, kind, and patient when working with riders. These Paint horses “forgive” the rider for mistakes while rewarding them for riding correctly. The concept of a forgiving horse is best illustrated with an example:

A beginner rider is busy learning to canter. In the process, the rider messes up the aids for the canter transition, which causes the horse to trot faster and the rider to lose their balance.

This star of a horse not only doesn’t react negatively but quickly comes down to a walk allowing the rider to regain their seat. This horse “forgave” the rider for their mistake and helped them out of a sticky situation.

The next time the pair attempted the canter, the rider used the correct sequence of aids, and the horse moved neatly into canter, thus “rewarding” the rider. 

A Sensible And Bombproof Paint Horse

Horses that spook at every shadow and imagine dragons around every corner are not conducive to a relaxing ride. Most beginner riders will fall off and lose all confidence if given this type of horse to ride.

The American Paint horse is bred as a working utility horse. They are known for having a sensible, practical approach to life. A horse that spooked and ran away every time a calf jumped would not be an asset to a working ranch.

A Paint Horse That Can Move In Balance

A beginner rider cannot help a horse find their balance, and in fact, a beginner rider will often unbalance a horse. Fit schooled and mature horses are taught to move in a balanced regular rhythm.

These horses have the strength and skill to stay in balance even when the rider is flopping all over the place.

A Paint Horse With Comfortable Movement

Some dressage horse breeds have ground-covering, extravagant movement; it’s beautiful to watch but challenging to sit. Most beginners do better with more moderate moving horses.

The American Paint Horse should have a moderate length of stride and ambling gaits. If the Paint Horses weren’t comfortable to ride, the cowboys would refuse to ride them!  A Paint Horse’s movement is ideally suited for beginners.

Are All Paint Horses Good For Beginners?

Each Paint Horse is an individual, just as each human is a unique individual. A young Paint Horse is unlikely to suit a beginner rider now, although in a few years may be perfect.

Stallions are technical animals to handle and can easily overwhelm novice horse handlers and riders.

In addition to age and gender, the individual horse’s temperament makes a difference. Many sensitive and reactive horses go on to be fantastic competition horses, but their quick reactions to minor stimuli will never suit a beginner. These Paint Horses are not bad, just not ideally suited to being a teacher!


Initially bred for ranch work, the Paint horse demonstrates many of the characteristics needed in beginner-safe horses.

However, a beginner-safe horse is more than just a breed of horse.

The Paint Horse’s age, temperament, level of schooling, movement, and gender are all factors that will influence whether the specific Paint Horse can be considered safe for beginner riders.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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