The palomino is not a horse breed, but a coat color — a stunning, golden color. Technically, it is a genetic color in horses, the result of a cream dilution gene that produces a beautiful chestnut base coat along with the cream color.
A palomino horse has a gold coat and a white or ivory tail and mane. The palomino color can occur in all horse breeds except for the thoroughbred. Palomino horses must be registered as such after meeting specific requirements.
History and Origins
Although the origins of the palomino horse are unknown, it is believed to have descended from the Arabian horse and its color patterns. While many countries claim to be home to the Palomino, its geographic beginnings are most often attributed to Spain, where the horse was revered for its beautiful color. Interestingly, Palomino is a common surname in Spain.
A competing theory is that palominos appeared in the Middle East thousands of years ago. A popular idea supporting this position is that the palomino color resulted from an adaptation that camouflaged wild horses against the ubiquitous desert sand.
It is, therefore, no surprise that during World War II, the United States Coast Guard used palomino horses to patrol beaches because they blended in with the sand, making them invisible to enemy warships off the coast. One universally accepted fact is that the name Palomino was not in use before 1920.
Despite its mysterious beginnings, the palomino horse does appear in various legends and ancient stories from all parts of the world. Historians claim that conquistadors brought palomino horses to the new world (present-day Mexico) at the request of Queen Isabella. Mexican horse breeders helped to extend the breed to present day Texas and, later, California at the height of the Mexican-American war. This is where the palomino was discovered by Americans.
While the palomino horse does not have roots in the United States, its two registry associations do. The Palomino Horse Breeders of America (PHBA) and the Palomino Horse Association (PHA) are the only two organizations to officially register palominos.
The Palomino Horse Breeders of America
The PBHA is an international organization that formed in 1941 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to their website, their mission is to “record and preserve the pedigree of the palomino horse while maintaining the integrity of the breeds.” Additionally, they provide services to members in support of, and to encourage palomino ownership. A nonprofit, member-owned organization, the PHBA also has more than 38 affiliate network associations that operate on state and local levels, and which sponsor fundraisers, horse shows, clinics, and other activities. Records for over 88,000 horses are kept by PHBA along with 250,000 horse show entries. The PHBA registers only American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, Arabians, Morgans, and American Quarter Horses as palominos. Palomino horses registered with one these associations may be registered with the PHBA as long as they meet color requirements:
- American Paint Horse Association
- Pinto Horse Association of America
- Appaloosa Horse Club
- American Quarter Horse
- American Holsteiner Horse Association
- Missouri Fox Trotters
- Mountain Pleasure Horses
- Jockey Club
Additional programs are offered by the PHBA, including the Palomino Incentive Program and the Palomino Performance Program. The incentive program allows breeders and owners to earn cash awards received by palomino horses at approved shows.
Palomino horses are able to earn points for winning events outside of PHBA competitions as part of the performance program. Excellent show horses, palominos compete and often win, in some of the world’s most difficult contests, including the National Cutting Horse and National Snaffle Bit Association events, as well as American Quarter Horse Association horse shows, rodeo associations, 4-H pony clubs, and American Show Horse Association competitions.
In 1936, the PHA was incorporated. The PHA is the first palomino registry and was started in 1935 in California when Dick Halliday registered a golden stallion with the name El Rey de Los Reyes. The PHA, unlike the PHBA, recognizes all horse breeds based on their color and build. A true golden color is preferred, but shades ranging from pale to dark gold are accepted.
To be registered as a palomino, horses must be of appropriate color and saddlehorse type, as well as have one registered parent from one of several accepted light horse breeds. An individual horse that is not registered with a breed registry, but is proven to have palomino coloring, can be registered with the PHA based on color. As for the mane and tail color, these need to be ivory, white, or silver. However, 15 percent sorrel or dark hair may be mixed in.
Only recently, the PHA has started accepting ivory colored horses with blue eyes. Research has proven that these lighter palominos will always produce a palomino offspring, making them desirable breeding stock.
Although palominos aren’t a breed, horses with this distinction do have several characteristics in common:
- Height: 56-64 inches (142-162 cm); typically, 14-17 hands tall
- Weight: 1100 lbs. (500 kg.)
- Coat color: Pale gold to dark gold
- Skin color: Gray, black, or brown
- Eye color: Black, hazel, or brown
- Mane and tail color: White or ivory
- Markings: White stripes on the face and white stockings are common
- Average lifespan: 25-30 years
- Comparable breeds: Barb horse, Arabian horse
- Horse range: Western North America
To obtain a palomino horse, remember that, due to the cream dilution gene, breeding two palominos will result in a palomino offspring only 50 percent of the time. This palomino to palomino cross will result in a chestnut horse 25 percent of the time and a cremello the other 25 percent of the time.
Breeding a cremello with a chestnut will result in a palomino every time and is the only cross to result in palominos 100 percent of the time. There was a time when Cremellos were mistakenly believed to be albinos, so they weren’t used in breeding programs, but this is no longer the case. Today, programs around the world accept cremellos.
The palomino horse, known for its incredible versatility, has been called a multipurpose horse. These golden horses are appreciated for their beauty, but also for their endurance and maneuverability. This is why palominos are great for ranching, jumping, and pleasure riding. They also often appear in rodeos, at parades, in horse shows, and on trail rides.
Owning a Palomino Horse
The temperament of a palomino horse is friendly, sociable, and easy to train. However, because the palomino horse occurs in several different equine breeds, its personality may differ greatly from one palomino to the next.
Therefore, its temperament is considered dependent on the particular breed of horse. Palomino horses do have a reputation of being versatile and very easy to train, which makes them well-suited for riders of all skill level, including novices who are unfamiliar with horses.
A palomino horse is groomed in the same manner as other horse breeds. Brushing with a medium- or stiff-bristle body brush is suggested to remove dirt and debris from the coat. Smaller and softer bristled brushes are recommended for the legs and face. It is important to keep the palomino’s gorgeous mane and tail in top condition. This can be achieved by manually detangling the hair and then brushing with a comb.
Palomino Horses in Popular Culture
Palomino horses are depicted in various literary and artistic works throughout history — from Europe to Asia — and most notably in the 1481 painting “The Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The cultures of Greece, Persia, Rome, China, Mongolia, and Japan all feature ancient stories and imagery of golden horses.
Early European tapestries, such as the Bayeaux tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in which William the Conqueror battled the British, features an image of a golden horse. With the Crusades, the palomino horse made its way to European soil and many spoke of the gold-colored horses that carried their enemies.
The hit TV show “Mister Ed” featured the most famous palomino horse in America, whose real name was Bamboo Harvester. Mister Ed became a TV star and a household name.
Another palomino horse, Trigger, became an American film star, appearing in Western films with cowboy fan-favorite Roy Rogers, his owner, and trainer. Trigger was loved by millions and is considered the most celebrated horse to work in film. A gifted and intelligent horse, his personality won the hearts of people around the globe.
Some horse enthusiasts call Trigger a contemporary of the racehorse Seabiscuit, though the equine film star enjoyed a much longer career than the champion thoroughbred. Even today, Trigger remains one of the most popular horses in the world.
A well-known palomino show horse is Buzzie Bars, whose claim to fame is holding the all-time leading parent of point earns in PHBA history. His 96 foals earned an impressive 7,383 show points. Some of his famous prize-winning offspring include Fast Break, The Hot Canary, Paul F Bars, and Maple Honey Bars. Buzzie Bars himself earned numerous points during his career as a show horse and was named Grand Champion 50 times.
The palomino horse has made a profound impact on global culture, from film and television to the way wars are waged. While it’s frequently miscategorized as its own breed of horse, these distinctly colored horses remain a breed-spanning stunner and favorite of horse owners both old and new alike.