Paint For Decorating A Horse: Safest Paint Options

Can I Paint My Horse?

If you’ve been to shows or parades involving horses, there is a good chance you’ve seen a horse that’s been painted for the occasion. Many equestrians like to add a little color to their horses for events, parades, holidays, or just for fun. If you would like to try this yourself, it’s important that you use the right kind of paint.

What kind of paint can you use on horses? To safely paint a horse, you will need to use paint that is labeled as non-toxic. You should also use water-based paint that will easily come off. There is paint made specifically for this purpose that you can purchase online, or you can use a tempera paint product. 

Painting horses can be a fun project at home or for horse camps; however, it is vital to use the right kind of paint for your horse’s comfort… and for your sanity. Keep reading to learn more about specific paints to use on your horse!

Option #1 For Painting Your Horse: Tail Tamer

Tail Tamer is a brand of “pony paints” that is developed and marketed for the single purpose of painting on horses. Tail Tamer Pony Paints come in a variety of colors, including blue, lime green, light orange, pink, lavender, red, turquoise, and white. This type of paint is non-toxic and washable and a popular choice among artistic equestrians. The paint is actually a type of liquid chalk – it is slightly opaque and is easily applied.

Option #2 For Painting Your Horse: Tempera Paint

One of the most popular paints for decorating horses is tempera paint, also called poster paint. Tempera paint is a water-based paint that is non-toxic, allergen-free, and washable. Ingredients in tempera paint include calcium carbonate (a calcium supplement often used by humans), cellulose (a fiber derived from plant cells), starch, water, and pigmentation. 

Tempera paint can be found in arts and crafts stores and online. Many manufacturers make tempera paint, including Crayola, which is widely used in schools due to its easy clean-up and safe ingredients. Because it is not a specialty paint, there is also the added bonus of it being relatively inexpensive. It comes in a wide variety of colors, and you can often find sets with multiple colors included. 

I used tempera paint on my horse; you can see the results here:

 

Option #3 For Painting Your Horse: Hair Chalk, Face Paint, or Hair Spray

Another option for painting your horse is the face paint, hair chalk, or colored hair spray that you can find at many warehouse stores, beauty supply stores, or online. These are especially prevalent around Halloween and are easy to wash out. Because these are safe for humans, they are considered to be safe for horses as well. 

Option #4 For Painting Your Horse: Livestock Paint

Livestock paint typically comes in spray or marker form. It is used to temporarily identify cattle, horses, hogs, or other livestock for a variety of purposes. It may be used to identify individuals who have been vaccinated during immunizations, animals who need to be separated from the herd, or to mark an animal for breeding purposes. Livestock paint usually comes in very bright colors, such as orange or lime green, to increase visibility on the ranch.

Livestock paint is non-toxic but can be difficult to remove because it is specially formulated to be water-resistant, thus remaining visible in all sorts of weather. It is designed to harden as it dries and therefore does come off when wiped. While this is an option, I would not recommend using this paint all over your horse’s body, but maybe in one small area. Also, if you do use this, expect the markings to last for weeks. 

Need something fun to do while you paint? Have someone read through horse facts and see if you knew them! For a list of interesting horse facts, check out my article Horse Facts: 50 Fun Horse Facts You Haven’t Heard.

What Did Native Americans Use To Paint Their Horses?

In Native American culture, horses were historically painted as a symbol of strength, power, and good fortune. They were painted prior to going into battle, and they were painted prior to going on a big hunt. They used a variety of symbols, all with different meanings. Circles around the eyes and nostrils were meant to strengthen the horse’s senses. Circles and arrows along the legs were a symbol of speed. Some symbols represented prior victories, while others were a vow of vengeance. Warriors and their horses were so spectacularly decorated that US soldiers would write home in letters about their colorful and brightly painted foes.

The colors that the Native Americans used on their horses had meaning as well. Red symbolized strength and power, while white symbolized peace and safety. Green symbolized nature and healing, while blue often stood for wisdom and hope. Of course, Native Americans did not have access to Michael’s or Hobby Lobby – they derived their paints from the Earth. Here is where the Native Americans sourced some of their colors:

  • Red – roots, berries, or beets
  • Black – charcoal 
  • White – limestone, eggshells, or seashells
  • Green – moss, algae, flowers, and other plants
  • Blue – duck manure, sunflower seeds, and flowers
  • Yellow – Bixa shrubs or buffalo gallstones
  • Purple – blueberries or flowers

 

These ingredients were mashed and combined with a liquid medium such as animal fat or grease. It can be fun to try and create your own “paint” in the same manner as the Native Americans, especially if you have a wide variety of flowers and berries already on your property (although, personally, I might skip the duck manure if it was me).

What NOT To Use To Paint Your Horse

While there are plenty of options when it comes to painting your horse, there are probably even more paint mediums that should not be used.

Don’t use spray paint on your horse.

You don’t want to use traditional spray paint on your horse for a couple of reasons. The first is that the fumes themselves can be harmful when inhaled. There is a reason that the instructions on a can of spray paint recommend using it in a well-ventilated area – part of that reason is VOCs. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a class of chemicals, some of which can cause respiratory problems and even organ damage in high concentrations. Spray paint also doesn’t wash off easily; it’s used in graffiti art in part because it’s permanent. 

Don’t use acrylic paint on your horse.

Acrylic paint is widely available in the art sector but is not made for the skin. It is made to harden when dried, which will block the skin’s pores, crack as the skin moves, and cause irritation. It does not have any ingredients in it that are pharmaceutical-grade, and it is hard to wash off. Though many of us already have some type of acrylic paint on hand, this is one that you don’t want to use on your horse.

Don’t use food coloring on your horse.

Because food coloring is considered a safe additive to ingest, it is also technically non-toxic when applied to the skin. However, if you’ve ever gotten this dye on your skin while decorating a cake or making playdough, you will know that it is quite difficult to wash off and will often stick around for much longer than you would like. In addition to this, the FDA does issue the disclaimer that some of the colors in food dye can cause itching, hives, and allergic reactions. For these reasons, I advise you not to use food coloring on your horse.

Painting Horses Can Be Therapeutic

Painting horses is more than just a fun activity – it is a way of expressing yourself artistically and can even be therapeutic. Some lesson barns even use the activity in their horse therapy sessions. You may have read opposition about painting horses – and of course, if your horse is clearly uncomfortable or unhappy during the process, then it may not be the activity for him. But in reality, most horses enjoy being groomed, and they won’t be able to tell the difference between a paintbrush and a dandy brush. The color or pattern itself won’t bother your horse at all – horses don’t tend to spend much time looking at their own reflection. So go ahead and try your hand at painting your horse – there are a wide variety of products and colors to choose from. Just make sure to take plenty of pictures of the finished product!

 

There are many other fun things you can do with your horse besides riding! For more ideas, visit my article 35 Fun Things To Do With Your Horse (Other Than Riding.)

 

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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