How to Paint: Quick and Easy Horses (Part 1 of 2)

I have always had an affinity with cavalry-heavy armies, having started my first Empire army at age six. Cavalry units have always been exciting , their rapid movement and generally powerful abilities make them the focal point of the army.

Not only that, the horse makes them tower over their footslogging comrades, so they are also a focus of the army visually.

That’s great, except for one thing: I hate painting horses! Always have, probably always will.

Because of this, I have developed a quick and easy technique that achieves decent tabletop results. If you are looking for a guide that will let you win painting competitions, this probably isn’t it. But if you are looking to paint ten  decent looking horses over the space of an evening, then read on!

For the purposes of this tutorial I have used  Games Workshop paints, but the theory holds true for all manufacturers. Equivalency charts are widely available online if you want to match as closely as possible!

Undercoat and Bases

The first thing I like to do is get my models undercoated and based. This means that you can judge the colours for the horses better.

To undercoat, I tend to use Black Vallejo Primer through an airbrush, although I also use aerosol spray cans and found both work just as well.

When choosing colours for your models’ bases, you need to be aware that brighter bases need lighter coloured horses, or at least brighter highlights  to stand out. My standard base colours are:

Northern European/Grasslands: Rhinox Hide, drybrushed with Terminus Stone and Screaming Skull

Southern European/Arid: Mournfang Brown, drybrushed with  Terminus Stone and Screaming Skull

The colour selections I will go on to describe work well with both of the above basing combinations.

Base Colours

The first thing to once basing is complete do is select suitable base colours for the horses.

The colours chosen for the pictures below are, from Left to Right:

  • Abaddon Black
  • Administratum Grey
  • Mournfang Brown
  • Rhinox Hide

For lighter colours, I sometimes like to use XV88 or Deathclaw Brown. However, here I don’t want the horses to overshadow their riders who will each have individual heraldry. Therefore I have stuck with darker colours.

So that I can batch paint a number at once, whilst still maintaining a varied selection of colours to make the units look interesting when deployed, I tend to do 2x dark brown horses, 2x mid brown, 2x light brown , 1x grey and 1x black horse as a batch.

Obviously, if you have loads of horses to do, doing all your horses of one colour together will be quickest.

I very rarely do light grey or white horses, but if you do, to maintain a decent build up, follow the grey horse tutorial here and then highlight further to your chosen brightness!

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For this stage, simply paint in all of the flesh area of the horse. We will add details later but for now focus on a nice even coverage of the base colour.

Note, I will paint the black horse black, even though this is the undercoat colour. This is as areas may be missed when undercoating, and also to give a smoother finish.

For this stage, a large basecoat brush is appropriate. There isn’t much detailing, although avoiding the tack, mane and tail will reduce the amount of time spent tidying up later.


Once the base colours have been blocked in, you will need to leave the horses that you have done to dry. If it’s a big enough batch, you might be lucky enough that the first one you painted is dry by the time you get round to starting the highlight stage.

It’s important that it is dry, though, as rather than blending, we are going to add some fairly extreme highlights. We want a sharp contrast between the base colour and the highlight in most cases.

Because horses are generally posed quite dynamically, the musculature is quite pronounced in a manner that you generally only see in fantasy barbarians.

We can use this to our advantage by highlighting the raised areas with a considerably lighter tone, as per the below:

For the above base colours, I have shown the colours I have used to highlight each (in brackets):

  • Abaddon Black (Drybrush with Administratum Grey)
  • Administratum Grey (75% Administratum Grey + 25% White Scar Mix)
  • Mournfang Brown (one highlighted with XV88, one with Deathclaw Brown for a bit more variety!)
  • Doombull Brown (Mournfang Brown)
  • Rhinox Hide (Doombull Brown)

This can be done quite adequately with a base brush too, as the muscles are very pronounced. These models are 1st Corps miniatures medieval horses, but most manufacturers produce similar (with the exception of Warlord Games, I have found. Most of their horses are much less ‘stacked’).

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And that’s it for the flesh! I don’t highlight further, as we will detract from the rough and ready feel by using detailing on the skin (socks, legs and facial markings) and the tack.

Mane and Tail

For the last step in this part of the tutorial, we can get ready for detailing by doing the other simple part of the model, going over the areas where we have touched the mane and tail with our base colours with Abaddon Black, and once this is dry, drybrushing both with a very, very light Administratum Grey (or Mechanicus Standard if you don’t want such an extreme highlight).

Thanks for reading! I will hopefully have the other part of the article finished within the week and I can show you how we turn what look like a bunch of messy models above, into these below!

Whilst you are waiting for this, please follow us on our social media channels so you don’t miss any Brush and Boltgun awesomeness.

If you have any comments, do stick them in below and I will try and get back to you ASAP.

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