Paso Fino Horses – Puerto Rico Paso Fino
Paso Fino Horses
The Paso Fino horse has a proud past and is one of the oldest native breeds in the Western Hemisphere. During the 500 years that they have been selectively bred in the Western Hemisphere, the Paso Fino has participated in the conquest of the Americas, and then in the exploration and development of both North and South American continents. Today they are show horses, pleasure trail horses, and have a host of versatile uses in all equine disciplines. But it is the lateral four-beat gait that distinguishes the Paso Fino. This exceptionally smooth motion makes it an excellent choice for people with spinal injuries or arthritis, as well as for therapeutic riding programs for the handicapped.
The origins of the Paso Fino began in Spain where a chance mix of breeds created offspring that would one day become one of the world’s finest riding horses. When the Moors occupied the Spanish countryside they brought with them the Berber horse, also known as the Barb. Interbreeding with native Spanish stock produced the delicately gaited Spanish Jennet (which is now extinct, but being re-created). These were subsequently bred with the Andalusian. The resulting offspring had the hardiness of the Barb; the natural pride and presence of the Andalusian; and the extremely comfortable saddle gait of the Spanish Jennet.
In 1492, Columbus discovered that the New World had no horses, so with his second voyage, he brought the first horses to Santo Domingo, a select group of mares and stallions from Andalusia and Cordela of the above mixed bloodlines. The result of the blending of these horses and the isolation of them to such a small area assured that these bloodlines would eventually evolve into the Paso Fino horse.
The offspring of these isolated horses were dispersed through the various lands that the conquistadores invaded. Centuries of selective breeding by colonists in Latin America and the Caribbean produced variations of the “Caballo de Criollo,” (native horse). Among them was the small, extremely muscular, very refined Paso Fino that flourished initially in Puerto Rico and Colombia, and later, in many other Latin American countries (primarily Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Venezuela) that were suitable for ranch work throughout Central and South America. But most treasured was the incredibly smooth gait of the Jennet which was quickly recognized as a desirable trait and actively perpetuated. This gait became the genetic stamp of the Paso Fino.
Puerto Rico Paso Fino
Awareness of the Paso Fino didn’t spread outside Latin America until after WWII. It was after American servicemen came into contact with the stunning horse while stationed in Puerto Rico that Americans began importing them in the mid-1940s. In the 1960’s, Paso Finos started to be imported from Colombia. But which country produces the “true” Paso Fino? There are “purists” who advocate for one or the other country, but the American Paso Fino is often a blend of the best of the Puerto Rican and Colombian bloodlines.
The Paso Fino ranges in size from 13.0 hands to 15.2 hands. Weight ranges from 700 to 1100 lbs but full size may not be attained until the fifth year. Every equine color, from solid to pinto, can be found in the Paso Fino, with or without white markings.
The head should be refined and in good proportion to the body, neither extremely small nor large with a preferred straight profile. Eyes are large, well spaced, expressive and alert. Ears are short, set close, and curved inward at the tips. The impression should be of an intelligent face. The neck should be gracefully arched, medium in length and set on at an angle to allow high carriage. Mane, tail and forelock should be as long, full and luxurious as possible and no artificial additions or surgical alterations are allowed. The tail is carried gracefully when horse is in motion. Standing slightly under in the rear is a typical pose.
One cannot talk about a Paso Fino without focusing on their extremely smooth gait, even their name, Paso Fino, means “Fine Step”. The basic gaits of the Paso Fino in order of speed are the paso fino, paso corto, and paso largo and they are capable of executing other gaits that are natural to horses, including a relaxed walk and lope or canter. These are not trained gaits, but are natural to the horse and are displayed at birth. Newborn foals struggle to their feet and take their first faltering steps in the gait. Owners pride themselves in the naturalness of their horses since artificial training aids are not necessary to bring out this genetically instinctual gait.
The Paso Fino gait is performed at three forward speeds with varying degrees of collection. At all speeds of the gait, the rider should appear motionless in the saddle, and there should be no perceptible up and down motion of the horse’s croup. Demonstrations show the rider holding a full glass of water, not spilling a drop, and barely moving the water in the glass at all.
The Classic Fino, also known as the Fino Fino, Paso, or Paso Fino gait, exhibits full collection with a very slow forward speed. It is an evenly-spaced four-beat lateral gait with each foot contacting the ground independently in a regular sequence at precise intervals creating a rapid, unbroken and extremely regular 1-2-3-4 rhythm. Executed perfectly, the four hoof beats are absolutely even in both cadence and impact, resulting in unequaled smoothness and comfort for the rider. The footfall is extremely rapid with the steps and extension exceedingly short. Although the horse steps extremely rapidly, it takes only small strides; so the speed is somewhere between a walk and a canter. This gait is usually only used in show because it strains the horse, although they can sustain the Paso for an extended period of time without resting. It is quite a remarkable sight since the horse appears to be dancing.
The Paso Corto has a forward speed that is moderate with full to moderate collection. The footfalls are ground-covering but unhurried and are executed with medium extension and stride. It is a comfortable medium-speed gait similar to the trot in speed. The corto is the average trail gait and a well conditioned Paso Fino can travel at the corto for hours. Since it is very energy efficient, it is ideal for long days of riding.
The Paso Largo is the fastest speed of the gait, almost like a canter, and is an even more extended version of the same footfall. It is executed with a longer extension and stride with moderate to minimal collection. The forward speed varies with the individual horse since their top speed should be in harmony with its own natural stride and cadence. A horse at the largo can cover ground at a breathtaking speed, extending its legs much more to cover more ground, while still providing a secure and balanced seat for the rider.
Some Pasos develop the Trocha, which is a diagonal variant on the Paso. This is often discouraged except in parts of Colombia. Although it is a natural gait, it is not as desirable as the Paso. Some horses develop this diagonal version when they are stressed or tired, so it can be a signal that a horse is overworked or simply picking up bad habits.
The Paso Fino has a lively yet controlled spirit and is a gentle horse that is intelligent, sensible and tractable. It is an extremely willing horse that truly seems to enjoy human companionship and strives to please with its very responsive attitude when under tack. They are often trained in both English and Western style and many owners choose stylish tack from one of the countries of the horse’s origin. They are lightly shod or go unshod when away from rocky or paved surfaces.
In 1972, the Paso Fino Horse Association (PFHA) was founded. It is a member governed, not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting, protecting and improving the breed. It is unclear from their website if they are a breed registering body as there is no reference to the official or historic studbook or any other registration information that you would expect from a registry. Its 8,500 members are represented by 24 regional groups in the United States, Canada, Europe and South America who all sponsor shows and other events, but do not register Paso Finos.
Another website called Paso Registry (PFR) likewise is “not THE registry” as one blogger has written, but it does have a pedigree lookup for the foundation stallions. A link on their site to “register your horse” leads nowhere, and there is no registration information that one would expect on a registry site. A glance at the pedigrees listed shows that Paso Fino names are usually Spanish or Spanish “flavored” but whether this is an official registration requirement (as in some breeds), or just traditional preference is unclear when registration rules are unavailable.
The Paso Fino horse is versatile, able to adapt to a variety of climates and purposes and demonstrates its remarkable versatility not just in the show ring, but on competitive trail and endurance rides, in dressage, rodeo, and working cattle. They continue to grow in popularity, as one-by-one, converts are won over through the experience of the ride.
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