El Caballos de Paso Fino
Prized for its athleticism, spirit, and exceptionally smooth gait, the Paso Fino began its journey to become the first American horse breed more than 500 years ago when Christopher Columbus began the importation to the New World of Spanish horses from Andalusia, with Spanish Barbs, and smooth-gaited Jennets (now extinct). These were the first horses on the continent since the mass extinction of horses during the ice age. “Los Caballos de Paso Fino” – the horses with the fine walk – were bred for smooth gait, and stamina and served the remount stations of the Conquistadors, carrying their riders over mountains, through dense jungles and across deserts, to explore the New World. Centuries of selective breeding throughout the Caribbean and Latin America produced local variations of the “Caballo de Criollo,” the most important of which was the Paso Fino. Perfected in Puerto Rico and Colombia, the Paso Fino flourished in many other countries particularly Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Venezuela.
These horses spread into North America and became a foundation for the modern-day Mustang, the Spanish Mustang, the Rocky Mountain Horse and influenced the breeding of the Appaloosa, and rare ambling breeds like the Florida Cracker. Though the Paso Fino has been treasured in Latin America since the Conquistadors, this unique breed was virtually unknown in the United States until the late 1940′s when American servicemen stationed in Puerto Rico bought some small gaited island horses and began importing them. They found with better feed and care they grew larger and within two decades more Paso Finos were being imported from Colombia. Today the American Paso Fino is a blend of the best of Puerto Rican and Colombian bloodlines and is respected worldwide. One of the fastest growing breeds in America the popularity of the Paso Fino is spreading to many more countries including several in Europe and Asia.
The Paso Fino reflects it’s Spanish Heritage through it’s proud carriage, grace and elegance. The ideal Paso Fino is noble, gentle and impulsive with breathtaking presence as a result of a combination of energy and temperament best described by the Spanish word “brio”. Brio is one of the most unique characteristics of Paso Fino horses, and is important to retain in breeding and training. In addition, the Paso Fino is naturally affectionate and strives to please his owner and rider. Despite their quickness and sometimes fiery temperaments, Paso Finos are generally easy to handle.
Ideally the Paso Fino has near perfect conformation with refined but strong bones, small and hard hooves as well as shorter sound pasterns. He has a refined head with the preferred profile being straight, large, expressive eyes and a gracefully arched neck set on at an angle to allow high carriage. The top line is characterized by defined withers, a rounded croup with a low set tail. The tail is carried like a flag adding to the striking appearance of the Paso Fino. The harmonious conformation and high bone density make the Paso Fino a very strong and robust horse.
Paso Finos are also the perfect size for mounting and riding, ranging from 13.1 to 15.3 hands, and come in every equine color – with or without white markings – including bay, black, buckskin, palomino, chestnut, grey (white,) roan, and pinto. Classic Fino Champions (The best of those that can perform the rare short, quick Fino gait) inspire awe in the show ring and can sell for several millions of dollars. But most Paso Finos are ridden on the trail, where with a long stride he can cover as much ground in a largo gait as other horses can at a canter and never tire or break a sweat. The rider also remains comfortable in the saddle for hours. Though the Paso Fino is arguably the most valued show horse in Latin America, they come from a working background; the long stride of the largo was developed for covering the plains fast, and efficiently, and the piston like short steps of the classic fino and corto were developed for climbing mountains and maintaining balance on rough terrain. These gaits are all actually an equine walk, and are referred to as a lateral four beat gait. In fact each leg works independently and the horse can vary it’s speed and extension with more versatility than other gaited breeds.
In order to talk about the forward “gaits” of the Paso Fino and to define them at shows they have been divided into three speeds:
Classic Fino – Full collection, with extremely rapid footfall while the steps and extension are exceedingly short, resulting in very slow forward movement.
Paso Corto – Forward speed is moderate, with moderate to more collection depending on the Division. Steps are ground-covering but unhurried, executed with medium extension and stride.
Paso Largo – The fastest speed of the gait, executed with a longer extension and stride, and moderate to more collection depending on the Division. Forward speed varies with the individual horse, since each horse should attain its top speed in harmony with its own natural stride and cadence.
The Paso Fino is capable of executing other gaits natural to horses, including the relaxed walk, lope or canter, and gallop. They are known for their versatility.
In competition Paso Finos are shown in separate Divisions based on the horses’ natural ability and style, and the age and/or discipline of the horse and/or rider.
Pleasure features easy going horses, the natural, smooth four beat gait with an emphasis on temperament and good manners.
Performance features charismatic horses exhibiting brio, ambition, exciting action, collection and a big ground covering largo.
Classic Fino is performed in full collection by horses with extraordinary brio, charisma and manners and also manifesting the best conformation.
The Youth Division has a full range of classes for riders 18 and under.
Amateur Owner classes mirror the Open classes in all Divisions;
Versatility classes present horses with special training including Western and Trail.
The halter class division, called Bella Forma, demands perfection of the natural gait and good conformation.