The history of this noble animal began in Spain where the chance mix of breeds sparked the seed that became one of the world's finest riding horses. Moorish occupation of the Spanish countryside brought with it the Berber horse, also known as the Barb, an animal that had a strong genetic impact on equine development throughout Europe, North Africa, and the New World. Interbreeding with native stock produced the delicately gaited Spanish Jennet. They were subsequently bred with the Andalusian.
Just as the Moorish conquest of Spain introduced a potentially promising breed to that country, so it was with Columbus' second voyage to the New World, when he transported the first horses to Santo Domingo - now the Dominican Republic. These animals were a mix of the Berber, the Jennet and the Andalusian. Future voyagers would add to their numbers in Mexico and South America, but the overall isolation established these as the ancestors to the Paso Fino.
As remount stock for the conquistadors, the progeny of these horses were dispersed throughout the lands attacked by the invaders. The early fifteen-hundreds saw famous and infamous explorers and conquerors such as Martin de Salazar, Diego de Velasquez, and Hernando Cortez transport horses to Puerto Rico and Colombia, as well as Cuba, the Isthmus of Panama, and Mexico.
Like pieces in a well-planned puzzle, the best of the contributing breeds became prominent in these isolated horses. Among other traits, their young enjoyed the hardiness of the Barb and the natural presence of the Andalusian. But most important and treasured was the incredibly even and smooth gait of the Jennet. Remarkably, that gait became the genetic stamp that ever after, despite physical changes brought about by directed breeding or locale, identified this horse as the one we know today by the name Paso Fino.
It is the lateral four-beat gait that distinguishes the Paso Fino in the equestrian world. As it moves, the horse's feet fall in a natural lateral pattern instead of the more common diagonal pattern. Rather than trotting, causing that seat thumping bounce that can be unpleasant for horse and rider, the Paso Finn's medium speed is a corto, during which the rider is reassuringly seated.
The basic gaits of the Paso Fino in order of speed are the paso fino, paso corto, and paso largo. They also walk and canter. These are not trained movements, but are natural to the horse from the moment of its birth. Paso Fino owners pride themselves in the naturalness of their animals. As with a child, an upbringing that includes good food, affection tempered with discipline, and lots of exercise, will assure that the horse best fulfills its potential. Artificial training aids are not necessary to bring about this genetically inherent gait.
The gait itself is evenly spaced, with each foot contacting the ground independently. The power of movement is generated primarily from the hind legs, and the impact of footfall is dissipated before it can reach the rider so that the ride is incomparably smooth.
Though each Paso Fino is born with the gait, some are natural athletes whose skill and presence destines them for the show ring. Those who demonstrate superb execution of the classic fino gait will compete in classes where the ultimate test of the even footfall comes when the horse traverses the fino board to the hushed silence of the audience. As each hoof strikes the board, the quickness and even rhythm are communicated to judge and audience in a clear report. A champion generates a rapid staccato rhythm while muscles ripple over a fully collected body. The power of the hind leg drive is executed in beautiful contrast to the stunning restraint of the forelegs which move forward in inches. Horse and rider, as one, are challenged to perform at olympic quality levels, and the immediate reward is the audience's applause.
All Paso Fino gaits are a pleasure, but what most owners are looking for in a pleasure horse is not only beauty, spirit, carriage and disposition, but a comfortable medium-speed gait. That gait is the corto. Comparable in speed to a trot, the corto is the average trail gait. A well conditioned Paso Fino can travel at the corto for hours, and thanks to the smooth gait, so can the rider.
The largo is an even more extended version of the same footfall. A horse at the largo can cover ground at a breathtaking speed while still providing a secure and balanced seat for the rider.
Elegant and with a brilliant style, the Paso Fino generally ranges in size from 13.2 hands to 15.2 hands. Colors run the spectrum with a variety of markings from chestnut, bay, palomino, black, grey and roan to pinto. It is a spirited yet gentle horse, intelligent and tractable. The Paso Fino has been bred for physical balance, with no exaggerated muscling or size in any portion of the horse. The ideal show horse is at once dramatic, regal, restrained, and generates an aura of presence.
Paso Finos make an exciting investment opportunity. If the purchase is motivated by a desire for a personal pleasure horse, then there couldn't be a more pleasurable equine experience.
On the other hand, the thrill of competition is an enticement enjoyed by many owners. Show classes are available at levels from first-time novice to professional trainer, and the rewards vary from personal satisfaction to international prestige. Shows are conducted year-round at regional levels throughout the United States as well as in the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. United States' competitors and spectators can also participate in an annual Grand National Championship Show sanctioned by the Paso Fino Horse Assn.
Versatility is the passport to satisfied ownership for this popular equine. In addition to show and pleasure-trail abilities, the Paso Fino can be trained for a variety of uses. In competitive trail riding the endurance of the well trained Paso Fino has earned the breed national honors. Its compact size and quickness have carved it a place on ranches where it becomes a hard working partner and employee. It is an excellent driving horse, and competes with spirit in gymkhana. In bird dog work, the Paso Fino not only demonstrates a fine temperament for field handling, but is of a size that makes frequent mounting and dismounting easy. Because of its exceptionally smooth ride, it is the premier and prudent choice for those with back and neck injuries and arthritis, as well as for therapeutic riding programs for the handicapped.
Paso Finos are ridden and trained both English and Western. They are lightly shod or go unshod away from rocky or paved surfaces. Many owners choose stylish tack from one of the countries of the horse's origin.
The photographs and information contained on this page are provided courtesy of The Paso Fino Horse Association, 101 North Collins Street, Plant City, Florida 33566-3311. Phone: (813) 719-7777.