- HEIGHT: 14–15 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Puerto Rico
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: Easy keepers with a unique, very short-strided, four-beat gait; known for their brio: lively, proud bearing
- BEST SUITED FOR: Trail and pleasure riding, and showing
The name Paso Fino means “fine step,” and that is indeed the hallmark of the unique, animated, four-beat lateral gait born into these traditional horses of Puerto Rico and Central and South America. Their ability to perform the gait is entirely inherited. Horses not born into the breed cannot be trained to perform it, and not every horse in the breed can do it correctly.
The remote beginnings of this breed significantly predate the importation of horses to the New World by Columbus in 1493. In ancient times, various groups of barbarians invading Iberia (Spain and Portugal) brought with them small ambling horses, some of which may have descended from ancient Celtic ponies, which were sometimes amblers. One type, the Asturian of northern Spain, which is rare but still exists, had such a comfortable gait that it was a favorite of the early Romans.
Smooth-gaited small horses became known as the Hobbeye and later the Hobby Horses of Ireland and the palfreys of England, where they were popular mounts for children and ladies. The Asturians probably comprised a major part of the foundation of the old, famously smooth-gaited Spanish Jennet, which though now extinct was common in the time of Columbus.
Spanish Jennet mares were included in the first shipments of horses to arrive in the New World with the early Spanish explorers. Historians of South America’s horses believe that the Paso Fino resulted from crossing Spanish Jennet mares, which were either true pacers or amblers, to Andalusian stallions, which were trotters. Subsequent generations were frequently crossed back to Andalusians. In addition, there is good evidence that some Sorraia-type horses, the indigenous, small, dun-colored horses of Iberia with lateral gaits, also came to the New World with the first shipments from Spain.
The very first shipments of horses to the Caribbean arrived in what is now the Dominican Republic in 1493, and in 1509 Martín de Salazar brought the first horses to Puerto Rico. By 1550 horses were plentiful, and many equine breeding and training centers had been established throughout the Caribbean. By this time, a distinctive type of tough, smooth-gaited horse was emerging in several locations. Breeders continued to select breeding stock from Spanish Jennet, Andalusian, and Barb bloodlines. The Spanish were reputed to be the finest livestock breeders in the world, so they had the skills to produce horses of excellent quality that suited the local conditions.
Different lines of horses developed in what are now the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Occasionally these lines were crossed, but for the most part breeders preferred to preserve the horses of their own country. Over time, the breeds developed into slightly differing types depending on local terrain, use, and fashion.
The breeders from Puerto Rico developed a horse with a great deal of style that is believed to have originally carried more Spanish Jennet than Andalusian blood. The breeders took great pride both in the appearance of the horses and in the execution of the gait, so they selected for these qualities in their breeding programs. The unique, short-strided, very rapid footfall of the classic fino became highly prized.
The Paso Fino is known for its unusually smooth gait.
With their smooth gait, these horses make excellent riding horses on the trail and outstanding competitors in the show ring. They have great endurance and can carry a large adult for miles without tiring. Paso Finos are also known for brio, which means fire, sometimes also known as brio condido, which means hidden fire. The horses should be very gentle in hand but show great spirit under saddle. They are easy keepers and said to have great individual personality and to be quite fond of and affectionate with their owners.
The Paso Fino is a small- to medium-sized horse of beauty and vivacity, usually standing from 14 to 15 hands and weighing between 700 and 1,100 pounds. The head is small, with a slightly convex profile and large eyes that are spaced well apart but do not show white sclera. The lips are firm and well shaped, the nostrils wide and flared. The neck is of medium length, upright and well arched. The shoulders are oblique and deep through the heart, the chest moderately wide. The withers are definite but not extremely pronounced. The back varies from short to long, but either an extremely long or short back may disqualify a horse from registration.
The legs are straight and delicate in appearance, with strong tendons that are well separated from the bone. The hooves are small, without excess heel. The mane and tail are encouraged to grow as long and full as possible.
All solid and pinto colors and patterns are found. Appaloosa patterns are excluded.
Paso Finos are distinguished primarily by their gait, which in the show ring is performed at three specific speeds and in several styles.
In the classic fino, the horse is balanced and highly collected; the forward motion is slower than a walk, but the feet move with extreme speed and each footfall is clear and distinct. Only a small percentage of horses in the breed are able to perform this difficult gait correctly. In the United States, this is now a gait primarily for the show ring, but historically the dons of the countries of origin found it a point of great pride to own and ride the very best classic fino stallions. These men often weighed well over 200 pounds, and the horses carried them for hours at a time as they surveyed their land. In the show ring the classic fino is demonstrated on a slightly elevated, hollow platform called the fino or sounding board. Individually, each horse is asked to move down the board, halt, then start again on a judge’s signal. The judges use the sound to evaluate how quickly, evenly, and precisely the horses can achieve the pure gait.
All colors and patterns except Appaloosa are found.
Paso Finos exhibit remarkable spirit and beauty.
The paso corto is a relaxed, medium-speed gait roughly equivalent in speed to a jog trot. It is the ideal gait for trail riding. Within the breed, the corto is performed in two styles: pleasure and performance. The pleasure corto is the faster and more relaxed of the two; the performance corto, as typically seen in the show ring, is a bit slower, with a shorter stride and a more rapid footfall. Hock action and drive are also stressed in the performance corto, which is elegant and exciting to watch and exceptionally smooth to ride.
The paso largo is the extended form of the gait. It is done at speeds ranging from a canter to a full hand gallop. For performance horses, hock action, rear-end drive, and proper execution of the gait are desirable, and there must be an obvious extension of the stride length, not just an increase in speed. Paso Finos are also able to canter and gallop.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the Paso Fino Horse Association (founded in 1972):
• 43,816 horses are registered.
• About 2,300 foals are registered each year.
• Horses registered in this country are not automatically registered in any foreign registry.
According to the Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Federation of America Inc. (founded in 1988):
• Today, 459 horses are registered.
• Twenty new foals are registered each year.