Small and elegant, the Paso Fino is a Puerto Rican saddle horse with amazing gaits. Experts suggest that the breed may have descended from some of the horses Christopher Columbus brought to the Caribbean on his second voyage. The handsome Paso Fino has a reputation for being a supremely comfortable riding horse. While not as well-known as some other gaited breeds, the Paso has an enthusiastic following elsewhere in the world. It is particularly popular in North America.
Paso Fino – History and Origins
Horses began to arrive in the Americas not long after the first journey of Columbus. The date of the first shipments of horses in the Caribbean is reasonably well-documented. Within a short space of time, horses had been brought to many of the islands, and also to the coast of both North and South America. The region now known as the Dominican Republic was one of the first places to have a substantial horse population.
Juan Ponce de León is credited with bringing horses from Hispaniola to Puerto Rico when he became governor of the island. It is likely that a combination of imported horse breeds was used to create the Paso Fino. These may have included the Spanish Jennet, the Andalusian, and the Barb. The horse that emerged in Puerto Rico had remarkably smooth gaits, endurance, and great beauty. They were originally called Los Caballos de Paso Fino, which means the horses with the “fine step.” The small, delicate steps of the Paso were the ultimate in comfort for riders who needed to spend long hours in the saddle.
The new breed was used for agriculture and everyday travel on the island. The first breed registry was established in Puerto Rico in 1943, by the Federation of the Sport of Paso Fino Horses of Puerto Rico. One particular stallion called “Dulce Sueño” had a strong influence on the breed. Similar horses developed elsewhere, often from the same types of foundation stock. These included Colombian Pasos and Peruvian Pasos.
The gaits each breed used were slightly different, but they were all remarkably comfortable to ride. It is surprising how little was known about these horses in Europe and America until after WWII. At that time, members of the US military began to import them into the United States. Since 1972, the organization now known as the Paso Fino Horse Association (PFHA) is the registering body in the USA for horses from both Puerto Rico and Colombia, as well as crossbreeds of these two.
The Paso Fino generally stands between 13 hands (52 inches/132 cm) and 15.2 hands (62 inches/157 cm) high. They weigh between 700 lb (318 kg) and 1,000 lb (455 kg). They are a late-maturing breed. Although some are pony-sized, they are always known as horses. Their heads are extremely beautiful, with a natural, balanced head carriage and a gracefully arched neck.
They give an impression of delicacy, yet their backs and legs are extremely strong. The topline is shorter than the bottom line and the croup is slightly sloping, suggesting great power. Medium length pasterns with the right degree of slope help to create the stunning gaits for which they are famous.
Characteristics of the Paso Fino
Pasos are delightful horses for experienced riders. They are forward-going and are prized for their “brio,” a word that describes a certain fire in their temperament. Nonetheless, they are willing horses that bond closely with their riders. Coat colors can be any. Some individuals of the Puerto Rican Paso Fino breed have a unique eye coloring called tiger eye. This can be yellow, gold, orange, or topaz, and researchers have discovered that it is related to the SLC24A5 gene.
The breed is famous for its smooth and elegant gaits. These are inherited within the breed. Indeed, it has acquired its name from them. They are all carried out with precision, smoothness, and rhythm. The horse moves in a balanced, straight manner. Essentially, each gait is an evenly-spaced, rapid, four-beat lateral gait, which carries the rider smoothly, with no perceptible up and down movement:
- The Paso Fino is a highly collected gait. The horse moves steadily, taking very fast and precise steps, with the intention of covering as little ground as possible. The gait is a sequence of very rapid individual steps during which each foot hits the ground separately. This is only seen in the show ring. Points are gained for even spacing and regular beats, without ever breaking into any other gait, which would result in elimination. It is a mesmeric, dancing gait.
- The Paso Corto is a more extended gait, ideal for pleasure and trail riding. Again, it is a rhythmic 4-step gait, which is comparable to the speed of a trot.
- The Paso Largo is a lateral, four-beat gait, which is much faster and more extended than the others. Speeds of up to 25-30 mph have been recorded.
The gaits of the Colombian Paso are somewhat different. Their Paso Fino gait is more staccato, and some Colombian horses have the Trocha gait, which is not a feature of the Puerto Rico Paso breed.
There are several Paso classes, which include the following:
- The Classic Fino, in which only the Classic Fino gait is performed.
- Performance, in which collected corto, largo, and walk are exhibited.
- Pleasure, which is a test of manners, corto, largo, and walk.
- Specialty classes exhibit the Pasos’ ability not just in gaits, but in a range of activities from trail to jumping.
- Bellas Formas is an in-hand class to assess conformation and gait.
Paso Fino – Breeding and Uses
Most Pasos, whether stallion or mare, have exceptionally good temperaments. They are closely related to other breeds, such as the Peruvian Paso and the Colombian Paso. In the US, there is considerable cross-breeding, particularly between the Colombian and Puerto Rican Pasos. However, efforts are now being made to preserve the unique qualities of each type. Although some Pasos are the size of a pony and can be quite delicate in appearance, they are remarkably strong.
They compete in a surprisingly wide range of equestrian activities, not just specialist classes. With over 25,000 Pasos globally, they can be found taking part in just about every discipline there is. They are outstanding saddle horses, and some also make good driving horses. They are a popular choice for trail riding, both for leisure and competitively. Some compete at an advanced level in endurance riding. They can be seen showing their remarkable gaits during parades. They are an excellent choice for a family of experienced riders.
Diet and Nutrition
Like all horses, Pasos require access to supplies of fresh water and adequate grazing, or an alternative form of fodder, such as high-quality hay. However, grazing should definitely not be too rich, as this is one of the breeds that are particularly prone to EMS, laminitis, and obesity. They were bred to travel long distances carrying riders. Unless Pasos are getting regular exercise, these issues are likely to become a problem.
Colombian and Puerto Rican Pasos. However, efforts are now being made to preserve the unique qualities of each type. Although some Pasos are the size of a pony and can be quite delicate in appearance, they are remarkably strong. They compete in a surprisingly wide range of equestrian activities, not just specialist classes. With over 25,000 Pasos globally, they can be found taking part in just about every discipline there is. They are outstanding saddle horses, and some also make good driving horses.
They are a popular choice for trail riding, both for leisure and competitively. Some compete at an advanced level in endurance riding. They can be seen showing their remarkable gaits during parades. They are an excellent choice for a family of experienced riders.
Health and Behavior
Paso Finos are generally very healthy and can be long-lived horses. Some have reached the great age of 40. They are susceptible to a condition known as degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis (DSLD). This progressive disease causes degeneration of the suspensory ligaments, with the result that the fetlock sinks downwards.
Specialist shoeing can help by providing additional support. They are also prone to equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), which can be avoided by controlling diet and exercise. With regard to behavior, these are some of the best-natured horses around. They are considered to be loyal and gentle, yet they have that dash of brio for the show ring.
Pasos, do in fact, trot. This article should distinguish that’s it’s written about the Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino (PPR). The Colombian and Puerto Rican Paso Fino horses, can be registered in the United States under the same registry, the Paso Fino Horse Registry. The Peruvian Paso Fino, has a separate registry and considered a separat breed.
The PPR is considered a threatened breed, as approximately 400 exist in the continental United States.