Breed Profile: Paso Fino

The Smoothest riding horse in the world!

This video of a Paso Fino foal was making the rounds several months ago, right around the time I had to choose a breed to profile for an assignment in my Equine Industry course. Naturally, I had to learn more.

Origin: Puerto Rico

Aptitudes: riding horse

Population Status: common

Origins of the breed

A show and pleasure horse with Spanish heritage, Los Caballos de Paso Fino, the horses with the fine walk, were bred from the Andalusians, Spanish Barbs, and the now extinct Spanish Jennets that were introduced to the Caribbean Islands by the conquistadors beginning in 1493. It is believed that the first generations of Paso Fino-like horses were the offspring of Spanish Jennet mares and Andalusian stallions, inheriting the unique gait of the Jennet, which was possibly inherited from a very rare, small horse from Northern Spain, the Asturian, and the brio (energy and spirit) of the Andalusian.

It is very likely that the Spanish Jennet and Andalusian offspring were taken to the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo at the time of Columbus’ second voyage) and used as foundation stock to populate the expanding territory throughout the Caribbean as it was conquered. Over time, these Paso Fino-like horses became refined through selective breeding of Spanish Jennets, Andalusians and Barbs, resulting in a hardy horse with a smooth gait. Innate to the Paso Fino, the gait is unique to the breed and cannot be learned by other horses.

In the early days of the breed, a number of different Paso Fino lines developed, most notably in Puerto Rico and Colombia, and to a lesser extent in Cuba and Peru, each with subtle variations in appearance but all with the lateral four-beat gait. This gait was a highly valued characteristic of the horse because long journeys on horseback were common at the time, and the horse’s smooth gait eased some of the physical strain for the rider.

From the 16th century up until at least WWII, the Paso Fino was solely known within the Caribbean and Latin America, where it was in high demand from hacienda and plantation owners due to its tireless work nature. It was not introduced to North America until it was imported from Puerto Rico in the mid-1940s. Two decades later, many more Paso Fino horses began to be imported from Colombia as well, and the American Paso Fino was born – bred from the best of the Puerto Rican and Colombian bloodlines.

Puerto Rican v. Colombian v. American: the subtle variations

Due to different breeding specifications and the fact that they developed independently of one another, the Colombian Paso Finos and the Puerto Rican Paso Finos are technically considered to be two different breeds. One obvious distinction is that the Colombian Paso Finos developed an additional gait called the trocha, an unevenly timed diagonal four-beat gait. Bred primarily from  Colombian and Puerto Rican Paso Finos, the American Paso Fino can also have traces of Peruvian Paso Fino blood and may perform the trocha in addition to the traditional gaits.

Use by humans

A highly athletic, sure-footed, versatile and gentle breed, the Paso Fino is used in a range of disciplines, including trail riding, endurance, drill team, dressage, gaming and Western disciplines. The natural smoothness and versatility of the gaits make it ideal for riders who have had back and knee injuries.

Physical description

The Paso Fino is a small horse most commonly reaching 13.3 to 14.2 hands at the withers, although the American Paso Fino tends to be larger and is often up to 15 to 16 hands tall. They have long, luxurious manes and tails and can be registered in any equine colour and may have white markings. The conformation of the Paso Fino can be described as graceful and elegant. It has a slightly convex or straight profile with an alert and intelligent face and large, expressive eyes carried high on a gracefully arched neck. The back is strong and muscular and when in motion, the tail is carried away from the body.

Well-proportioned and strong, the Paso Fino is powerful without extreme muscling. Its durable hooves are rarely shod and its legs are well-defined, with long forearms and shorter cannon bones.

Gaits

The natural gait of the Paso Fino is a smooth, rhythmic ambling gait, a four-beat rhythm with the footfall pattern of a walk in which the horse can reach speeds comparable to or exceeding the pace of a trot without the typical aerial phase of the traditional faster gaits. This unique gait can be performed at three speeds, known as the Classic Fino, the Paso Corto, and the Paso Largo. The first of these, the Classic Fino is a gait with full collection and a slow forward speed, characterized by extremely rapid footfall with very short steps and extension. The Paso Corto is performed at a moderate speed with a moderate degree of collection and medium extension and stride. The Paso Largo has a longer extension and stride with moderate to minimal collection, and is the fastest speed of the gait.

Additional notes or facts

The Spanish Jennet was thought to have been a type of horse rather than a distinct breed, a term used to describe the assorted Iberian horses arriving in the Americas. Although they did become more uniform through selective breeding and geographic isolation during the Middle Ages. There is no clear record of when the Spanish Jennet became extinct.

In recent years, a new Spanish Jennet has been created and registered through the Spanish Jennet Horse Society. Direct descendants of the Paso Fino, the new Spanish Jennet is essentially a patterned Paso Fino. The pinto patterned Pintado must have 100% Paso Fino heritage, and the leopard patterned Atrigado must have at least 50% purebred Paso Fino or Peruvian Paso blood.

Associations/clubs/breed registries

  1. Central Canada Paso Fino Horse Association http://www.centralcanadapfha.com
  2. Forest Gait Farm http://www.pasofino.ca/about-paso-finos
  3. Paso Fino Horse Association http://www.pfha.org/the-breed
  4. Paso Fino Association Europe http://www.pfae.org/index.php/en
  5. Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Federation of America http://pprpffa.org/index.html
  6. The Spanish Jennet Horse Society http://www.spanishjennethorses.org

Sources:

Central Canada Paso Fino Horse Association http://www.centralcanadapfha.com/

Equine Avenue: The Gateway for Horses and Their People – Spanish Jennet http://www.spanishjennethorses.org/registry.html

Forest Gait Farm http://www.pasofino.ca/about-paso-finos/

Hendricks, Bonnie L. 1995. International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds. University of Oklahoma Press

Paso Fino Horse Association http://www.pfha.org/the-breed

Paso Fino Association Europe http://www.pfae.org/index.php/en/the-breed

Promerova, M. et al. 2014. “Worldwide frequency distribution of the ‘Gait keeper’ mutation in the DMRT3 gene.” Stichting International Foundation for Animal Genetics 45 (2014) 274-282 http://www.ucm.es/data/cont/docs/345-2014-10-07-gait_keeper_mutation.pdf

Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Federation of America http://pprpffa.org/index.html