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About Paso Fino Horses
Piedmont Paso Fino Horse Association

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What is a Paso Fino horse?

The Paso Fino (pronounced pah-soo) horse reflects its Spanish heritage through its proud carriage, grace and elegance. The Paso Fino is a warm-blooded light horse breed. Its conformation shows refinement and balanced proportion that conveys strength and power without extreme muscling. With its lively, controlled spirit (known as brios), natural gait and presence, and responsive attitude, the Paso Fino is an unique and desirable equine riding partner. The Paso Fino varies in size from 13.1 hands to 15.2 hands with the average being13.3-14.1 hands high. The mane and tail should be long and full flowing with no artificial enhancements. The Paso Fino horse is exhibited with normal hoof lengths and angles, and shown either barefoot or with regular or lightweight shoes.

Costume with South American origin

The History of the Paso Fino Horse Breed

The Paso Fino's journey to the Americas began more than 500 years ago with the importation of Andalusians, Spanish Barbs from North Africa, and smooth-gaited Spanish Jennets (now extinct as a breed) to the "New World" by Spanish Conquistadors. Bred for their stamina, smooth gait and beauty, "Los Caballos de Paso Fino" – the horses with the fine walk – served as the foundation stock for remount stations of the Conquistadors. Centuries of selective breeding by those who colonized the Caribbean, Latin and South America produced variations of the "Caballo de Criollo," among them the Paso Fino that flourished initially in Puerto Rico and Colombia, and later, in other Latin/South American countries (primarily Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Venezuela).

Descendents of the Conquistadors' horses are believed to have spread into North America after the Spanish soldiers forayed for a brief time into this territory and became mixed with the Spanish Mustang horses of the west.

Awareness of the Paso Fino as we know it today didn’t spread outside Latin America until after WWII, when American servicemen came into contact with the stunning Paso Fino horse while stationed in Puerto Rico. Americans began importing Paso Finos from Puerto Rico in the mid-1940s. Two decades later, in the late 1960’s many Paso Fino horses began to be imported from Colombia, concentrating on the “working” agile, sure-footed and natural gaited Paso horses of the Andean Mountains of Colombia. For a while, there was some contention as to which country produced the "true" Paso Fino. Though there are still some self-professed "purists" who advocate for one or the other country, the American Paso Fino - true to our "melting pot" tradition - is often a blend of the best of Puerto Rican and Colombian Paso Fino bloodlines.

The Paso Fino horse breed standard

General Impression - The Paso Fino is born with a gait unique to the breed, and his attitude seems to transmit to the observer that this horse knows his gait is a very special gift that must be executed with style and pride! The gait, being totally natural, does not exhibit the catapulting or exaggerated leg action of man made gaits: rather the movements are smooth, rhythmic, purposeful, straight, balanced in flexion and synchronous front to rear, resulting in unequalled comfort and smoothness for the rider.

Head - The head should be refined and in good proportion to the body of the horse, neither extremely small nor large with the preferred profile being straight. Eyes are large and well spaced, very expressive and alert, and should not show excessive white around the edges. Ears are comparatively short, set close, and curved inward at the tips. The lips should be firm and the nostrils large and dilatable. Jaws are defined but not extreme. The impression should be of a well-shaped, alert, and intelligent face.

Neck - Gracefully arched, medium in length and set on at an angle to allow high carriage, breaking at the poll. Throatlatch should be refined and well defined.

Forehand - Shoulders are sloping into the withers with great depth through the heart. Chest is moderate in width. Withers are defined but not pronounced and slope smoothly into the back.

Midsection - Moderate in length with a well-sprung rib cage. Topline should be proportionately shorter than the underline. The back should be strong and muscled. The midsection should join the forehand and the hindquarters so as to give the horse a pleasing, proportioned appearance.

Hindquarters - Croup is slightly sloping with rounded hips, broad loins, and strong hocks. Tail is carried gracefully when horse is in motion.

Legs - Straight with refined bones and strong, well defined tendons. Broad, long forearms with shorter cannons. Thigh and gaskins are strong and muscled, but not exaggerated. Standing slightly under in the rear is typical. Pasterns are sloping and medium in length. Bones are straight, sound and flat, and joints are strong and well defined. Hooves are well rounded, proportionate in size, and do not show excessive heel.

Mane, Tail and Forelock - As long, full and luxurious as nature can provide. No artificial additions or alterations are allowed. A bridle path not exceeding 4" is acceptable.

Size - 13 to 15.2 hands with 13.3 to 14.2 being the most typical. Weight from 700 to 1100 lbs. Full size may not be attained until the fifth year.
Color - Every equine color can be found, with or without white markings.

Disposition - An extremely willing horse that truly seems to enjoy human companionship and strives to please. Spirited and responsive under tack, sensible and gentle at hand.
What are the Paso Fino gaits?

A Paso Fino performing the Paso Fino gait

The Paso Fino Gait

The Paso Fino gait is totally natural and normally exhibited from birth. It is an evenly spaced 4 beat lateral gait with each foot contacting the ground independently in a regular sequence at precise intervals creating a rapid unbroken rhythm. Executed perfectly, the four hoof beats are absolutely even in both cadence and impact. Footfall is the same as the equine walk, i.e. left rear, left fore, right rear, right fore. Propulsion is primarily from the hind limbs and the horse’s motion is absorbed in its back and loins, resulting in unequaled smoothness and comfort for the rider.

The Paso Fino gait is performed at three forward speeds and with varying degrees of collection. In all speeds of the gait, the rider should appear virtually motionless in the saddle, and there should be no perceptible up and down motion of the horse's croup. The Paso Fino show ring gaits are:

Classic Fino - Full collection, with very slow forward speed. The footfall is extremely rapid while the steps and extension are exceedingly short.

Paso Corto - Forward speed is moderate, with full to moderate collection. 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 minimal collection. 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 that are natural to horses, including the relaxed walk and lope or canter, and is known for its versatility. In PFHA/USEF-sponsored shows, Paso Finos compete in Specialty classes, such as Western Pleasure, Trail (Obstacle), Versatility, Costume, and Pleasure Driving. Paso Finos are also being seen in cow penning, trail riding and endurance competitions and are winning ribbons.

Paso Fino with a Performance style gait

Judging the Quality of the Paso Fino Gait

The Paso Fino gait is an evenly spaced four-beat lateral gait with each foot contacting the ground independently in a regular sequence at precise intervals creating a rapid, unbroken rhythm. Executed perfectly, the four hoof beats are absolutely even in both cadence and impact, resulting in unequaled smoothness and comfort for the rider.

The Paso Fino gait should be performed with style and pride. The gait is smooth, rhythmic, purposeful, straight, balanced in flexion and synchronous front to rear, resulting in unequalled comfort and smoothness for the rider. The Paso Fino is a graceful, agile and supple equine athlete that uses all four legs with precision and harmony. The Paso Fino gait sounds like: “tica-tica” or t-t-t-t.

An undesirable gait would be the “trocha” gait, which is an UN-evenly timed 4-beat diagonal gait (versus an evenly timed and spaced four beat footfall). While a few Paso Finos may perform the trocha gait when in training and until the horse gains balance with a rider. The horse should not perform the trocha gait in the show ring. The trocha sounds like: “TA-tra, Ta-tra” or Tt -- Tt.

Another undesirable gait is the “pace”, which is a 2 beat lateral gait where the legs on the same side hit the ground at the exact same time giving a very rough ride. The pace sounds like: “TA – TA, TA – TA” or TT – TT .

Besides watching the evenness of the footfall, you can also watch the croup and tail of the horse for smoothness and lack of up and down (more diagonal gait) or side to side (more lateral gait) movement. Excessive bouncing or swaying of the tail indicates an uneven beat and lack of smoothness. Watching the rider’s seat, shoulder and legs for lack of motion may show a smooth ride. Extra movement of the rider’s shoulders may illustrate a rough ride, as well as shaking of the rider’s legs and feet. Some motion in the rider’s pelvis may be seen as in a slight jiggle, but no bouncing or swaying should be observed. Also, there should be no nodding or side to side motion of the Paso Fino’s head while performing its gaits.

In all classes, special attention shall be afforded to the rhythmic consistency and smoothness of the Paso Fino gait. Horses shall be penalized for failure to perform any gait prescribed in a class. Style of execution may vary between horses. Any style of execution which reduces smoothness and consistency should be penalized.

PFHA rules suggest the use of a “sounding board” in its sponsored Paso Fino shows so that both the Judge and spectators can hear the evenness of the footfall. It also adds to spectator interest.

Symmetry of motion and harmony of flexion in all four legs are other criteria of fine gait and a superior athlete. Proper emphasis to the importance of strong rear propulsion and good flexibility in the hocks is desired athletic criteria to judge by. Harmony of flexion should not be misinterpreted to mean that the hocks must elevate exactly the same height as the knees. It means that the elevation must be harmonious, symmetrical and balanced. A horse should not exhibit flashy, high front end action and be shuffling in the rear or vice-versa!

Almost as characteristic as the footfall is the naturally proud carriage and elegant style of the Paso Fino gait when performed.

Resource: 2002 PFHA Judges & Stewards Handbook

Paso Fino horse show

The Paso Fino Show Divisions

Classic Fino division: The only gait performed is the Classic Fino gait. Class protocol is: classic fino, halt, classic fino, reverse, and repeat the same, and line up. Gait is fully collected, with very slow forward speed, very rapid footfall and stride is exceedingly short. Extra tests may be asked by the judge which include: performing the classic fino gait over a sounding board, figure-eights, and reverses. The attire is the official Paso Fino show costume with a bolero style jacket, slacks, english boots and spanish felt hat. Tack is english style.

Performance division: The gaits performed are collected Corto, collected Largo, and collected Walk”. Class protocol is: Corto, Largo, Walk, reverse, and repeat the same, and line up. Performance gaits are executed with brilliant style, and collection. Extra tests may be asked by the judge which include: performing the corto gait over a sounding board, figure-eights, serpentines and reverses. The attire is the official Paso Fino show costume with a bolero style jacket, slacks, english boots and spanish felt hat. Tack is english style.

Pleasure division: The gaits performed are mildly collected Corto, mildly-collected Largo, and flat-footed Walk. Class protocol is: Corto, Largo, Walk, reverse, and repeat the same, and line up. Pleasure gaits are executed with mild collection, style, and willingness. A back-up is required. Extra tests may be asked by the judge which include: dismounting and remounting in line-up, executing the corto gait over a sounding board, serpentines, halt on the rail combined with a backup or dismount and remount. The attire is a long sleeve blouse or shirt with a vest or a jacket, slacks; boots and hat should match style of tack. Tack is what would style be suitable for trail riding -- either english, western, or plantation.

Bellas Formas division: The gaits performed are a Corto or Classic Fino gait. The horse is shown in hand by either one or two handlers. Conformation, gait and manners/finish are judged. The official Spanish Paso Fino show outfit is worn.

Specialty division: This division showcases the versatility of the Paso Fino horse. Classes include: Western Pleasure (includes a lope), Versatility (includes a canter and jump), Trail (trail obstacle course), Costume (of Spanish origin), and Pleasure Driving (cart). Country Pleasure gives a relaxed way of going suitable for trail riding.

The PFHA rulebook and Show Divisions rules can be found on the Internet at: http://www.pfha.org/

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©Piedmont Paso Fino Horse Association, 2003-2007
Photos courtesy of Piedmont PFHA members
photos: Bill Minter, Shaw Laney, Lynn Gallup, Greg West, Ali Casey

Updated May 7, 2007
Published December 8, 2004
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