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New At the Germantown Charity Horse Show: The Paso Fino Horse


2013/06/02




By Leigh Ballard

The Paso Fino horse is a naturally gaited horse with a unique style – a four beat lateral gait. In fact, the name Paso Fino translates as “fine step” in Spanish. Paso Fino enthusiasts call this horse “the smoothest riding horse in the world.”

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) 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. Descendants of the Conquistadors’ horses are believed to have spread into North America after the Spanish soldiers forayed for a brief time into this territory.

Awareness of the paso Fino as we know it today didn’t spread outside latin America until after WWII era, when American servicemen came into contact with the Paso Fino horse while stationed in Puerto Rico. Americans began importing Paso Finos from Puerto Rico in the mid-1940s, then from Colombia two decades later. Though there are still some self-professed “purists” who advocate for one or the other country, the American Paso Fino is often a blend of the best of Puerto Rican and Colombian bloodlines.

The Paso Fino gait is unique to the breed, and while the gait is natural, it can be enhanced by training for show purposes.  It is a 4-beat gait, and each foots contacts the ground independently. The Paso Fino gait is performed at 3 speeds, and the rider sits almost motionless in the saddle because the gait is so smooth.  The gaits are: 1) Classic Fino: performed with full collection and very slow forward motion, although the feet move very rapidly. 2) Paso Corto: performed with more forward speed than Fino, using extension of stride but still with collection. 3) Paso Largo:  performed with minimal collection and longer stride. The Paso Largo covers ground more quickly, whereas in the Classic Fino, there is rapid action but very little forward motion.

There are three categories of Paso Fino show classes: Pleasure, Performance, and Fino. In the Pleasure division, the horses are expected to walk when asked, ride on a semi-loose rein, back with ease, and the horse should remain still as the rider mounts and dismounts. The rider wears a white hat and khaki pants with a sport coat.

In Performance, the horse is more animated, more collected and shows a higher step with more front-end action. The rider is dressed in a black tuxedo-type waist jacket and a black hat. In both classes, the horses enter and follow the rail to the right at the Corto, which is a short fast step. Then they are asked to change to Largo, which is the fastest speed moving in a forward direction without breaking gait. Then they will walk, reverse, and repeat the same pattern.

In the Fino class the riders are once again dressed elegantly, but the horse performs only at the Fino gait, showing extremely rapid footfalls with very slow forward motion. A Fino horse is expected to show “brio,” the name for dramatic and fiery animation. Pleasure and Performance horses do not perform Fino; it is a gait reserved only for the most animated horses in the Fino class.

In all three divisions, the horses cross a “sounding board” or “fino board,” which allows the judges and audience to hear the rhythm of the horse’s gait and judge its perfection.

Paso Finos are versatile horses that can also travel in regular horse gaits, like the relaxed walk or the canter. Typically they are energetic horses with a great deal of stamina. Outside of the show ring they are especially popular for trail riding because of the ease for the rider in sitting their gait for long periods of time over varied terrain.

There will be Paso Fino classes for the first time at the Germantown Charity Horse Show (GCHS) this year. One can expect to see an Amateur Owner and Open class within each category. Over 50 Paso Fino horses are expected to show, and will travel from as far away as Miami and Ocala, FL, Missouri, Louisiana, as well from  locations throughout the mid-south.

Norman Timbs is President of the Tennessee Valley Paso Fino Horse Association and is on the national executive committee of the Pas Fino Horse Association. He is owner of Shady Creek Ranch in Arlington, TN, which will have several horses in the show. Brochures and literature about the Paso Fino Horse will be available at the Shady Creek stalls on the show grounds. Timbs hopes to have a riding area set up for people who might like to “test-ride” a Paso and experience their unique gait.

Visit the breed association’s website at www.pfha.org for more information.

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