The Paso Fino horse is a light horse breed with a natural gait that comes from the imported horses that were brought to the Caribbean from Spain during the Colonial era. There are two types of horses that are recognized in the United States with this breed. The first, the PPR, originates from Puerto Rico is considered a “pure” version of the breed.
The second type, the CCC, was developed in Colombia and is referred to as the Colombian Criollo Horse.
Although both types have a shared ancestry, the two horse groups developed independently of one another. That has created two distinct sets of characteristics, though blending of the two types has occurred frequently now that transportation has become much easier. Just recently, a trend in Europe and the US has encouraged a restoration of breeding undiluted bloodlines to preserve the unique characteristics from both regions.
Origin of the Paso Fino Horse
Paso Fino literally means “fine step.” The original ancestry of the horse may be Spanish in origin, but there are Barb, Jennet, and Andalusian bloodlines incorporated with the breed as well with both types. Plantation owners in Colombia and Puerto Rico needed horses that could provide a comfortable ride, but also have a strong stamina, and those bloodlines helped to refine the breed in that way.
All Paso Finos have a shared ancestry with the Peruvian Paso horse, along with Mustangs and other breeds that are known descendants of the Colonial Spanish horse. Some of the first ancestral horses for the breed were brought to the Caribbean in 1493 by Christopher Columbus.
Over the next 500 years, the PPR was developed to adapt to the harsh conditions in Puerto Rico. The result is a horse that is comfortable in most conditions and has a superior sure-footedness. Instead of pacing or trotting, their gait was developed for pure speed. A note written in the late 18th century states that the legs of a Paso Fino couldn’t even be followed by the human eye.
Beginning in the mid-19th century, racing competitions for Paso Finos were held in Puerto Rico. They were used widely in agricultural work and provided transportation for many families on the island. One Paso Fino named Manchado was even said to gait on his own in the town square if asked.
Beginning in 1927, the PPR-type began to see additional refinements thanks to an escalation of breeding efforts. A registry was established in 1943.
For the CCC Paso Fino, little is known about the breed until a Colombian rancher visited the United States to purchase horses to work with his cattle. While visiting the country, the rancher allowed horses to be purchased or bred. Military personnel had already imported PPR-type horses from Puerto Rico after their service on the island. This led to rapid growth of the breed in the US and eventually Europe.
The Paso Fino Horse Association was founded in 1972 and regulates registered horses in the US. Both types are allowed to register. CCC-type horses can have a specific gait, called the trocha, which is a diagonal ambling gait that is promoted by a gait-specific organization in the United States as well.
There are still many debates wages about whether the “pure” Paso Fino comes from Puerto Rico or Columbia. In reality, the modern Paso Fino is a true horse of the Americas. It is a melting pot of a breed that has brought the best out of both types to create a fantastic horse that is even-tempered, enthusiastic, and highly intelligent. It is one of the few breeds that consistently strives to please in all that it does.
Characteristics of the Paso Fino Horse
Paso Fino horses will generally be under 15.2 hands high, with some mares only being 13 hands. Despite their size, sometimes in the pony classification, these horses are remarkably strong. Paso Finos that don’t meet the minimum height requirement for classification as a horse are still referred to as horses because of their qualities and strength. The typical size is usually somewhere between 13.3-14.2 hands.
Most horses in this breed will weigh below 1,000 pounds. Some smaller mares may weigh less than 700 pounds. It can take up to 5 years for an individual horse to fully mature into their adult size.
A Paso Fino of either type should have a convex head, a below-average back in length, but withers that are very prominent. The face should be full, with an intelligent face, and a defined jaw leads toward eyes that are expressive and large. This leads to a neck that offers a graceful arch, average in length, but allowing for a high carriage.
The legs should be clean, with short cannon bones and hooves that are harder than average. Tendons should be well-defined. Forearms should be long and broad with good definition in the muscle, but not exaggerated. The pasterns should be sloping and average in length as well.
Many Paso Finos have a thick mane and tail, but this isn’t a requirement for the breed. There are no color restrictions for the breed and horses of all colors have been noted. White markings are allowed, as are solid coat colors.
The Paso Fino should be a horse that is extremely willing. It tends to enjoy social contact, especially with humans, and can become quite spirited if left to its own devices. The horse should be responsible when under tack, yet still sensible in its approach to fulfilling a command.
What sets the two types apart is their gait. The PPR-type tends to offer a delicate step, thoughtful and considered, to avoid trouble. The CCC-type tends to be lively, straight-forward, and willing to tackle virtually any task.
Both types are generally amiable with their disposition. Both types can have a four-beat gait and a nose for the finish line.
The most desired gait of the Paso Fino is the classic fino gait. It is a collected gait that offers fast footfalls that do not cover much ground. It is a gait that is generally used in competition only and requires high degrees of collection. The gait is extremely rare within the breed, though every Paso Fino can perform the breed’s other gaits with relative ease.
The trocha gait is not the same as the classic fino. The gait is closer to a fox trot or walking gait and is usually faulted in the CCC-type. It is still quite popular in Columbia, however, which is one of the reasons why a return to separate lineage breeding is being encouraged by some.
These characteristics make it possible for the Paso Fino to compete in a number of disciplines. Western riding, barrel racing, rodeo events, and endurance competitions will regularly have this breed competing at high levels.