The Paso Fino is a gaited horse breed from the Caribbean and South America. The breed’s name translates to ‘fine step,’ which refers to the Paso Fino’s famously smooth four-beat lateral ambling gait.

Renowned for their comfortable ride and beautiful looks, Paso Finos excel as trail riding and as show horses. These gaited horses are also popular mounts for riders with back problems who can’t ride traditional gaits.

However, the breed is susceptible to degenerative conditions that can cut their riding careers short. With appropriate management and nutrition, Paso Fino horses can live long, healthy lives as beloved equine partners.

This article will review the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Paso Fino breed. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding these horses.

Paso Fino History

These small horses descend from Iberian breeds brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors.

While distinct breeding programs emerged in Puerto Rico and Colombia, most American Paso Finos can trace their ancestry to both countries.

Origin

Paso Finos, American Mustangs, and Peruvian Pasos can trace their lineages to Colonial Spanish horses that first accompanied Spanish explorers across the Atlantic over 500 years ago.

Andalusians, Spanish Barbs, and now-extinct Spanish Jennets composed most of this foundation stock of breeding horses in the Americas. Spanish landowners bred combinations of these breeds on colonial plantations in Puerto Rico and Columbia to produce the Paso Fino.

Research suggests Puerto Rican Paso Finos originated from Criollo horses produced by generations of cross-breeding between Iberian breeds brought to the island by settlers. [1]

Genetic studies show Criollo horses carried the allele responsible for Paso Fino’s gait. These horses were selectively bred for smooth gaits long before the Paso Fino breed was established, suggesting the mutation was already present in imported Iberian horses. [2]

Historic Use

Ancestors of Paso Finos worked on plantations in Colonial Puerto Rico and Colombia. Farmers selectively bred horses for endurance and comfortable gaits suited to extended work days spent in the saddle. [2]

These regions had challenging geography that required hardy, sure-footed horses, and a new breed standard emerged from the non-purebred Criollo horses. The resulting Paso Fino breed would play a significant role in transportation and agriculture on the island for centuries.

Historical records of visitors to Puerto Rico from the late 18th century mention gaited horses participating in horse races that showcased the speed of their unique pace. Organized Paso Fino shows began as early as 1849 to promote the improvement of the breed. [3]

Paso Finos first gained popularity in the United States after World War II, when the breed impressed American service members stationed in Puerto Rico. Americans soon began importing Paso Finos from Puerto Rico, interbreeding lines to produce the modern American Paso Fino.

Breed Registry

The Paso Fino Horse Association is the official breed registry for Paso Fino horses in North America. Formed in 1972 in response to the breed’s growing popularity, the PFHA now maintains a registry of over 60,000 horses.

The Association registers horses originating from any country, including Colombia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Only Paso Fino horses with bloodlines verified by DNA testing are eligible for registration.

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Breed Characteristics

Paso Finos have similar characteristics to other horses with Spanish ancestry. However, the breed is primarily distinguished by the unique gait that makes the Paso Fino a comfortable pleasure and competition mount.

Conformation

Paso Finos have a more diminutive stature than their Iberian ancestors. While these horses can range in size from 13 to 15.2 hands, most Paso Finos fall between 13.3 and 14.2 hands tall.

Their heads are refined and well-proportioned to their body, with defined jaws and large, expressive eyes. In addition, they have a relatively high head carriage and gracefully arched necks that add to their elegant appearance.

The ideal Paso Fino has sloping shoulders, a strong back, rounded loins, and broad hips. Legs should be straight, strong, and refined with longer forearms and shorter cannons. Their tails are naturally full and gracefully carried in motion.

Colours

Paso Finos can have any coat colour, with or without white markings.

Some Paso Finos have bright yellow, amber, or orange irises. Known as tiger eye, this trait is only found in the Paso Fino breed. Genetic studies have linked the phenotype to two mutations in a gene associated with eye pigment. [4]

Temperament

Paso Finos are energetic, willing horses with friendly personalities. The breed is beloved for its “Brio,” a natural spiritedness mixed with trainability that makes these horses enjoyable equine partners.

Despite their small stature, these horses often have a presence and fire that helps them stand out in the show ring. But unlike some spirited breeds, the Paso Fino is also amiable and strongly desires to please the rider.

Gaits

Paso Finos can perform a traditional walk and canter, but this breed typically cannot trot. Instead, they have an even, four-beat lateral gait that they perform at different speeds.

These different speeds include:

  • Classic Paso Fino: Fully collected gait with slow forward motion and short steps.
  • Paso Corto: Moderately forward speed with more ground covered by unhurried steps.
  • Paso Largo: The fastest speed with longer extension and strides.
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