Photo courtesy Stunning Steeds Photo
Imagine gliding down the trail, oblivious to rough terrain, without worrying about hours spent in the saddle causing back pain. This isn’t just a dream for the fortunate owners of Paso Finos. Born with a naturally smooth gait that creates almost no movement for the rider, they’re the perfect way to travel down the trail, especially over long distances.
Developed in the Caribbean and Latin America from Spanish horses that were imported to the Americas, the Paso Fino is known for its smooth, four-beat lateral gait, which can be performed at three speeds. The classic fino is slow in forward movement, but the feet take very quick steps. The paso corto has medium speed and stride. The paso largo moves forward the fastest, with a longer stride.
The Paso Fino is prized for its gentle spiritedness and incredible stamina. The combination makes for a popular trail and endurance horse.
Today, the Paso Fino Horse Association (PFHA) has over 60,000 registered horses and 3,500 members in 21 regions.
Recently, the PFHA held the International Mundial Championships in Miami, Fla., where horses from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Aruba, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. competed. Classes were streamed on the USEF Network, with over 80,000 views from around the world—the most-watched event the network has ever had.Keith Andries on his Paso Fino stallion, Capella. Capella was named a PFHA Master Trail Horse. Photo courtesy Virginia Frost.
Trail riding is so popular within the breed that the PFHA created the Trail Horse Test Program. This gives riders a chance to demonstrate their horse’s skill at trail obstacles through a series of tests. It’s not a competition, but rather a way to gauge a horse’s ability to “complete tasks normally performed before, during, and after a trail ride.” There are three different levels—junior, senior and master—and awards are earned after successfully completing each level.
The PFHA has other recreational rider programs that reward Paso Fino owners who hit the trails. These programs include awards for recreational riding, competitive trail, endurance rides, long-distance pleasure rides, and more.
Virginia Frost is a volunteer with the PFHA and on the board of directors representing the Virginia region. She is the chair of the amateur committee and serves on the Recreational Rider committee that administers the Trail Horse Test Program.
“In 2020, we had 40 horses participate in the Trail Horse Test Program,” she says. “This was our way to recognize and praise ‘just a trail horse.’”
Lynda Zimmerman from Minnesota has owned five Paso Finos since learning about the breed in a profile assignment for a science class.Lynda Zimmerman rides HDR Petrolero de Nevado, a three-time PFHA High Point Endurance/Limited Distance Award winner, at the 25-mile Mosquito Run endurance ride in Minnesota. Photo courtesy Bob Zimmerman.
“Their willing temperament, smaller size and reputation for being sensible, sure-footed trail horses appealed to me, as I was an adult student and not getting any taller or younger,” she says.
One mare she owned, Lluvia del Norte (Zia), earned the Rookie of the Year for PFHA, Upper Midwest Endurance and Competitive Rides Association (UMECRA) and Minnesota Distance Riding Association (MnDRA) in 2010.
For over nine years, Lynda and Zia competed in the PFHA Limited Distance category, documenting over 2,0000 miles before Zia retired at 20 years old. She was also a show horse, earning her PFHA Supreme Merit Award. In endurance, Zia shined as well, being a two-time PFHA Reserve Champion in Endurance/Limited Distance with many Top Tens.
Zimmerman continues to do endurance and trail riding with her younger Paso, accumulating thousands of miles and many awards along the way. HDR Petrolero de Nevado, a gelding of hers, is a three-time PFHA High Point Endurance/Limited Distance Award winner.Donna Hajek and Sundancers Comanchero. He has been doing 25-mile limited distance rides with AERC since 2016. In 2018, they started doing NATRC competetive trail rides. Photo courtesy Becky Pearman.
“All three of my competition Pasos have had great ability due to their light, athletic body types, which allow them to meet the pulse criteria for qualified finishes, but their biggest attributes are their heart and willingness,” Zimmerman says.
Donna Hajek from South Carolina fell in love with the breed for their smooth gait, intelligence, and how they bond with humans.
“Paso Finos are very versatile, going to a show one weekend, then going out to trail ride, competitive distance riding or endurance riding the following weekend,” she explains.
Hajek and her Paso Fino Sundancers Comanchero has been doing 25-mile Limited Distance rides with the American Endurance Ride Conference since 2016.
To learn more about the Paso Fino, visit the Paso Fino Horse Association website or the American Paso Fino Horse Association.
This article about the Paso Fino originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
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