The Paso Fino Smile

Watch as one of Horse Illustrated's editors test rides a Paso Fino


A lot of people who visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., from Oct. 7-13, 2012, were infected with a rapidly spreading fever. It’s kind of like the flu. Your heart beats faster and you get a little flushed—with excitement! It’s called “the Paso Fino smile.” During the 40th anniversary of the Paso Fino Grand National Show, the Paso Fino Horse Association (PFHA) gave the public the opportunity to ride a Paso Fino.


I came down with the smile while riding a black mare named Primera, owned by Kay and Charles Chiappetta of Quinta Chiappetta in Shelbyville, Ky. Their daughter Catherine longed us in a circle and instructed me on sitting the rapid but smooth motion of the paso corto, one of three variations of the breed’s gait. For those unfamiliar with the Paso Fino, there’s a lot of energy in the gait, and it felt at first as if Primera might take off with me. But once I was able to accept that it’s a controlled energy and simply the nature of the breed’s movement, I was able to relax. And the more I relaxed into the saddle, the more enjoyable the ride became.

The fever only spread from there, and a beautiful dun Paso Fino named Defensor, owned by Richard Roy of Canada, only exacerbated my symptoms. Defensor is considered a pleasure Paso Fino, where manners and a flat, even walk are top priorities. He and Roy frequent the trails, but Defensor has also won a national championship in the amateur owner pleasure division and a reserve championship in the performance division, in which the gait is more flashy and animated. Defensor was relaxed and easy for me to maneuver. I had a lot of fun getting more acquainted with the paso corto on him.

Finally, my condition reached its peak when I was presented with the opportunity to ride a very special horse within the Paso Fino sphere: Tormento de la Virginia, a top-10 PFHA sire and a four-time world champion Classic Fino horse (only about 10 percent of Paso Finos can perform this high degree of collection) owned by Pacto Andino Corp. He’s a pretty big deal. And I have to admit that I was a little nervous. Watching his trainer, Nelson Primus, ride him at the fino was a bit intimidating, as it looked very quick and energetic. However, I discovered that although it appears speedy from the ground, the fino is so collected that the horse is actually moving with little forward motion, almost staying in place. Tormento was also easy to collect and maneuver. He could turn on a dime, as they say.

Each of the horses I rode displayed the brio, or spirit, that is characteristic of the Paso Fino breed. They were willing and patient, and even though there’s a lot of self-confidence in that brio, they are kind and love attention.

Brio is a quality the Paso Fino has passed on to the newer Trote y Galope horse, a cross between the Paso Fino and Lusitano (but considered a separate breed) that performs a very collected trot and canter. Lola, owned by Besilu Collection, was very beautifully representing her breed with trainer David Castro aboard, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to ride her. Her gaits took a little more getting used to, as her canter reminded me of a rocking horse. But once I learned to just relax and sit deep in the saddle, it was a smooth ride.

My immediate symptoms have since subsided, but I will always be a carrier of the Paso Fino smile. I had so much fun that I had to pry myself from the saddle!

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  1. They say they are really comfortable, but with all that leg action, I don’t know! I’m used to the flat knee and slow flowing stride of a western pleasure QH.


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