The Paso Fino Fandango at Paso Fino del Fuego in Middleboro spanned two days. On Saturday, August 10, a three-judge pointed show took place. The judges stayed on for the second day, which was a “Fun Show.” Many of the trail riders from the area were invited for the Fun Show in order to compete in a casual environment without having to join the association. The Fun Show provided riders the opportunity to get their feet wet and see if they enjoyed showing, and many did! Sunday’s highlight was the performance by the Hanson Riding Club drill team in full costume.
The pointed show went well. Lou Pinto, President of the Northeast Paso Fino Horse Association, said they had had a lot of fun. “Everyone who wanted to qualify for the Nationals was able to do that,” Lou explained. The judges came from Puerto Rico, Kansas and Tennessee, and two of them will be judging in the Grand National Show in October. “We want to make everyone happy,” Lou mentioned by way of explaining having the two different events. Some people like to show for points; others do not. The Northeast club began the Fandango last year, and the show has been very successful.
Meg was a spectator at the show while her daughter was riding her friend’s horse, Porschia. Her daughter loves horses and finds the seat of the Paso Fino in particular very comfortable. Meg is a new “show parent,” which means she has to deal with the stress of having the right outfit, a certain amount of letting the teenager be a teenager, and the process of getting ready. It is a lot of work and, in addition to all that, the horse gets added to the mix and has to be taken care of as well. Meg was having a great time and enjoyed watching her daughter in the show ring.
Joanne Cotter, the Northeast Club’s newsletter editor, arrived sans horse. Her Paso Fino Romeo does not enjoy showing as much, but is passionate about trail riding instead. From time to time, they also participate in the nearby versatility games. She bought him eight years ago and has been in love with the Paso Fino breed and its community ever since she was introduced to them. Joanne volunteered to help out at the show, and she ended up being “Ribbon girl,” as she put it – handing out ribbons during the award ceremonies. When she picked up the Stan Boravich Memorial Trophy to be awarded to the most outstanding club member, she was completely taken by surprise when her name was announced!
Joanne was also fortunate enough to ride one of Lee Vulgaris’ horses in the show. Lee is the President of the National Paso Fino Horse Association and he let her ride his Grand National Champion Leandro in the Fun Show. Joanne was ecstatic about the chance to ride such a wonderful horse and she even won one of her classes!
For Lou Pinto, the attraction to the Paso Fino is the gait and the size of the horse. He had tried Tennessee Walkers, but they were just too tall for his taste. Lou also loves their temperament. “They are very easy to work with, yet they have all that built-in fire. They are like a racecar idling!” he said with a big smile on his face. The fire or flash in a Paso Fino is called “brio.” Lee commented that the Paso Fino is a very unique breed. “Very beautiful, very sturdy, strong, and has a lot of endurance.” Their temperament is such that it is easy to work with them; lots of “brio” at work, but as soon as the reins are dropped, the horse is perfectly calm and quiet.
The Paso Fino came to the Americas with the Conquistadors on Columbus’ second voyage. Prior to that, there were no horses at all in North America. Its bloodlines stem from the Andalusian and Spanish Barb. Lee Vulgaris called the Paso Fino a “cultural horse.” It is a popular breed in South America and came to the north after World War II, when the military that had been stationed in Puerto Rico and fell in love with the breed started importing them into America. Today, the Paso Fino is used in all sorts of disciplines such as pole bending, barrel racing, cow sorting, trail riding, dressage, and cowboy mounted shooting.
The Paso Fino has a natural lateral gait and it’s footfall is a rhythmic, evenly-spaced 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Not just at the walk, but at any speed. The Paso Corto is a moderate speed with ground-covering steps. The fastest speed is called the Paso Largo and is executed with longer extension and stride. In the video below, Lee shows the gait on his four-time Grand National Champion stallion, Zacarias dos Estripe. Zacarias had been hanging out in his stall just minutes before he entered under saddle, as shown here in the video. But he performs with lots of action and hits the boards with purpose! (The boards were laid down in the indoor arena to aid the judges in deciding how to score the competitors in the show; they did not just see the footfall – they could hear it too!)
There are three modalities: the Pleasure horse, the Performance horse, and the cream of the crop, the Fino horse. About 5% of the Paso Finos are actually “Fino.” “Paso” means “step” and “fino” means “fine.” The Finos are very popular in South America. They are the ultimate show horse. The Fino horse moves only about 6 inches with each step and its leg movement is unbelievably fast.
The ride of the Paso Fino is completely different from a non-gaited horse – very hard to describe, but most definitely very smooth. At least three legs are on the ground at any time. The only way to fully understand is to experience the ride yourself! Paso Fino del Fuego is the only Paso Fino training facility in the northeast. Equestrians interested in the breed should contact the farm’s owners Robert Yunits or Michael Bruce.
Joanne said of the farm, “I love this place, because it is so welcoming. I had never ridden a Paso Fino in my life and Bobby and Michael put me on Mystico, and I got the “Paso Fino smile,” and it is history from there!” Though the farm is relatively small, it has won an impressive collection of national titles equal to any of the larger stables. Bobby and Michael donated their facility, Paso Fino del Fuego to the Northeast Club for the show. Bobby is a USEF judge for the Paso Finos, traveling all around the country for international and national shows, and Michael is a top Paso Fino trainer.
Joanne added that the community around the breed is like none other. “It is a small, but passionate group,” she said. “At competitions, people are actually trying to help each other out. It is competitive, but nonetheless everyone wants to help each other succeed.” Joanne continued:
When I was first looking at them, I went to the regional show, which at the time was held at the Topsfield fairgrounds. My first impression was disappointment at how few horses were there. But as my husband and I walked around, we were struck at how friendly the people were – everyone said ‘Good Morning,’ smiled, and welcomed you to talk about their horses. Other than one meeting with the owners of the farm who now host the show, we had never met any of these people. I enjoyed myself so much, I went back the second day – and met a group of ladies from Maine who made the show their annual outing (no horses, no husbands) who spent the day educating me and convincing me that this was the breed for me. (They were right!) A couple of years later, when I entered my first Paso show, I found that when you are in the ring, everyone is cheering for you and helping you. In both my classes, as I was riding around, I would hear voices coaching me – some that I recognized, some of trainers I did not know, who were just being helpful. I had been told it was that way, but honestly didn’t believe it until I experienced it!
The Northeast Paso Fino Horse Association has close to 200 members and welcomes more! For more information, visit the website.