North Atlantic Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Organization Inc.

Article by:  Heinz Reusser

  The Puerto Rican Paso Fino 

by Heinz Reusser 
The history and early development of the Paso Fino Horse is very closely interrelated with the settlement of the country of Puerto Rico. Although he is a descendant of the horses that were imported from Spain, this horse does not reflect the personality and preferences of the European. He manifests the temperament, spirit and feelings of the emerging people of Puerto Rico that represent many elements of all the races and cultures merged during the process of colonization. 

Substantially due to the quality and excellence of the horses bred on the island, Puerto Rico played a very important role in the colonization of the New World. In 1521 Ponce de Léon obtained fifty horses for his search of the fountain of youth. In the same time period Francisco Pizarro bought horses needed for the conquest of South America in Puerto Rico and a Don Gaspar Troche imported stock from Puerto Rico for his horse business in Mexico. After the collapse of a short gold rush, horses became the principal export product of Puerto Rico and thousands were shipped to the New World to satisfy the growing demand. 

The period of colonization was a truly Equestrian Era everywhere, including Puerto Rico. Horses were used for work, individual transportation, the military and in local and national celebrations. Thus it was only natural that a selection of the animals with the most desirable traits led to the creation of a breed with special characteristics suited to the uses, climate and topography of the island. Several times during the centuries that followed a few pure bred stallions and mares of other breeds were introduced in an effort to strengthen and refresh the native blood. This was considered necessary by some because the harsh weather, deficient nutrition and overwork from a very young age were said to reduce the size and affect the conformation of the native stock. Pure bred animals of a specific breed were brought in and the crosses made with specific goals in mind. The resulting horses were carefully selected to preserve the lateral gait and natural smoothness of ride that made the Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horse so unique. 

The establishment of the particular breed of Paso Fino Horses may have had its origin at the time the San Juan Races (shows) began in 1610.  These races were celebrated to commemorate the "Santo Patron"  of Puerto Rico, San Juan Bautista.  In these races all the citizens of Puerto Rico participated with their horses. 

In the eighteen century Fray Iñigo Abad y Lasierra described this race in a very particular manner.  He said that the men rode these horses with free reins, their hands and arms crossed over their chests and smoking a "tobacco". According to him, the women demonstrated the same or superior ability to ride these horses. Lasierra also reports that the horses had incredible stamina and would rather die than quit. He observed the horses' outstanding obedience as they stopped or moved out commanded only by the slightest touch on the reins. Concluding his observations of these horses, he mentions that their performance was very smooth and comfortable.  In 1797 the French naturalist Mr. Pierre Ledru confirmed all the findings of Lasierra and in his description of the horses movements he added the "special type of walk" of this breed, the necessary characteristic of the "Paso Fino". 

The practice of selecting mares and stallions to develop a breed with these specific characteristics was clearly established in the decade of the 1770's when the breeders of Paso Fino Horses sent a letter to the Spanish Crown protesting the attitude of government officials of not attending the San Juan Bautista commemoration. It was at this event that the breeders always had the opportunity to exhibit the product of their efforts. 

An old song from 1840 expressed the superiority of this native horse, describing a picture of naturally combined elegance, rhythm and beauty unique in the world. In 1849 the Spanish government, responding to a petition from the people of Puerto Rico, organized and officially recognized the San Juan Races. The Crown of Spain understood the great affection of the Puerto Rican people for this horse and reversed the arbitrary prohibition proclaimed by the former governor. The contest was celebrated every two years and owners wishing to compete had to present a certificate demonstrating that the horses to be entered were native bred or Paso Fino Horses. As a guide for judging these horses, a set of standards and rules for the shows that took place during fairs was established by Royal Decree and written jointly by the Economic Society, the Municipal government and the Council of Industry and Agriculture. In order to select the best horse for its beauty and performance the horses in this contest were entered in the "Bella Forma" and "Elegance and Comfort" competitions to be judged for conformation and their natural ability to perform. Emphasis was placed on good size, solid colors and in the "andadura" competition on speed without breaking gait. 

By the 1880's these competitions took place in several different locations with more new facilities. More emphasis was now being placed on maintaining gait and on stamina. Horses over three years old were entered in a 1000 meter long gait competition with the judges looking for easy movement and a smooth ride. 

In 1906, at the new San Juan Racetrack, the famous stallion Manchado of Don Nicolas Quiñones Cabezudo of Caguas made history when he gallantly performed the correct and elegant "paso fino" completely natural and without a rider around the public square. From Manchado later came the famous mares Flores and Deseada, both considered to be part of the foundation of todays Paso Fino breed. 

The introduction and growing popularity of the automobile around 1920 almost wiped out all interest in horses. Only a very small number of breeders continued to preserve the old lines of the "true paso fino" that would become the roots of todays breed. During the earlier decades of our century these few families were the architects of the present day Puerto Rican Paso "Fino-Fino" breed. Their breeding and crossbreeding of the old foundation lines of Manchado, Faraon, Fantasia, Garza and Piel de Seda was no accident but well applied "Horse Sense". Breeders like Manuel Gonzales, Genaro Cautiño, Nicolas Quiñones Cabezudo, Nolo Roig, Pepe Pérez Llera and José Ramirez Acosta deserve special recognition and respect for the work they did at a time when genetic tools were scant and not well understood. 

Dr. Carlos Gaztambide Arillaga, retired professor of animal science and accomplished author of many books on the Paso Fino Horse states that it was the practice of linebreeding with strict culling that gave the necessary homozigocity to the Paso Fino breed. He quotes the theories of Count Lehndorf von Oettingen, according to which all great horses of any period are inbred somewhere in their first six generations. In his book "Breeding Better Paso Fino Horses" from 1981 he also states that the method of breeding a sire to his nieces was well approved in Puerto Rico and applied with great success. What makes todays Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horse a unique breed by itself is the fact that at the root there was a specific group of horses with carefully selected characteristics, cautiously bred until these specific traits were genetically "fixed". Personal records kept by the breeders of this early period formed the foundation of the recognized Studbook started in 1943. 

The famous foundation horses of the modern Paso Fino breed include Caramelo I (Faraoncito X La Cora) who sired the six famous stallions Toledo, Regalo, El Principe, Pocholo, Patiblanco and the best known of them all, Dulce Sueño. He is considered to be the most influential of all the stallions of the breed today. In the 1930ís the President of the Dominican Republic is said to have sent a blank check to Sr. Genaro Cautiño asking that his famous Dulce Sueño be delivered to him. The check was returned intact. 
Bred to another group of Manchado line mares, Dulce Sueño sired the most extraordinary offspring such as the foundation sires Guamani, Batalla, Congo Fino, Noche Buena, Telégrafo, Niño and Copa as well as the great mares Santa Rita, Santa Elena, La Doctora and Sofia Negra. 

The most prominent and successful lines in todays' Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino are the descendants of the two famous Dulce Sueño sons Guamani and Batalla. Guamani is said to represent the "Andalusian type", well rounded with great beauty, somewhat longer and taller and with  a very pleasing, gentle disposition. To create the present day Paso Fino, the influence of the more "Barb type" line of Batalla was used also. Built lighter and somewhat angular, this type added the very delicate and smooth way of going and the highly valued brio and stamina. The best representative of the cross of these types and lines was the immortal sire Kofresi. Bred by Sr. Wifredo Bertran and born in 1958, he was nominated the "Best Producer of Paso Fino for the last 20 Years". After having recovered from a fractured leg, Kofresi returned to the show arena 10 years later to win the title of Grand Champion. He died at the high age of 27, in a time when his fame and prestige as a sire was still growing. 

For decades the Puerto Rican horse breeders have been striving to produce the smoothest, finest and most delicate gait possible; a gait that is rhythmic and agile and in which the hooves touch the ground softly but with grace and distinction. The gait itself is four beat lateral with uniform (isochronal) timing and equal (isometric) strides with both front and hind legs. Different styles of execution at varying levels of collection produce the Fino, Corto and Largo gait, all lateral four beat movements. 

In 1988 the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico approved a law to establish a Central Studbook allowing close and effective control over the registration process. Today there are approximately 8000 registered, pure bred Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horses. More recently the four different breed organizations in Puerto Rico, the Asociacion Nacional, the Federacion del Deporte, the Asociacion Insular de Criaderos and the Cofraternidad de Criadores have joined in a newly formed alliance, the Alianza de Paso Fino de Puerto Rico. Its objective is the coordination of all efforts made for the preservation and promotion of the Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horse. Representing over 700 members, the new organization will help to establish standards and guidelines for breeding, training, showing, judging and many other aspects of the Paso Fino Horse of Puerto Rico. 

In the United States the aficionados and breeders of Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horses have formed the Pure Puerto Rican Paso Fino Federation of America, Inc. For more information on itís goals and activities and a list of its members write to this organization at PPRPFFA, Inc., PO Box 280444, Columbia, SC 29228. Tel. (803) 657-7950. 

Information for this article was provided by Sr. Eduardo A. Quijano Rivera, Sr. Aristides Hernandez and Sr. Josef Pons. The best researched and most valuable source of information was the fascinating book "Breeding Better Paso Fino Horses" by Dr. Carlos Gaztambide Arrillaga, Ph.D. 

This article has originally been published in Conquistador Magazine. 
To learn more about Conquistador Magazine, please go to 

©Copyright 1992, Amigo Publications, Inc. All rights reserved


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