Walking the Walk

The Paso Fino, known as the “Smoothest Riding Horse in the World,” will charm you with its distinctive gait, elegant appearance and friendly demeanor.

It’s that tippy-toe, almost-trot, quick dancing step that’s the marker of the historical Paso Fino breed. Looking energetic and fast, and yet amazingly smooth to ride, this distinctive gait is what sets this horse breed apart from any other. The Ocala Paso Fino Horse Association (OPFHA) will be hosting The Ocala Cup International from December 4th through 6th, offering an opportunity to see these charming horses in action.

“This is a breed with a Spanish heritage, and it’s easy to bring in the Latin-American spectators because they know the horse,” exclaims OPFHA President Alei Ortiz. “Our number one goal is to get more American spectators and horse owners involved. We love to share our horses.”

The breed descended from the conquistadors that traveled throughout the Americas more than 500 years ago. This versatile horse comes in all colors and sizes, ranging up to 15 hands tall.

“We want people from throughout the USA and the rest of the world to see, enjoy and appreciate them,” Ortiz notes.

The Ocala Cup will offer a variety of classes, including pleasure, performance and the classic Fino, in which competitors ride across a 65-foot-long wooden floor, wired for sound, aptly called the sounding board. The horse and rider are judged on the horse’s collection (when a horse’s center of gravity shifts backwards and they move more vertically rather than horizontally), spirit and, of course, that rapid hoofbeat. Ortiz describes the classic Paso Fino gait as, “Their feet move really fast, but they don’t cover as much ground as in other classes, like pleasure and performance, where they really move out.”

Paso Fino horses move in a four-beat lateral gait, with all four feet hitting the ground at different intervals. This gait, unique to the breed, eliminates the bouncing that comes with riding most horses. The “action” is very energetic, yet riders hardly have to move to accommodate the gait.

“A Paso can be a good choice for a rider who has had a medical or back issue,” Ortiz asserts.

Paso Finos do walk and canter, and most foals typically gait immediately after birth.

“It’s just their natural way of moving,” Ortiz explains. “One thing I want to emphasize—we don’t do anything cruel to them to make them walk that way. The babies perform the gait as they go alongside their mothers.”

Ortiz also brags about the versatility of the breed.

“Paso Fino horses are also used for Western pleasure, cowboy mounted shooting, working equitation, endurance and everyday trail riding,” she notes.

The Paso Fino gait makes them ideal for a long trail ride and their relatively small size (usually averaging about 13.5 to 15 hands) makes them a good choice for young equestrians or as a first horse for adults. They’re not a particularly high-maintenance breed and their refined appearance and conformation gives them that friendly pony vibe that’s often comfortable for folks new to horses. Their demeanor tends to be people pleasing.

According to Ortiz, Marion County is the county with the most Paso Finos anywhere in the United States and estimates indicate there are at least 1,300 in the area.

“We also have the most Paso Fino farms and trainers,” she offers.

The OPFHA has been in existence since 1978. The group’s goal is to promote the breed, expand its outreach and encourage responsible horsemanship among Paso Fino owners and breeders.

In addition to the upcoming show, Ortiz shared that Ocala was awarded the Grand National Paso Fino Championship shows for 2021 and 2022, the first to be held here in more than 40 years. The shows are planned to take place at the World Equestrian Center.

This is the second Ocala Cup, says OPFHA Secretary Julia Suarez. The first Ocala Cup was held in 2018.

“It’s something to look forward to every two years,” Suarez explains. “It’s a big championship show.”

  An international group of riders, trainers and spectators will gather to enjoy a variety of classes. Vendors will offer Latin and American food. All of the classes are done to music, and American and Latin music will play throughout the show, giving the festivities even more energy.

Ortiz is excited to announce a new event this year, Ride a Paso, which allows attendees to actually ride a Paso Fino at the show. The rides will be supervised and on a lead line with a handler. This will give people the opportunity to experience this unique breed of horse and the gait for themselves.

At the show, people will see the best Paso Finos in the country ridden by top trainers, amateurs and youth riders, Ortiz says.

“There will be youth riders competing from other countries,” she adds. “And our spectators are a cheerful, loud, happy crowd!”

The crowd usually hoots and hollers while horses move over the sounding board, encouraging horse and rider to perform at a high level.

Be forewarned, however, the odds are pretty high that this versatile breed of horse just might tiptoe its way into your heart.

Things to Know

Event: The Ocala Cup International
Dates: December 4-6
Time: 9am-5pm
Place: Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala
Admission: Free

To learn more, visit pasofinoocala.com. Follow @ocalapasofino on Facebook and @pasofinoocala on Instagram.

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