by Michele Londono, Ph.D.

Few people realize it, few horsemen and horsewomen from other breeds even know this. In the Paso Fino breed, the rider can be 40% to 70% responsible for the gait of the Paso Fino under saddle! This makes riding the Paso Fino horse quite a challenging, but also quite a rewarding experience. And Paso riding has mostly become the fastest growing equine sport of the new millennium.

Yes, the Paso Fino foal is already naturally gaited at birth and yes, the solid training of a good Paso Fino horse can enhance his gait considerably for the ring or for the trail, with bitting or without bitting. If you ever wonder why the same Paso Fino horse ridden by his owner and then ridden by the trainer will look very different, the answer is both in the seat and in the individual amount of bonding of the horse with the rider. This happens in all breeds. But ridden by a true beginner, the best gaited Paso Fino horse might well start to trot! Why? Because the rider is not giving the cues necessary to the harmonious headset and four-beat gait combination, it is all in the rider's hands, know-how and the seat.

How can a beginning rider hinder the Paso Fino gait? It can happen either by dropping the reins too low, or by pulling too hard on the mouth, for lack of balance, or giving confusing leg aids. The same way a new rider can cause the sensitive Paso Fino horse to loose his four beat balance under saddle--and his temper sometimes--, a new owner can cause it just by not respecting the correct feet angles for the Paso Fino, if the farrier follows the lower angles of racing horses or quarter horses. Let's use a metaphor that works pretty well in the world of arts to illustrate the extent of damage that can be caused by incorrect riding skills and-- or-- by the lack of good shoeing angles, for a Paso Fino. Ballet and Paso Fino riding are art forms. The Paso Fino in many ways is like a ballerina. Who could blame a ballerina for looking clumsy and tripping on a rocky road, while she does glide perfectly on a shiny stage floor?

This article aims at helping the first time Paso Fino owner and rider with a working gait formula.

All elements of the Paso management and the riding formula have to be perfectly right for the Paso Fino horse to act elegant and smooth at all times under saddle, and, to this effect, a few Paso Fino riding lessons remain the key to success under saddle, at least at the beginning, until you bond with your horse.

What is essential is to have a few Paso points of reference, to read about Pasos and to recognize the need for pointers, all in order to gait successfully. However, this basic need for very correct riding skills in order to get a true Paso gait represents in no way a threat to the sport, it should not be seen as work, as a limitation or a fast stop to the true enjoyment of the breed. All the opposite. It should be seen as a challenging horsemanship feature and a chance for further bonding experience with the horse. The beauty of the Paso Fino horse is actually in his own versatility, a rider may be successful under saddle not only in western skills, but also in English skills, jumping, barrel racing, cattle work and competitive trails or endurance. The same Paso Fino horse with sound training basics can actually or virtually excel at all these disciplines at the same time, and win all the competitions, if the rider gives him the correct cues and bonds with the Paso horse as a riding team. It has been done. Paso Finos usually win three days events and even endurance competitions, to everyone's amazement, considering the hotter temper and the smaller size of Paso Finos.

Pasos are pleasers and they respond to new cues without hesitation, children can ride them and senior citizens as well, without any problem, handicapped riders benefit from Paso Fino school teachings. Pasos will adjust to neck reining, bosal riding, bareback riding, they can wonderfully answer to leg cues when the reins are dropped, and they respond as well as they can to bit or bitless cues, when the legs are not there, Pasos are wonderfully gifted and it is only doing them justice to try and learn how to ride them better for the quality of their gait. This article is not intended to teach specific riding techniques for the Paso Fino. It is best to learn under the careful eyes of a serious, experienced and dedicated Paso professional instructor at an established Paso Fino school. But sometimes Paso Finos travel to far-away places where the owners are at a loss for Paso trainers or even for riding instructors even remotely familiar with the still mysterious Paso Fino breed. We have had the case of Paso Finos exported to Canada, Central America, Germany, Asia. Their new owners crave Paso information, that is still too scarce in English at this date, since most books on training Paso Fino horses are originally written in Spanish and not translated or unavailable in the public libraries, and still absent from bookstores or feedstores. The Internet with Paso webpages comes as a handy tool nowadays for hands-on clinics and videos. Check it out!

What follows is just a guideline, if we were to give here a few pointers only for the true Paso beginners, and for riders coming from any other equestrian disciplines, using leg aids in dressage or in Western riding styles.

Riders of dressage may ride a Paso Fino successfully, as they have the naturally balanced body carriage and seat, and the gentle, soft use of the hands. All they need to do is omit any excess of leg and thigh pressure, as Paso Finos are naturally driven forward and need no spurring ahead, that would virtually turn them into time-bombs. All they need is a light slowing down from the reins, and a few stops with immediate rein release. Pulling the reins back --even slightly-- automatically means backing up, in any trained Paso mind. When you feel the Paso engine under you, for the very first time, it feels like a porsche or a racecar! That is what we call " Paso brio" or spirit. It can scare people first hand, but it is a quality, not a defect! Brio needs to be there, it is your accelerator. Do not worry. Do not panic. Do not give unclear commands. Riding a Paso with brio becomes a passion and a delight. Your gentle hands are the breaks, do not abuse the break, do not abuse or overlook the leg power either! Go with the rhythm, go forward, try a few stops, a bond will establish. All will go well under saddle if the horse is trained. You learn by doing, when you urge forward with a click of the tongue and the four beat gear first starts under you, what you feel is an eerie smoothness, when it is suddenly bumpy under you, there is lack of gait or a trot, due to a problem, find out why, shift your position, stop and try again, ask for help from another rider the ground, get to know your horse well, starting on the ground first. In an enclosed arena next. Try your skills at a trail ride next. The ring is the ultimate challenge.

Pasos can canter, of course, it is one of the questions most frequently asked, but it is best to keep it to a few controlled canters only, now and then, to keep intact the quality of the corto and largo rhythm otherwise. And, just as easily as they extend, Pasos can also collect and they can learn new tricks too! The sky is the limit once you trust your Paso and recognize the smooth feel of the gait, and learn how to keep the rhythm in a consistent manner.

To be brief, remember five words that will take you far when riding any Paso Fino horse, anywhere:

1. Patience
2. Relaxed attitude
3. Trust
4. Balance and practice
5. Safety
Enjoy your Paso rides! Pasos can ride with a smile!