AIRS AND GAITS

The Airs or Gaits and the
Conformational Characteristics
of Our Native Horses


by Raul Estrada L.
Civil Engineer at the University of Cauca, Colombia
National Equine Judge
Translated by Kimberly Brackman
 
Originally printed in 4 Tiempos Magazine. Reprint authorized by Eduardo Rodriquez (deceased) and brought to our attention
by Lori Perez Caribe Paso Finos
Taken from a formal article, which includes study of the diagonal movements.

If we undertake an investigation in the Americas regarding the abundance and quality of their horses, it is surprising the degree of excellence which our country has achieved in the breeding and training of this noble animal. The classic fino, the trocha, the trot and the smooth gallop are airs which our horses perform far superior to what can be observed in other countries, a phenomenon inevitably linked to the origin of the different breeds that perform each movement and the quality and perfection that the Colombian man has imprinted on their rhythm. The results do not permit us to differentiate between these two reasons.
     
 
Historical Reference:
First of all it is of paramount importance to recount the evolution of our horse from its arrival in America on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus up to the present moment when the introduction of Spanish stallions brought by rejoneadores (horseback riders in the bullring) and plantation owners has modified some fundamental characteristics of the original gaits.

By the 15th century the domination of the Iberian peninsula by the Moors was ending. The Moors, Arab by language, were groups of Mohammedans that inhabited the Barbary Coast or the southern Mediterranean coast consisting of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and parts of Libya. From the 7th century on , they had imported to the Spanish peninsula a very considerable part of their culture, clearly reflected in the language, architecture and in many present-day customs not only in Spain but also in America. As part of that contribution the Barb horse also arrived from Northern Africa, according to very reliable sources in numbers exceeding 300,000 animals, and greatly contributed to the success of the discovery and conquest of the new continent.

 
 
 
 
 
General Characteristics
As the Argentinean horse scientist Angel Cabrera states, the latter was "...a Jennet whose principal center of production was logically Andalusia, for there the Moslem domination lasted the longest, This horse, whose fame spread throughout the entire world because of its exceptional qualities and, in the opinion of Houel, was never surpassed by any other breed, was the horse that was predominant in Spain during the age of the discovery and conquest of America. We must suppose that this was also the type of horse the Spaniards brought to the New World since it was the horse used by the mounted soldier. All the historians, when speaking of the mounted forces which took part in the conquest, make it clear that they were composed of mounted lances like the troops brought by Columbus. And;, the investigator continues, "regarding the conformation of the Spanish horse of those centuries, judging by the testimonies and writings of the period, it was a rather small animal, a perfect mesomorphic type, generally a little close to the ground with an ample torso, a wide, muscular and somewhat short chest, a rounded and sloping croup, and a rather low set tail-these last two traits characteristic of the Barb. The head was short with a straight profile, the forehead somewhat convex and sunken at the base of the nostrils but never Roman-nosed." To that description we can add, because of the affirmations off the equine scientist Luis Ascasubi and the aforementioned Cabrera, that it was a horse characterized by magnificent brio, docility of temperament, and unequaled ability to withstand the harshness of the tropics and all kinds of dietary sufferings and deprivations.

And to complete the identification of those first equines in America, the writers noted, "their movements were limited to the amble (pace) or the andadura (another name for pace), characterized by the alternate striking upon the ground of each lateral pair of legs one after the other, each lateral pair producing one sound, to complete the movement in two beats."

As can be observed, these conformational traits obviously coincide with those of the Colombian horse before 1950 and, through later analysis, we see how this animal's quality of movement, modified by the education and control of our trainers, is intimately related to their agility, their brio, and their amble. If the Spanish had brought over a larger but less courageous horse instead of the Barb, perhaps the conquest of the continent would have gone differently or there would have been a delay in growth and progress that followed the arrival of Columbus.

This Barb horse, which as noted above moved laterally, later joined with the Arab and the Thoroughbred to form the trilogy of breeds which gave rise to the different characteristics of the present-day riding horse. And as we can clearly see as we study the airs or gaits of the horse, the amble(pace) was the beginning or the raw material for the formation of the fino gait in the Americas where there was more concern with the smoothness of the native horse, movements. Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico concentrated on the paso fino gait, Peru on the Peruvian paso gait. In contrast to the Barb, the Arab and Thoroughbred moved in a diagonal trot, moving a diagonal pair of legs alternately one after another, . In other words, the foreleg and opposite hind leg striking the ground at the same time, completing the movement in two beats.
 
 
 
In Colombia
After the arrival of Columbus on the island of Hispaniola on his second voyage, Rodrigo de Bastidas, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, Pedro de Heredia, and the judge Juan de Badillo arrived in Colombia with groups of stallions and mares that later formed small groups spread along the Atlantic coast and important settlements in the savannah of Bogotá and in western Antioquia (a department of Colombia) after difficult crossings of the Magdalena River and the Uraba gulf. These horses changed throughout the 400 years that separate our time from the era of those famous exploits, perfecting their movements but maintaining their conformational characteristics and temperament. Training with a great sense of rhythm and harmony, caused the descendants of those first horses to break up the pace, producing in two beats the striking of the lateral pair of legs in order to create a four-beat gait. This gait on the Atlantic coast was called "dos y dos" (two and two) and in the Bogotá savannah and surrounding valleys "paso fino". In the Andean region, mainly around Antioquia, Caldas, Tolima, and Huila (departments and mountains),it was called "paso castellano" because of the execution of a secondary movement called the "troche" that the horse learned in order to rest on hilly terrain and that was influenced by the horse's conformation.

While this was occurring in America, in Spain according Cabrera's narrative, they did not continue to send horses to the Indies because here, especially in Central America, bounded by Santo Domingo and Cuba, an immense colony formed from which the best horses were exported to Spain and others left for the conquest of Mexico, Peru, and southern Florida. In Spain interest was in producing a coach horse of great beauty and elegance in its movements in order to show off the teams pulling the carriages. For that, breeders resorted to horses of great size from northern Europe, like the Friesian, Danish and English horses, all with a height greater than 160 centimeters (15h.) They also used horses of Arab blood represented by sires brought to the breeding farms of Andalusia from South Yeman. This historian thus notes that "...the ancient Spanish Barb horse was soon succeeded by the modern Andalusian, with a large head and convex profile, very showy but of limited heart, and if some remained in some corner of the country , the French invasion of 1808 finished them off." These cross breedings, then, initiated the era of the modern Spanish horse, represented in the world today by a goodly number of breeds selected for their color and similar way of going but genetically descendants of the above process. Among these, besides the present-day Spanish horse represented by the Andalusian and Carthusian breeds, we can name the Lusitano and the Alter Real of Portugal, the famous Lipizzaner of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, and the Kladruber in Czechoslovakia, all with outstanding conformation but none comparable in temperament and valor to the Barb. Whoever carefully studies the factors incidental to the formation of fine airs or movements will be able to prove that neither great height nor great weight contribute to agility and besides, it is obvious that the modern Spanish horse has less brio and fire than the horse of Barb origin. It must be noted, on the other hand, that in Spain the influence of these bloodlines characterized by diagonal movements caused the gradual disappearance of the amble (pace) so that all breeds now move with a trot.
 

The Three Rules
Our grandparents taught us that in order to ride paso fino, the rider must simultaneously obey three rules: "strong legs" in order to provide impulsion to the horse and rapidity in his rhythm; "light hands" in order to regulate his stride in perfect coordination with either a greater or a lesser speed of the gait; and "riding with the seat of your pants" in order to make sure that the first two rules are applied correctly.

Finally, we should reaffirm that the evolution from the pace to the paso fino gait was also made possible by the great brio of the Barb horse to which we referred in the historical section. The horse responds spontaneously to the aids the rider applies with his legs and hands; the rider, on the other hand, has a greater aptitude for improving the quality of the gait or for equipping or enabling the horse when it lacks brio, if the horseman becomes preoccupied with obtaining a faster rhythm based on means, his "feel" for riding the horse in the best possible way deteriorates and the possibility of improvement or evolution of the gait is eliminated.

. The horse of lateral movements, represented by the paso gait in its various forms, of Barb origin, small, with a sometimes sloping croup, a lower tail set, and a long neck with a tendency toward a trapezoidal shape because of the small difference in width between the base of the neck and the juncture of the neck and head. The neck in the horse of diagonal gait is more triangular in appearance. The profile of his head is straight. His height, coinciding with that of his ancestor and fluctuating on the average between 13.1 hands and 14.1 hands, is very much in agreement with the speed of his extremities and with the height needed to correctly perform the paso fino gait. To complete the picture, this horse has a valiant temperament par excellence that in addition to enable the horse to endure hardships and permit it to constantly perform better under the able hands of our trainers.

Special Thanks to Lori Perez


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