Five hundred years ago this year a strange character named Juan Ponce de Leon came to La Florida, the Land of Flowers, searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Ponce did not find it, but he drank a lot of brackish water in the process and helped establish this new world by sending out men on horse and afoot to explore and to colonize and to leave a legacy of Spain with us.
One of the legacies was the horse. The Spaniards brought with them steeds from their native land, the Barbs and the Andelusians and others, stout and surefooted. The first ones landed here with Columbus on the culmination of his second voyage. Mustangs were offshoots, as were the â€œMistiesâ€ of the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and the swamp ponies of the hammocks of Florida.
Probably the most interesting of all of the equines they brought with them are the Paso Finosâ€¦..the horses of the â€œfine stepâ€. They are born with a proud attitude, a style and an elegance of movement and are said to be â€œgentle but full of energy, drive and staminaâ€. They have a remarkably smooth gait. Paso Finos came from breeds that were popular in Puerto Rico and Colombia for almost all of those five hundred years of our New World history. They arrived in these forty eight states after World War II, brought in by GIs who saw them in Latin America.
Saturday Jackson Countians were able to attend the Gait-way to Fun Paso Finoâ€ Horse Show at the County arena on U. S. 90 west of Marianna. Sponsored by the North Florida Paso Fino Horse Association, participants came from Tallahassee and from Decatur County, Georgia and from several other places. The horses were beautiful. Most of the riders were young. The horses demonstrated their gaits: the Classic Fino, the Paso Corto and the Paso Largo. The Classic requires the crossing of a sounding board that shows off their even gait, barely moving along, and one of the most difficult to perform. The Paso Largo is the one for speed, similar to a gallop.
Costumes for the riders were important. Almost formal wear to a matadorâ€™s garb added color and style to the show. Proud parents and prouder grandparents sat and watched and bragged.
Just inside the building was a special pen with a Paso Fino inside. Hidden Springs Horse Rescue had been left with one, so Melanie Higdon, founder of the Rescue, brought the horse with her, hoping for adoption.
And inside the Paso Finos, the horses with the â€œfine stepâ€, continued with their gaits and their special show, celebrating in their own way Viva Florida 500!