As is true with the rest of the Americas, horses were not re-introduced until Christopher Columbus brought them to the island on his second voyage in 1493. On this trip, he brought with him a total of 24 horses that were a mixture of Berber (Spanish Barb), the Jennet ( a small Spanish gated horse) and the Andalusian.
These horses arrived on the island weak and ill-treated and it is not known how many had survived the voyage. On their arrival, the horses were faced with tropical living conditions and heavy usage in the wars with the Taino Indians as well as heavy labor with agriculture development. Christopher Columbus sent word to Spain that more horses were needed and over the next number of years, every voyage to the island brought more horses to the island.
The island proved to be conducive to the natural increase of horses due to the climate and abundance of grass. Breeding farms were developed with the most notable belonging to the governor of the eastern part of the island Don Juan Ponce de Leon. His estate called The Ciguayagua and was located just outside of Higuey near Punta Cana.
In 1508 Ponce de Leon was sent to explore Puerto Rico where he was later named governor of this island. Bringing horses with him from his estate this breeding stock later became the foundation of the Paso Fino breed meaning Fine Step.
The stock left behind on his ranch in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) were bred for work in the cattle ranches, gold mines and sugar cane fields and were not mixed with other breeds until early last century at the time of colonization.
The first American invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1916 brought Morgan horses that were used by the army. Years later The Tennessee Walking horse was imported by the Central Romana Corporation who were seeking the comfort and strength of these horses for use on their sugar plantations. Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds and Arabians also arrived and crossed with the island criollos.
The criteria for breed selection was for a strong spirited horse that was meek and could travel for long distances without tiring both themselves and their riders. They are a good height with a characteristic gait unique in the world. It’s step is isochronous which is an even 1, 2, 3, 4 ambling gait but it is slower than other breeds and very elegant.
Size in relationship to other breeds is smaller which is typical of the horses found in the Caribbean. Bergmann’s rule states that individuals of a particular species in warmer areas tend to have lessor body mass than individuals of colder areas. The theory is that this allows them to disperse body heat more efficiently.
The main influences of the Paso Higueyano were the Barb, Narragansett Pacer ( an extinct breed that was the the major influence of all pacers in the Americas), The Tennessee Walking Horse and the Morgan Horse. These breeds combined to give an exceptional gated , spirited horse with great strength and vigor.
This breed of horses were named the Paso Higueyano and in December of 2002, the Asociacion de Caballos de Paso Higueyano was formed to encourage the breeding, promotion and competitions of this noble animal.
Every holiday and festival brings horses to the city where the cowboys parade and show off their meticulously turned out horses. Every year in August on the Restoration Holiday they shut down the streets to cars around the boulevard in downtown Higuey with hundreds of horses brought in from the countryside to parade while crowds of spectators line the streets to watch. Watching their high step and proud carriage it is easy to see why the Dominican people love to celebrate this amazing breed of horse.
Asociacion de Caballos de Paso Higueyano http://www.pasohigueyano.com
Allen, Joel Asaph. 1877. “The influence of physical conditions in the genesis of species.” Radical Review 1: 108-140.
Blackburn, T. M., and B. A. Hawkins. 2004. “Bergmann's rule and the mammal fauna of northern North America.” Ecography 27(6): 715-724.
International Museum of the Horse www.imh.org/exhibits/online/colonial-horses
Kathy Buttigieg is the President of HorsePlay Punta Cana and HorsePlay Niagara. A former competitor and instructor she now devotes herself full time to managing HorsePlay Tours.