Starting June 25, the Blake-Cliff Stables in Denver will open their gates for the public to enjoy or purchase one of the newest and smallest breeds of horses in the country.
George McKee, the owner of Blake-Cliff. has managed to breed nearly 40 paso fino horses from a starting group of only nine.
Descended from the horses the conquistadors used in their conquest of South America, paso finos are known for their exceptionally smooth, four-beat gait. Nowadays, the horses are found and bred mainly in South America.
The paso finoâ€™s gait is natural, and horses can perform the gait hours after birth, unlike the quarter-gate of many horses.
â€œPeople that have ridden quarter horses and get one of these think theyâ€™ve landed in a Ferrari,â€ said McKee.
McKee originally planned to raise Tennessee Walker horses, but he stopped at a farm one day and rode a paso fino. While his back had stopped him from riding the less smooth quarter horses, the finoâ€™s smooth gait was perfect for him.
â€œTheyâ€™re very gentle and very spirited,â€ he said. â€œThey can gallop and do all the things other horses do but you want to keep them in a gait.â€
The trademark fino gate comes in three types: the classic fino, the corto and the largo. The corto gait is like a trot while the largo is a faster gait.
It is the classic fino gait that is most sought after.
â€œHorses are getting better and better and itâ€™s hard to find a classic fino that can compete,â€ said McKee.
Blake-Cliff Stables has only one classic fino, a stallion named Emperador, that it is breeding in an attempt to produce more classic finos.
McKee started the stable in 1995. He spent much of the next few years out of the country.
â€œI had horses out in the pasture for five years that still hadnâ€™t been saddle broken,â€ he said.
Two years ago he hired Jaime Sarmiento from Columbia to start training the horses.
Sarmiento works with the horses differently. Once the horses are two years old and a veterinarian clears them, Sarmiento will start training.
The first objective is to teach the horses to be calm. Next is putting a saddle on the horse to get it used it. All this is in preparation for that time a rider actually saddles up.
Sarmiento never pushes a horse until two or three weeks before competition.
â€œA lot of the time when you start pushing them to go faster, they want to gallop,â€ said McKee. â€œYou have to hold them back.â€
Paso finoâ€™s can transition from a faster gait to a walk almost instantly.
â€œThatâ€™s what makes them so versatile,â€ said Lenoir Burch, who is working with the stable.
The horses can keep the gait up for long periods of time.
â€œItâ€™s nice to go out on the trails with a paso fino because they can go all day long,â€ said McKee.
A paso fino won a 100-mile endurance race a few years ago.
â€œI would much rather be riding a Paso Fino for 100 miles than another horse,â€ McKee joked.
On June 25, Blake-Cliff stables will hold an open house at 10 a.m. There will be free hay rides, trail and pleasure rides, exhibitions of the various horses, riding lessons and music and food.
The ranch includes 425 acres of land and many acres of riding trails, including trails on Anderson Mountain.
Depending upon how many people attend, individual riding lessons can be scheduled for later.
â€œSince we started we havenâ€™t been actively marketing,â€ said McKee. â€œI have a lot of horses now and we need to find people who are interested in buying them.
â€œWeâ€™re going to become more active and educate people on the paso fino,â€ he said.
Although the prices of an individual paso fino will vary, the regular starting price will be upwards of $1,000. A fino stallion that has produced good offspring can go for $250,000. A mare that has produced can go for $150,000. The most expensive paso finos have gone for a million dollars or higher.
Another price factor depends upon whether the fino is or will be a pleasure, trail, or performance horse.
The horses come in many colors, although most of Blake-Cliffâ€™s are gray, brown, and black.
Blake-Cliff Stables is located on 5100 East Maiden Road. For more information call (704) 483-7330.
by Caleb Hawkins