The Paso Fino Horse Association (PFHA) hosts its Grand National Horse Show every year and welcomes some of the finest representatives of the Paso Fino breed in the U.S. for a chance at a prestigious grand championship title.
Newly added to the schedule this year was the Rescue Geldings class, dedicated to Paso Finos who have been rescued and rehabilitated from a variety of circumstances. Eight geldings participated in the inaugural class, sharing their stories of rescue from kill pens, auctions, and abandonment by owners.
The class highlighted the importance of taking care of these beloved horses and bringing awareness to the number of horses in need of rescue and adoption. Learn more about PFHA’s welfare and adoption program.
Two exhibitors, Yvonne Barteau and Jennifer Cefalu, drove up from their rescue operation, Horses Without Humans (HWH), in Bell, Fla., to compete in the Rescue Geldings class at their first Paso Fino show. Barteau, a United States Dressage Federation gold medal dressage rider, founded HWH and currently has over two dozen adoptable horses ready for a home.
Cefalu works with Barteau as a trainer and adopted her own Paso Fino, Gascon the Great, from HWH. While she typically competes in jumping classes with the athletic gelding, he showed an aptitude for a traditional Paso Fino rail class, taking third place. Barteau also showed in the Rescue class with Hidalgo, a former breeding stallion with a striking blue eye, who is available for adoption.
Cefalu and Barteau shared their experiences operating a rescue, riding Paso Finos, and the importance of opportunities like the PFHA’s Rescue Geldings class.
Where did Gascon the Great and Hidalgo come from?
Barateu: The ASPCA rescued 54 horses from this Paso Fino breeding farm in Florida and moved them to Tallahassee. They were really emaciated, and they found a couple already dead on the property.
I went up to do personality assessments on all of the horses. In the process of getting to know them, I ended up picking seven to bring back to the rescue in October, [including Hidalgo and Gascon the Great]. They were all basically feral. So we started from scratch with all of them, and eventually retrained them under saddle. We have gotten a few of them adopted out. [Cefalu] adopted [Gascon the Great], and Hidalgo is still adoptable.
Why did you start rescuing horses?
Barteau: I run a dressage training facility in addition to the rescue, so we have all kinds of horses on the farm. Breed doesn’t matter to us at all if we can help get them transition to their new lives. But we have had nine Paso Finos so far.
I was really unaware of how easy it is for a horse’s life to take a wrong turn and suddenly they can be in the slaughter pipeline. I was in my own little bubble, not realizing what a real problem this was. But I couldn’t unknow what I now know, and I couldn’t unsee what I saw.
I thought someone should do something. Well, I’m someone, so I started helping out at rescues. What I realized as I went around is that they are all really well-intentioned folks and they want to do the right thing, but they don’t have trainers. That means rescues can stay clogged for a long time, and more horses don’t get saved.
That’s something I can do. I can train, my kids can train, and we can all help out to train the rescues. We can then get them turned around, and we can get them on to their new lives and go get more horses. That was the idea behind it.
How has your experience been working with Paso Finos?
Cefalu: This is my first experience with Pasos, and obviously I really like them. I adopted [Gascon the Great] and he’s my little child now. But, yeah, for trail riding and for riding they’re a lot of fun! They’re the tiniest horses with the biggest personality. They’re not like a laid-back horse, they show off and have a ton of energy. I could ride them all day.
I think [Gascon] did great today. We’re still figuring each other out, and he’s a horse that he just goes and does it. When he goes into the arena, he does what he needs to do. I’m really proud of him.
Barteau: They’re really honest horses and try super-hard. They’re high energy, but not in a goofy way. I was really surprised that they are such goodhearted, decent little horses that take no energy to ride. You don’t have to worry about posting and they’re sensitive, so as a rider you have to have relaxed refinement of the aids.
[Hidalgo] didn’t have a hard time here. He came here and he was relaxed, he paid attention, and he worked in the ring. Today was better than yesterday, and it’s our first time here, so that’s all I can ask. I’m really happy with him. All you want to do is have a horse that every time you spend time with him he gets a little bit better, a little more education. It doesn’t matter where you place, so long as the horse is not having a hard time and he comes away from an experience knowing a little more and is a little more comfortable than he was the day before. And that’s universal, I think.
Why are classes like the PFHA’s Rescue Geldings class important?
Cefalu: It’s so important to come and support it when shows and organizations open their shows to rescues and adopted horses.
We’ve never been to a Paso Fino show before, and Gascon had never seen a board before we got here. As he was approaching it in the arena, I could tell he was ready to jump it! He’s a jumper and he’s done cross-country too. He was like, “Oh, I can make that. Watch me!” But he managed to step onto the boards and did a great job. He was exposed to a lot here and learned. He’s actually registered [with the PFHA] and really showed that Pasos can do anything.
Barteau: In my dressage clinics, if someone has an adopted horse or a rescued horse, I let them ride in it for free or half price and make sure everyone is including them in the sport. And that’s what these folks [at PFHA] are doing. They’ve opened up a national championship with the Rescue class. I’m really glad that we came here. I want more organizations to step up and offer national championships for rescue horses. In all disciplines!
How can the average person do to help with the cause?
Barteau: Ask for help. I didn’t know much about Paso Finos when we got this group last year, and we were fortunate to have a prominent Paso Fino trainer come and help start them and do some clinics.
Open shows up to include rescue divisions. People need a reason to adopt a horse, and that would make a big difference in the sport horse world.
It’s all about really good support and offering what you have. We need people to spread the word and get the message out there, so volunteer at a rescue, take on one or two rescues into your training operation, or look into the rescue farms in your area when you’re looking to buy a horse.
We all have to be aware and educate the next generation to be mindful. We have to make sure that if we sell a horse, we keep track of it. The words I hate the most are “I don’t want to get stuck with them.” We’ve been lazy and irresponsible and we need to not be.
The Paso Fino Horse Association is a recognized affiliate of US Equestrian. Keep up with the Paso Fino all year long on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can keep up with Horses Without Humans on Facebook and Instagram.