David Gonzalez came to Monson from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, like many islanders, to find a better life. With his arrival, he brought the culture of Paso Fino horse riding with him.
Paso Fino translated into English means fine-gait. The Paso Finos are renowned show horses because of their natural quick and graceful walk.
“People hear; tik-tik-tik, as the horse comes up the street,” said Jose Rubero.
They are calm and easy to ride especially in chaotic situations, loud noises and sudden commotion they are able to stay calm making them a safe choice for the rider and the traveling public.
“It’s the border-collie of the horse world,” said Rubero who has been riding and keeping Paso Finos since he was a boy.
The Paso Fino as we know it today didn’t spread outside Latin America until after World War II when American servicemen came into contact with the stunning Paso Fino horse while stationed in Puerto Rico.
For a while, there was some contention as to which country produced the true Paso Fino -- Colombia or Puerto Rico.
Rubero has been promoting the Paso Fino in Springfield and across Western Massachusetts for years by organizing group rides and attending parades like the Puerto Rican parade in Springfield.
“Puerto Ricans are proud of three things,” said Rubero. “[Our] music, the flag and horses.”
Rubero tries to attend as many parades as he can to also raise awareness of the laws on horse riding on public roads.
“(The law) states that the roads are paved for travelers, their horses and vehicles, in that order,” Rubero said in an interview with MassLive back in 2016, referring to Massachusetts General Law Chapters 84 and 90.
There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the law when it comes to riding on the streets and Paso Fino riders have been stopped regularly over the years by police who aren’t familiar with the regulations according to Rubero.
“Two or three years ago state and local police used to stop us a lot,” said Gonzalez. “For the first five years [of living here], we used to get a lot of complaints.”
Rubero made a flier for Paso Fino riders to keep with them to hand to the police or anyone else that questions their right to be on the street.
The horses are a big part of Rubero and Gonzalez’s heritage with previous family members introducing them to the horses and Gonzalez wants to pass this down to his children and grandchildren.
Zylum David Colon comes to his grandfather’s (Gonzalez) house each day after school to help groom and care for the 11 horses at the stable.
Colon has developmental delays according to his parents and used to be reserved and introverted until Gonzalez introduced him to the animals on his land and specifically the Paso Fino.
He described the change in his grandson’s character as huge and he saw him come out of his shell once he started working with the horses.
“I’ve been in trouble with the law,” said Jose Martinez. “At 18 [years-old] I got caught with guns and got 18 months in jail.”
Since that moment Martinez vowed to change and looked to his culture and its love of the Paso Fino as salvation.
Martinez now works at a non-profit in Springfield, Clinical Support and Options. CSO is an organization that provides a variety of community-based support programs from helping the homeless to mental health and addiction recovery programs.
On the weekends, friends and other youth from Springfield and surrounding areas gather at Martinez home to the farm to ride the horses and walk in the surrounding hills.
“It gets them off the streets,” he said. “Bad habits are learned from the streets.”
Many learn to ride the Paso Fino from a young age as 16-year-old Moses Martinez.
At 5-years-old Moses was riding the Paso Fino and is now regarded as one of the best riders in the group.
Each rider at the Feeding Hills stable take turns during the week to come to the farm to muck out or train the horses.
“I come out once a week,” said Juan Munoz. “We take turns looking after them.”
The glue holding the group together and taking lead on caring for the horses falls on Martinez’s shoulders.
“I’m up at 5 a.m. to turn [the horses] out,” said Martinez. “And then I go to work, come back and get the horses back in the barn.”
With a family of five, Martinez is always busy and loves the time he has with the Paso Finos as a reminder of his island home.
“I love Puerto Rico,” said Martinez. “But there’s nothing there for me.”
See the article on MassLive