About Peruvian Paso Horses
Peruvian Paso horses, or just Peruvian Horses, are light
saddle horse known for their smooth ride. They are distinguished by a natural, four-beat,
lateral gait called the paso llano.
Because of the shared word Paso, a close relationship
between the Peruvian Paso and the Paso Fino breed is incorrectly assumed.
"Paso" simply means "step," in Spanish, and does not imply
a common breed or origin. Although the two breeds share ancestors in the Old
World, and have some similarities, they were developed independently for
different purposes. The two breeds are different and easily distinguishable.
The Peruvian is somewhat larger, deeper in the body and wider. The Paso Fino is
not bred for "termino" in its stride.
Smooth-gaited horses, generally known as Palfreys, existed
in the Middle Ages, and the Jennet in particular was noted for its ambling
gaits. Peruvian Pasos trace their ancestry to these ambling Jennets; as well as
Barb horses (which contributed strength and stamina) and Andalusians (which
added style, conformation and action.)
Horses first arrived in South America during the Spanish
Conquest, beginning with the arrival of Pizarro in 1531. Foundation bloodstock
came from Spain, Jamaica, Panama, and other areas of Central America.
Importations increased after 1542, when the Spanish created the Viceroyalty of
New Castilla. This later became the Viceroyalty of Peru, an important center of
Spain's New World colonies in the eighteenth century.
Once in Peru, they were used primarily for transportation
and breeding stock. In the north of Peru, the vast size of sugar and cotton
plantations meant that overseers needed to travel long distances, often taking
days to cross the plantation. In southern Peru, the arid deserts that separated
settlements required sturdy, strong horses. In both cases, smooth-gaited horses
with good endurance were required. On the other hand, Peru did not develop a
livestock-based economy, and thus did not need to breed for the speed or
agility characteristic of stock horses.
Over time, Peruvian breeders kept the bloodlines clean and
selectively bred primarily for gait, conformation, and temperament. They wanted
strong, hardy animals that were comfortable to ride and easy to control. Over
four centuries, their dedication to breeding only the best gaited bloodstock
resulted in the modern Peruvian Paso.
A decline in the use of the Peruvian Paso horse was seen in
the southern part of Peru in the early 1900s, following the building of major
highways that allowed motor travel to replace the use of the horse. Many of the
major breeders in the area gave their best horses away to peasants living in
the nearby quebradas (valleys). It was in one of these quebradas that breeder
Gustavo de la Borda found the horse that was to become the most important
modern sire in the breed, Sol de Oro.
Peruvian Pasos continued to flourish in the northern regions
because they were still needed for transportation on the haciendas. This
changed with the harsh Agrarian Reforms instituted by the government of Juan
Velasco Alvarado in the late 1960s that had a devastating effect on the
Peruvian Paso horse within Peru. Major breeding operations were broken up and
breeding stock was lost. Because interest in the Peruvian Paso horse was
growing in the United States and Central America at the same time, many of the
finest Peruvian Paso horses were exported, leading to a period where it
appeared the Peruvian Paso horse would fade in its homeland.
Recently there has been a resurgence in the Peruvian Paso
horse's fortune in Peru. The annual National Show in Lima is a major event in
Peruvian cultural life. The Peruvian Paso has been declared a Patrimonio
Cultural (Cultural Heritage) of Peru in an attempt to shore up the breed within
the country. There are now laws in place that restrict the export of national
Peruvian Paso horses are noted internationally for their
good temperament and comfortable ride. As of 2003, there are approximately
25,000 horses worldwide, used for pleasure riding, trail, horse shows, parades,
and endurance riding.
They are medium-sized, usually standing between 14.1 to 15.2
hands (57 to 62 inches, 145 to 157 cm) tall, with an elegant yet powerful
build. They have a deep chest, heavy neck and body with substance without any
trace of being hound gutted in the flank area. They have a low set, quiet tail,
clamped tightly between the buttocks . The stallions have a broader chest and
larger neck than mares, and are known for their quality temperament.
Their coat color varies; and they are seen in chestnut,
black, bay, brown, buckskin, palomino, gray, roan or dun. However, solid
colors, grays and dark skin are considered the most desirable. Their mane and
forelock are lustrous, fine, and abundant.
Instead of a trot, Peruvian Pasos performs an ambling four
beat gait between the walk and the canter. It is a lateral gait, in that it has
four equal beats and is performed laterally: left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore. Peruvian
Pasos performs two variations of the four-beat gait. The first, the paso llano
(a contraction of Paso Castellano), is isochronous, meaning that there are four
equal beats in a 1-2-3-4 rhythm. This is the preferred gait. The second gait,
the sobreandando, is faster. Instead of four equal beats, the lateral beats are
closer together in a 1-2, 3-4 rhythm, with the pause between the forefoot of
one side to the rear of the other side is longer.
This characteristic gait was utilized for the purpose of
covering long distances over a short period of time without tiring the horse or
rider. The gait is natural and does not require extensive training. Purebred
Peruvian Paso foals can be seen gaiting alongside their dams within a few hours
of their birth.
The gait supplies essentially none of the vertical bounce
that is characteristic of the trot, and hence posting (moving up and down with
each of the horse's footfalls) is unnecessary. It is also very stable, as the execution
of the gait means there are always two, and sometimes three, feet on the
ground. Because the rider feels no strain or jolt, gaited horses such as Peruvian
Pasos are often popular with riders who have back trouble.
A unique trait of the Peruvian Paso gait is termino — an
outward swinging leg action, originating from the shoulder, in which the front
lower legs roll to the outside during the stride forward, similar to a swimmer's
arms. Individual horses may have more or less termino. High lift or wide
termino is not necessarily a sign of a well gaited horse; in fact it may be
detrimental to a good gait.
Brio refers to a horse’s vigor, energy, exuberance, courage
and liveliness; it automatically implies that these qualities are willingly
placed in the service of the rider. Horses with true brio are willing workers.
Their attention does not wander but is focused on the handler or rider, and
thus they are quick to react and fast to learn. Horses with brio attract
attention, and combined with the stamina of the breed have reserves they can
tap to travel long distances for many hours.
Breeders and judges look for Brio, often translated as
"spirit," but this does not capture the complexity of the term. Brio
describes a somewhat contradictory temperament, which combines arrogance,
spirit, and the sense of always being on parade, with a willingness to please
the rider. Brio is an intangible quality of controlled energy that creates a
metamorphosis in ordinary-looking horses and is an important trait of the Peruvian
The Peruvian Paso has been called the "national
horse" of Peru. On the other hand, the Paso Fino was developed from horses
throughout northern Latin America and the Caribbean, with major centers of
development in Colombia and Puerto Rico. The Peruvian Paso is also increasingly
referred to in North America as the "Peruvian Horse" in an attempt to
differentiate its breed from that of the Paso Fino.