The Peruvian Horse or Peruvian Paso is a breed of light pleasure saddle horse known for its smooth ride. It is distinguished by a natural, four-beat, lateral gait called the paso llano.
Smooth gaited horses, existed in the Middle Ages, and the Spanish Jennet in particular was noted for its ambling gaits. Peruvian Horses trace their ancestry to these ambling Jennets; as well as to the Barb, which contributed strength and stamina; and to the Andalusian which added style, conformation and action.
Horses arrived in South America during the Spanish Conquest, beginning the arrival of Pizarro in 1531. Foundation bloodstock came from Spain, Jamaica, Panama and other areas of Central America. 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 the south of 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 Horse.
A decline in the use of the Peruvian Horses 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. The Peruvian Horse continued to flourish in the northern regions because it was still needed for transportation on the haciendas. This changed with the harsh Agrarian Reforms in the late 1960s that had a devastating effect on the Peruvian horse within Peru. Major breeding operations were broken up and breeding stock was lost. Because interest in the Peruvian horse was growing in the United States and Central America at the same time, many of the finest Peruvian horses were exported, leading to a period where it appeared the Peruvian horse would fade in its homeland.
The past thirty years have seen a resurgence in the Peruvian horse's fortune in Peru. The annual National Show in Lima is a major event in Peruvian cultural life. The Peruvian horse has been declared a 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 champion horses.
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.
The horse is medium sized, usually standing between 14.1 and 15.2 hands tall, with an elegant yet powerful build. The Peruvian horse has a deep chest, heavy neck and body with substance without any trace of being hound gutted in the flank area. A low set, quiet tail, clamped tightly between the buttocks is a vital quality. Stallions have a broader chest and larger neck than mares, and are known for their quality temperament. The coat color can be varied; and is seen in chestnut, black, bay, brown, buckskin, palomino, gray, roan or dun. Solid colors, grays and dark skin are considered the most desirable. The mane and forelock are lustrous, fine and abundant. White markings are acceptable on the legs and face.
Instead of a trot, the Peruvian horse 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.
The Peruvian horse performs two variations of the four beat gait. The first, the paso llano 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 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 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 the Peruvian are often popular with riders who have back trouble.
A unique trait of the Peruvian 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. Although termino is nessesary to the proper execution of the gait, high lift or wide termino is not necessarily a sign of a well gaited horse.
Brio refers to a horses 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 horse.
The Question of "Paso"
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" and its finest show gait does not require the length of stride that was required in Peruvian horses for traveling long distances.
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.