The Peruvian Paso Horse
As its name indicates the Peruvian Paso horse is native to Peru. It is a direct descendent of the Spanish horse brought to America by Christopher Colombus and the Conquistadores.
Because of its isolation for almost 500 years, the Peruvian Paso horse has evolved as one of the purest breeds in the world and as a unique entity in the horse kingdom. The existence of this breed has been called "the greatest triumph of genetic selection ever achieved by a group of breeders." Thanks to its unique, inborn, four beat lateral gait, the Peruvian Paso horse is undoubtedly the smoothest riding horse in the world.
The Paso LLano
The trademark of this breed is a special, inherited, and completely natural four beat lateral gait called Paso Llano (a contraction of Paso Castellano).
The two basic gaits find in horses are the trot and the amble. The trot entails a diagonal movement in which the front and back legs on opposites move together, in a two-bet gait. This is the type of gait used by the majority of the horses dedicated to sports, recreation and ranching.
On the other hand the amble is a lateral movement, where the legs on the same side move together in a two-beat movement. The amble is the origin of the Paso Llano of Peruvian horses. The Paso llano is a four-beat gait because instead of moving the legs at the same time, the horse moves first his hind leg and then the front leg. In this manner the amble is broken in two parts. The Paso Llano is therefore a broken gait. It consists of a permanent, harmonic, and rhythmic steps in which the animal makes a gentle and pleasant alternating movement. It is a quick advance in which the center of the horse's gravity stays almost immobile, producing a very smooth ride.
The Paso Llano is executed with a distinctive action in the front legs, called termino, a graceful, flowing movement in which the forelegs are rolled towards the outside as the horse strides forward, much like the arm motion of a swimmer. Termino is a spectacular and beautiful natural action. It is not a wing or paddle and originates in the shoulder giving the horse the ability to swing the leg forward with minimum vertical force back. Both the gait and the flashy leg action are naturally passed on to the offspring.
Until the seventeenth century, the majority of the world's horses were naturally gaited. Nearly all traveling was done on horseback. Horses with natural gaits were considerably more comfortable to ride than trotters, which were called "boneshakers." Trotters were better suited for pulling carts and carriages for long distances, as well for horseracing. As these uses for horses eclipsed travel riding, the numbers of trotters grew. The Peruvian Paso remained one of the very few breeds that not only retained its natural gait, but also was celebrated for it.
Modern Peruvian horse descends from the horses introduced into Peru by the Spanish in the sixteenth-century. The Spanish Conquistadors brought with them both Hacks (amblers) and Chargers (trotters) of the same breed to the New World, and as recorded in the Archives of the Indios, the Spanish horse, the classic Andalusian, was a breed consisting of Galician (Celtic) horses of the North, Sorraia, and Barb of the area that is known today as Morocco, Tunes and Libya.
The experts agree that the first major shipment of horses to the New World was in 1493 on Columbus’s second voyages. Francisco Pizarro and his 160 men who captured the Inca Atahualpa in November 1532 brought 62 horses with them. To these were added the 84 animals brought by Diego de Almagro after the imprisonment of the Inca, the horses belonging to the armies of Sebastian de Benalcazar and Hernando de Soto. These horses were the original ancestors of the Peruvian horse.
It is interesting to note here that during the last 500 years of Spanish history, successive Royal Edicts for its breeding brought about substantial differences in the present day Andalusian horse and that which accompanied the Spanish Conquistadores. Particularly during the reign of Phillip II, the Spanish horses were cross-bred with German and Danish horses resulting in significant changes in their basic characteristics.
In Peru, the ‘original’ Andalusian horse brought by the Spaniards has kept most of the characteristics that made the Andalusian so valuable during the conquest of South America.
No outside blood has been introduced into the Peruvian breed, as there was no need to cross with other breeds to produce taller, heavier or faster horses, as was the case in other countries such as Mexico, Argentina or the United States.
The Peruvian Horse is a "hot blood," a purebred Spanish horse that was selectively bred for the amble after reaching the shores of Peru. The Peruvian horse was mainly developed to satisfy the need for a smooth and comfortable ride when overseeing plantations and travelling from one settlement to another. It was the only method of transportation that linked the valleys, provinces and villages of the coast as well as those from the sierra. This explains some of its virtues such as stamina and resistance.
Selective breeding coupled with such factors as climate and forage, served to modify succeeding generations and create a new breed, which possess characteristics different from those of any other horse in the world. Peruvian Paso horses come in all basic, solid colors as well as grays and roans. The average height of the Peruvian is between 14 and 15.3 hands (1.42 - 1.54 m.) and the weight is commonly between 900 and 1,100 lbs., about the same as Morgans and Arabians.
Peru’s National Pride
A major principle with Peruvian breeders is that great Peruvian horses are born - not trained. Training is designed to bring out the animal's inherent ability but not modify it artificially.
To help insure retention of completely natural action and gait, no horse is allowed in the show ring with shoes or with hooves longer than 4 inches. All Peruvian breeders use basically the same training methods and equipment so that no advantage is gained through artificial devices or aids.
Today's Peruvian Paso horse is the result of 400-plus years of highly selective breeding. The breed is said to combine qualities that may be considered "contradictory." He is very high-spirited - though easy to handle while loose and relaxed in his movements. He has sparkling, brilliant action in the forelegs - yet he is extremely smooth and sure-footed. He has a refined appearance - yet he is powerful. This has been accomplished due to the intelligence, love, and devotion of innumerable breeders (many anonymous). Their arduous and silent work has made the Peruvian Paso horse one of the country's greatest treasures and a unifying source for its people.
The National Association of Peruvian Paso Horse Breeders and Owners organizes competitions to reward and stimulate the reproduction of the horse as well as to maintain its special characteristics. In this manner it protects and defends the continuity of the breed as required of it by its statutes and the Peruvian Government. The national competition, which is held in Mamacona, is without a doubt one of the most exciting national events for Paso horse lovers.
Peruvian Paso and Paso Fino
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.
Many people confuse the Peruvian Paso horse with the Paso Fino horse. Although they both have common ancestors in the Old World breeds, they came to the New World with different groups of settlers and were bred in entirely separate environments for different purposes.
The Paso Fino breed was developed in and around the Caribbean, Central and South America, while the Peruvian horse was born entirely within the borders of the country after which it was named.
The Peruvian horse is somewhat larger, deeper in the body and wider. Both breeds have high head carriage and front leg lift, are smooth to ride and exhibit the same basic four-beat lateral footfall, but this is executed differently in each breed.
The gait of the Paso Fino resembles the action of a sewing machine, due to the rapid up-and-down leg movement that produces comparatively little forward motion. By contrast, the rear legs drive the Peruvian Paso’s movement, with great reach under the body as well as reaching of the front. This action results in long strides with relatively little effort - an essential attribute for long distance travel.
In addition, the Peruvian Paso is bred for its distinctive "termino" - a movement of the front legs similar to the loose outward rolling of a swimmer’s arms, originating at the horse’s shoulder. This action is sometimes mistaken by those unfamiliar with the breed for “paddling” or “winging” - a sign of a conformation fault. However this is not the case, as the Paso’s hooves return squarely to the ground rather than toeing in or out. The sideways circular movement of the front legs therefore allows the horse to overstep with its hind legs, and prolongs the time that the foreleg stays off the ground, resulting in more uniform (isochronal) timing and equal (isometric) strides, without vertical impact.
In summary, Peruvian Paso and Paso Fino horses have entirely different conformation and movement, and participate in separate shows with different tack. They are essentially two totally different breeds of horse, and never the twain shall meet!