Pancho Fierro

Francisco Fierro Palas (c.1807-1879), called "Pancho" Fierro was an Afro-Peruvian painter, known primarily for his ‘costumbrista’ watercolours, images that chronicled the types, customs, and costumes of everyday Limeños (residents of Lima).

Stylistically, Fierro’s work was more picturesque than scientific or academic, particularly in terms of its free interpretation of space and proportion. But his lively images captured the atmosphere of everyday life in Lima with an eye that visiting artists never achieved.

He was baptized on the 5th of February, 1809, the son of Nicolás Rodríguez del Fierro, a priest, and a slave from the household of Nicolás" father, Don Antonio, a Colonel in the Militia Battalion.

He had been manumitted (the act of freeing slaves by their owners) upon his birth, following a rule that said no son of a Spaniard could be born a slave, but was raised by his mother"s family. There is no record of him receiving any artistic training, so he was probably self-taught. He also painted wall murals, all of which have been destroyed or covered over.

Today, he is remembered for his watercolours, painted on sign cards, depicting everyday scenes from Peruvian life. He created over 1200 of them and their popularity produced many imitators. The writer Ricardo Palma owned a large collection which his heirs gave to the City of Lima. Other large collections were acquired by the French painter Léonce Angrand and the Russian zoologist, geographer and ethnographer Leopold von Schrenck, whose collection is now at the "Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography" in the Kunstkamera, Saint St. Petersburg. According to an obituary in El Comercio, Francisco "Pancho' Fierro died of paralysis in a hospital on Peruvian Independence Day.

Horses and tack

Among Pancho Fierro’s work are numerous drawings of people riding horses and also the tack that was used in Lima during the first half of the 19th century. The horse was widely used for transport in those days..

One of the peculiarities of Peruvian tack is the use of the breechings called the ‘guarnición’. It most likely derived from a harness first used to prevent the saddle from slipping forward when riding over rough terrain. Over time, the utilitarian purpose of this harness gave way to an ornamental use and the guarnición became a traditional part of Peruvian tack. It consists of long leather straps (retrancas) that encircle the rear of the horse and are attached to buckles on each side of the saddle. They are further secured by two lateral straps (caídas) attached to the base of the tail cover.

Begin 19th century the ‘guarnición’ or leather straps around the rear of the horse were much shorter than today and still had some sort of functional purpose (keeping the saddle in its place). So the question is, why did Peruvians make them longer? Well, actually nobody knows.

One of the theories, or stories, is that it could have helped to make the horse collect better, because the straps work as an aid, touching the hock of the rear legs, and thus improving the reach of the hind-leg under the body mass... (I don’t think so because the horse gets completely desensitised after a while). Another story is that they increased the length of the straps to keep the corn stalk or sugar cane from getting between the horse’s legs when riding through the fields... Then I heard of another story, maybe true - maybe not. It is said that enlarging the straps started as a fashion trend among the aristocracy and wealthy people in Lima. They wanted to distinguish themselves from the common people and horses living in the mountains.

I guess we will never know why Peruvians enlarged the rear straps as none of the 'stories' can be verified.

As for the ‘guarnición’, we don't use them on our rides as it has no function at all and only increases the weight of the tack. But when we show off in the village or in the show ring, our horses do wear their formal and classy attire.

Below some of the horse drawings from Pancho Fierro with the shorter, more functional leather straps. Also a photo of one of our horses with the much longer straps. The straps have no function anymore, except from being decorative and traditional (click on images to expand).