Peruvian horse-riding tack, as well as that used by horsemen throughout the American continent, has its origin in fifteenth century Europe. Equestrian portraits by European classical painters like Vasquez, Titian and Van Dyck show saddles bearing close resemblance to the modern Peruvian saddle. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in America, they brought with them their European riding equipment. This was modified over the years in accordance with the uses to which the horses were put, and the availability of certain materials. In Peru the need was to essentially maintain the features of a comfortable and secure saddle, as horses were mainly used for transportation. This gave rise to the Peruvian montura de cajón or box saddle, thus named because the rider sits "boxed in" between the pommel and cantle.
The saddle consists of a wooden frame (saddle tree) with a moderately high pommel and cantle. The tree is covered with tight-fitting pieces of rawhide, with the cinch, stirrups, crupper, breeching buckles and straps attached to the frame. To make the saddle more comfortable and protect the rider’s legs from rubbing against the buckles and straps, leather skirts are usually placed over the saddle tree and around the pommel and cantle. These skirts are often embossed with the beautiful designs for which Peruvian leather artisans have become famous.
Work saddles that do not have skirts use a leather pad, called pellonera, as a seat cushion. The pellonera can also be used for added comfort over saddles with skirts.
To give saddles a better appearance, the pommel and cantle are sometimes covered with fine leather. More ornate saddles have rivets of nickel or silver on the borders of the pommel and cantle and along the edges of the skirts.
The carona is a thick leather pad that goes under the saddle and over the blanket, and is decorated with the same motifs as the saddle skirt. Besides enhancing the appearance of the saddle, it protects the back of the horse from the weight of the rider and also shields the saddle from the horse’s sweat.
To compliment Peruvian show tack, and as a sign of wealth and good taste, a pellón is sometimes used. The pellón, or ‘Pellón San Pedrano’, is a type of tapestry used as a pad over the saddle, and is described by Verne R. Albright in “The Peruvian Paso and His Classic Equitation” as being "composed of thousands of hand tied spit braids made from black dyed wool and inserted into a rug type backing. The underside is lined with fine kid leather and usually contains pockets."
The pockets were used to keep valuable belongings in bygone times when horses were the principal method of transportation. The pellón itself could also be used as bedding when long journeys required the rider to dismount and rest.
One of the peculiarities of Peruvian tack is the use of the breechings called the guarnición. Much has been written about the origin and purpose of the guarnición, but 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 (caidas) attached to the base of the tail cover. The florón or tail cover is an elongated piece of leather fixed to the back of the saddle by a large, ornate buckle. The term florón, meaning “big flower” in Spanish, is probably derived from the round shape of the middle section of the tailpiece, traditionally embossed with floral designs. More recently however, the creativity of leather artisans has given rise to a variety of designs that include linear motifs, horses, seal of arms and other fanciful leather work. As a general rule, the guarnición should have the same embossed patterns as the rest of the tack.
Finally, a crupper is always used in conjunction with the Peruvian saddle. The crupper is attached to the same buckle that holds the tailpiece, and both crupper and tailpiece are held together by a short leather strap called a cruzeta.
Perol Chico uses working saddles with comfortable leather seat padding for its rides. The padding is thick enough to provide a comfortable seat during long rides, and thin enough to maintain contact with the horse through the seat, which is essential in our riding style. Too much padding, like the thick sheepskins used in some countries, might be very comfortable for the rider but it diminish his contact with the horse. A horse can feel a fly on his skin so he can also feel and respond, if well trained, to subtle aids given by the riders’ seat.