Before 1969, the Peruvian Paso horse was a plantation workhorse and a traveller's horse, with constant selection pressure based on reliability, strength, usefulness, and comfort. This unique selection environment attained a balance between athleticism, strength, and a luxurious ride. A happy medium was found between reliability and comfort.
During the 1969 Agrarian Reform in Peru, instituted by the military government of general Juan Velasco Alvarado, large agricultural plantations were confiscated at gunpoint. The seized land was distributed to landless individuals or agricultural cooperatives, major breeding operations were broken up and breeding stock was lost. The land reform destroyed not only large-scale horse breeding operations, but took away the function of the Peruvian Paso as a working horse, in addition to its critical selection environment. Many major land owners and breeders had no alternative other than to kill or free their horses, or give them to their workers who could not take care of them. It was almost the end of the Peruvian Paso horse breed, but thanks to the heroic efforts of some brave breeders and aficionados, who continued breeding on a small scale and with limited space available, the breed survived.
During and after the 1970's in Peru, horses were predominantly bred with the show-ring in mind, giving preference to adornments such as collection, lift and termino. Even today, the show circuit is the predominant breeding selection environment, and “a smooth ride and a flashy presentation” are the primary criteria. Success here heavily influences which horses and bloodlines are favoured, selected, promoted, and bred. As a result, breeding has been concentrated around only a segment of the already small genetic pool available. On the other hand considerable improvements have been made on a more uniform genetic makeup and format of the breed.
The discussion within Peru about the future of the Peruvian Paso is in my opinion intrinsically connected with and part of a global problem in the horse world. The days when extensive land travel was done on horseback, and the horse was first and foremost used as a working animal, are long gone. More and more people moved to urban areas and soulless motorised vehicles replaced the use of horses. Our noble and loyal travel companion became redundant and ‘equestrian romanticism’ went out the window.
Put simply, for whatever reason one can think of, people don’t ride horses as much as they did in the “old days”. This new reality poses a serious danger to the continuity and preservation of any horse breed, as breeders loose sight of that fine and delicate line that should never be crossed. This is the line between reality and illusion; between what works for the mind but fails when put into practice. It is when breeders start to confuse muscle mass with obesity; temperament and resistance to fatigue with excitement and hysteric behaviour; refinement with fragility; self-carriage with forced collection, and ease of movement with over-bending at the joints, to name but a few examples. The perception of the eye can be delusive for those who do not ride!
As for the Peruvian horse breed, it is for me and many others the best all-round trail horse ‘par excellence’, and it is our obligation to be all the more careful to preserve this God-given equine treasure. The Peruvian Paso remains a superb horse for travelling and covering long distances, unbeatable by any other breed in what is the “ultimate riding experience”, and displaying immense endurance and heart.
Owners and especially breeders should ride again, or at least ride more, to understand and appreciate the essence of our breed and to see its real beauty, as all the rest is illusory.