PERUVIANS 
ARE "COMFORTABLER"
by Verne R. Albright
 
 
       Nine-year-old Skylar Martinez was one of the riders exhibiting Peruvian Paso horses during intermission at a polo game in Texas. A local television news crew had taped the demonstration and afterwards decided to interview Skylar. On camera, the reporter asked her why Peruvian 
horses are special. 

       "Well," she said, thinking fast, "a car or a truck can run out of gas, and these horses just keep on going." 

       Then the reporter asked why Peruvian horses are so smooth. 

       "Because God made them that way," she answered, "and they're just more comfortabler." 

       Skylar's comments stole the show. After the Peruvian Paso segment was televised, the station's anchor people appropriated her word -- "comfortabler" -- and used it on the air for several days afterwards. Every time they said it, they reminded everyone of Skylar and the 
Peruvians. 

       The woman who introduced Skylar to the Peruvian Paso horse is her mother's employer and friend, Joan Box. Joan has raised Peruvians at her Chimney Rock Ranch in Edwards County, Texas for ten years. 

       "These horses are unique," Joan says. "They seem to have been made especially for the kinds of riding I like to do, but they do kind of take some getting used to." 

       Joan tells about the time she, Skylar and Skylar's mom, Tempie Butler, rode Peruvians over to the local rodeo grounds. The Quarter Horse people weren't sure just what was wrong with their horses. The adults politely tried not to stare and refrained from comments, but there was one young 
boy who couldn't restrain his curiosity. 

       "Ma'am, can your horses walk normal?" he asked respectfully. 

       "No, darlin', they can't," Joan answered, truthfully. Later she had the following comment for Tempie and Skylar: "So enters the Peruvian Paso into Quarter Horse country." 

       Little boys aren't the only people who find the Peruvian gait new, unusual and a little hard to understand. Some very experienced veterinarians at a Texas endurance ride had similar difficulties. 

      The ride was a fifty-miler in the rugged Texas Hill Country. There were forty horses entered, thirty-eight Arabians and Arabian crosses along with two Peruvians, ridden by Joan and Tempie. After the ride, the vets were evaluating the finishers for the purpose of determining the winners 
of "Best Condition" awards. One by one, the vets asked each contestant to "trot out" his or her horse on the halter. 

       "Peruvian horses don't trot," Joan explained when it was time for Avion and Cazador, "but if we could just ride them for you, you'd get a good look at their gaits." 

       "Well, ma'am," the vet said politely, "after everything you and your horses have just been through, I hate to ask you to ride them any more; but it's okay with me, if that's what you want." 

       As part of an extensive examination, the vets were grading the horses A, B or C depending on how they traveled when they were "trotted out". With maximum concentration, the vets watched the Peruvians move, shaking their heads from side to side the longer they watched. When Joan and Tempie were finished, the lead vet asked if they'd mind riding their horses back and forth a little longer. Afterwards, he looked more perplexed than ever. Joan saw him mark down both horses' "grade". In each case, it was a "P". 

       "May I ask what the "P" stands for?" Joan said quietly. 

       "It stands for "Peruvian", ma'am," he answered. 

       "I think the Peruvians and their riders should have to go back out and ride at least another hour," one of their competitors teased them at that very moment. "That's only fair. The horses aren't tired, and neither are the riders!" 

       "That "P" from the vets must have also stood for 'pretty good'," Joan comments, "because Tempie's horse, Cazador, was judged to be the 4th best-conditioned horse out of the 40 that started the ride." 

      That was the second pleasant surprise of the day. The first was when Cazador finished 6th (averaging 8 1/2 miles per hour) and Avion 12th (averaging 8 MPH) with such inexperienced riders. 

       "I think it's safe to say that no one expected that, including us," Joan says with a smile. "Before the race, we'd explained that this was our first endurance ride, and they asked us to hold our horses to one side during the start and let the other riders go ahead of us." 

       As the race went along, Cazador caught and passed all but five of those horses, and Avion caught his share, too. 

       "The amazing thing was the competitive spirit of the Peruvians," Joan recalls. "They knew immediately that this was a contest, and they wanted to win!" 

      "There were a lot of things we didn't know," Joan remembers, "but fortunately, the Arabian people couldn't have been kinder or more helpful. Before the race, though, we could see they were genuinely concerned about the welfare of our horses. There was one man who was especially worried. He kept trying to caution us that our horses seemed inappropriate for such a difficult ride, but he wouldn't have felt that way if he'd realized the kind of country where we'd done our 
conditioning." 

       Joan's Chimney Rock Ranch encompasses 2,300 acres of exceedingly rough country. 

       "The Peruvians climb the hills almost as smoothly as they cross a show arena," Joan reports. "I would never have believed it. We have creeks, ravines, logs, rocks, narrow trails and all kinds of obstacles. Some of the climbs are unbelievably steep and rugged. 

       "We often have trail rides there, some for all breeds and some for Peruvians only; and we seldom go out riding for less than six or seven hours. People riding other breeds are amazed at how fast we go. We usually wind up waiting for them every so often. 

       "The Peruvian Paso has to be the number one trail horse, and we're reminded of that on the all breed rides when we temporarily 'trade' horses with our guests so they can try out that smooth Peruvian ride!" 

       It's a shame that so few Peruvian owners have used their horses in endurance rides. One of the few who has is Maurice Ungar of Canyon Country, California. 

       "The Peruvian owners are missing out on something very enjoyable when they don't participate in these rides," Maurice says. 

      Maurice was the first to own a purebred Peruvian horse registered with the Endurance Horse Registry of America. To earn the right to be so registered, his stallion, Domecq (now owned by Barbara Windom of Tesuque, New Mexico) had to complete a required number of AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) sanctioned rides. These rides had to be 50 miles or more 
in length. They also had to be completed within a time limit, and the horse had to be in good condition and sound at the post-ride vet check. 

       In August of his best year, 1991, Domecq -- at fourteen years of age -- was ranked eighth in the annual, national standings of the AERC for stallions. 

        "Unfortunately, I couldn't get him to many rides during the rest of that  year, and he slipped out of the top ten," Maurice remembers. "Nonetheless, it was a great year, and riding Domecq in those rides was one of the highlights of my life. I had many wonderful experiences, and one of the best was riding him on a long, wide dirt road for six miles alongside a group of competitors whose Arabians and other diagonally-gaited horses were in an extended trot or canter. Domecq was 
in his extended sobreandando. His back and rump remained level and motionless as we smoothly covered the miles. I felt almost weightless in the saddle, seeming to hardly touch Domecq's back and without weight in the stirrups or tension on the bit. It was obvious that Domecq didn't 
want the other horses to pass him, and they would have found it very hard to do so without expending more energy than was called for only 15 miles into a fifty-mile race. The other riders were astonished to see this smooth, laterally-gaited horse easily keeping pace with them. 

       "It seemed that my horse's hooves were barely touching the ground," Maurice remembers, "and a wonderful feeling of exhilaration came over me. It was as if Domecq and I were a single being. 

       "At the end of that day -- as always -- Domecq came to the finish line with head held erect, mane flowing wildly, ears alert, moving effortlessly and showing little sign of the hours spent covering fifty miles of rugged trail. 

       "There was an additional bonus, too. When riders got off other horses, they didn't feel as good as I did after I got off my Peruvian!" 

        "Everyone seems to know Peruvians are breathtaking in a parade or a show," Joan Box says, "but a lot of people aren't aware of their other abilities." 

        When Joan initially got involved with Peruvians, she looked upon them as breeding and show stock. Then little by little Joan began to suspect that they might be good for a lot more than that. One day she, Tempie and Skylar were sitting on their Peruvians outside the rodeo arena, in 
Barksdale. Several cowboys on Quarter Horses were moving cattle back and forth between the pens at one end of the arena and those at the other. 

        "The second time the steers came out, the three Peruvians stepped forward in unison -- on their own -- as if to say, 'We can do this. Let us show you,'" Joan remembers. "They seemed to have cow sense, but we decided to try them out in private." 

       So that's what they did. 

       "The Peruvians turned out to be surprisingly good with cattle," Joan advises. "They'll never challenge the supremacy of the Quarter Horse on the rodeo circuit; but over the years, we've learned that the Peruvian makes a wonderful ranch and working horse. Their endurance and 
willingness to work (not to mention the smoothness) makes hours in the saddle a pleasure whether we're riding fence, checking water damage, looking for livestock or working cattle." 

      Joan Box is understandably proud of the Peruvian's reputation as a first class show, parade and trail horse, but Joan would like to see that reputation expanded. 

      "For those Peruvian owners who haven't tried endurance riding," Joan suggests, "we recommend it. It's great, and you don't need to set aside one particular horse for only that activity, either. That same summer that they tackled their first  endurance ride, Avion and Cazador thrilled 
the spectators at a lot of parades; and Avion was Champion of Champions at the Western Colorado Championship show in Grand Junction, Colorado. Who says you can't have it all?" 

       POSTSCRIPT: That television interview at the polo game was probably among the highlights of Skylar Martinez's life. However, she's a lot more than just another pretty face on television. Riding her beloved Peruvian Pasos, she's had a brilliant career in the showring, winning quite a number of High Point Junior titles, including the one at the 1997 U.S. National Championship Peruvian Paso Show. She's also ridden many hundreds of miles on the trail with her mother and Joan Box. 
 

 
        For further information on Peruvian horses, visit the Internet Web Site
of the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses