PERUVIAN PASO 
Q. & A.
 
by Verne R. Albright

 
  Question: Much is said about the Peruvian Pasos' smooth ride. How smooth
are they?

Answer: Arlene Magrino is a writer. She owns no Peruvians and recently
wrote: "After traveling over three continents and riding countless trails
on every breed of horse, gaited and non-gaited, I found the end of the
rainbow. The Peruvian is by far the smoothest riding horse. I've ridden
them all and believe me this is it!"

Jeannie Sullivan's back got to the point where she was in constant pain,
and doctors declared her horseback-riding days over. She changed to a
doctor who said continued riding would be beneficial, if she'd ride
Peruvians. She now insists that her back feels much better on days when
she rides.

A 79-year-old Oregon woman named Rose Walker rides a Peruvian, often on
all day outings, but the amazing thing is that her 100-year-old mother
sometimes joins her on another Peruvian. 

Q: The claims made for the Peruvian temperament seem too good to be true.

A: In Peru, breeders have long refused to breed animals that exhibit
undesirable behavior. The haciendas had hundreds of horses, and animals
with unsatisfactory dispositions were banished to the work string -- not
used for reproduction. After centuries of this, extraordinary
dispositions are commonplace.

Q: Yet these horses are said to have something called brio, which makes
them fiery and energetic. How can this co-exist with gentleness?

A: The word brio isn't synonymous with "spirit". In English, we sometimes
call a horse "spirited" because it's difficult to handle. In Spanish,
that doesn't happen. Brio refers to a horse's vigor, energy, exuberance,
courage and liveliness; it automatically implies that these qualities are
willingly placed in the service of the rider.

Horses with true brio are willing workers. Their attention doesn't wander
but is focused on the handler or rider, and thus they're quick to react
and fast to learn. A horse with brio will turn heads wherever he goes,
and at "crunch time" he'll have reserves he can tap for whatever he needs
to do his job.

Q: I've heard Peruvians referred to as "gaited Arabians."

A: There are some similarities with Arabians. Both breeds have a vitality
that enhances their physical beauty all the more. Overall, though, the
two breeds are different in ways far beyond their gaits. Peruvians have
their own kind of beauty. 

Q: What attracted you to the breed?

A: The brio had enormous appeal. As a boy, I'd owned a mustang mare,
caught wild in Nevada. After her, I couldn't be satisfied with horses
that lacked enthusiasm. Beyond that, I was impressed that the breed's
characteristics are hereditary. The Peruvian's inborn characteristics
have long been sought in other breeds by artificial means. Among these
are the gait, the "lift" in the forelegs, the head carriage and the long,
full manes and tails. With many show breeds, hairpieces are used, but
Peruvian owners have to cut their horses' tails to keep them from
dragging the ground. Often broodmares -- though seldom groomed -- will
have manes past their shoulders.

Q: Why do Peruvians paddle?

A: They don't. Paddling and winging are defects in any breed, including
the Peruvian. The "swimming action" in the Peruvian's forelegs is called
termino. It's different from paddling in several ways, including that the
hoof returns squarely to the ground.

In general, horses chosen for long distance riding tend to have less, but
termino is found to some degree in all Peruvian horses. It's considered
an adornment and also seems to improve the execution of the gait.

Q: What about the widespread impression that Peruvians are basically show
horses?

A: These horses were originally bred for work. Breeders in Peru have a
saying that describes their priority: "The Peruvian Paso is a work horse
suitable for showing -- not a show horse suitable for working."

Colleen Cates uses Peruvians for field trials and wrote: "Most of our
friends thought the Peruvians wouldn't be able to keep up and deal with
the difficulties. I'm happy to say that not only do my Peruvians keep up,
but I have to hold them back! They perform beautifully. The field
conditions don't faze them at all, and what style they have! They've
gained everyone's respect."

"Every one of our show horses is also a trail horse," says Audrey
Haisfield of the Rancho Que Sabe in Solvang, California.

Audrey frequently rides her most successful show horses on the trail (or
would it be more accurate to say that she often rides her most successful
trail horses in the show arena?).

Several Peruvian owners have found the breed very suitable for
competitive trail riding. In British Columbia, Joyce Wallbridge and
Marion Taylor won two of the first three CTR's they entered. In east
Texas, Ruth Riegel placed so high against so many competitors in her
first two NATRC rides that: "I had people demanding to know what I was
doing in the Novice Division with such a seasoned horse."

Dave Leewaye will be the first to say that Peruvians will never replace
Quarter Horses. Nonetheless, he and his fifteen-year-old Peruvian Paso
compete successfully in team penning. The penners in Dave's club are
rated A, B or C; and Dave has worked up to a B rating. Last year, Dave
and his Peruvian finished in the top third of their classification (for
all of San Diego County) in the year-end standings, which isn't bad
considering that Dave is a retired educator. Until five years ago,
neither he nor his horse had worked a single cow.

Q: Almost anything that comes to our country gets "Americanized." Isn't
there a danger that breeders in the States will change this breed?

A: It's a miracle that Peruvian horses have been in the U.S. for nearly
forty years without the imposition of changes. That's a singular event in
the history of imported livestock. Most who are attracted to Peruvians
like them the way they are and become very protective.

Speaking of the decision to publish the Peruvian Digest magazine, Donna
Bearer, the editor, wrote: "We were so impressed with the temperament and
beauty of Peruvians that we wanted to write about them and promote them.
Most of all, we wanted to protect them. Too many imported breeds have
been destroyed by 'Americanization'."

Q: But certainly there are some who'd like to change the breed. Of
course, they'll use the word "improve" rather than "change".

A: In the beginning, as a matter of fact, the "breed changers" had
control. The importance of the struggle between them and the
"traditionalists" can be illustrated by a simple story.

A well-known breeder from Peru attended an all-breed show in southern
California to see a special class for Peruvian Pasos. While watching
classes for other breeds, he suddenly realized that the horses in one
halfway-finished class were the same breed he raised.

All were being ridden much too fast and as a consequence were out of
gait. All were ridden in gear other than Peruvian. The riders were
dressed as cowboys and rode completely without collection.

When asked what he thought of the Peruvian Pasos, the breeder answered:
"I didn't see any. Those were North American Pasos."

Q: What changed that situation?

A: The majority saw that the "breed changers" were going to reduce a
fabulously unique original into a mere copy of breeds that already
existed.

It was the use of judges from Peru that made this obvious. The Peruvian
horse has been called "the tablet on which the Peruvian people have
chiseled their culture," and the Peruvian culture is very different from
ours. We Americans had to learn that one couldn't evaluate Peruvian
horses by using inches, pounds, miles-per-hour or other quantifiable
characteristics. One must employ less-easily-measured concepts such as
elegance and grace.

All these years later, we have American judges who have a long
involvement and who understand this breed. Some are very good. Amazingly,
shows in Central America invite them as often as Peruvians even though
Central America and Peru share the Hispanic culture and the Spanish
language.

There remains, however, one serious threat of "Americanization." Many
here breed taller horses with lighter bodies.

Q: What's wrong with that? Americans are bigger people than Peruvians.
Lighter-bodies horses are seen as more beautiful and functional. Aren't
these things a matter of taste?

A: Not at all. The Breed Standard calls for Peruvian horses to have deep
bodies. Measured at the wither, the depth of the body should equal the
length of the leg. Furthermore, the bottom line of the horse - starting
at the girth, just behind the elbow - should be horizontal or even run
slightly downhill to the back rib. The greatest circumference is at the
back rib rather than the girth, the opposite of most other breeds. This
distributes the horse's weight in a way that promotes the balance
necessary for optimum performance of the gait. It also provides the breed
with much of its strength, energy, balance and natural collection.

Q: Speaking of size, aren't Peruvians a bit small for riders in this
country?

A: Only if your standards have been warped by the notion that "bigger is
better." Peruvians average an honest 14.3 hands in a world where most
overestimate their horses by at least a couple of inches.

Peruvians are big enough to do almost anything done by any other breed.
People who own them will tell you their size is perfect, citing such
advantages as the grace of more compact horses and the ease of mounting.

Texas cowboy/trick rider Glenn Cochran constantly reminds the "breed
changers" that most cutting horses run about the same size as Peruvians.
He points out that larger horses are less agile.

Some people, however, are accustomed to large horses and consider
Peruvians small. There are countless examples of such people having a
change of heart after riding a Peruvian. All that energy and those deep,
round bodies make them seem bigger, an impression enhanced by the high
head carriage. If measured like people, to the top of the head, Peruvians
would be among the taller light saddle breeds.

I remember a cowboy who was very polite, but habitually referred to a
friend's Peruvians as "those little horses." Finally the friend had had
enough, and he insisted the cowboy ride one. The cowboy accepted on the
condition that he be permitted to ride in his own saddle. There being no
objection, the large western saddle was set in place. Then the cowboy
pulled the cinch under the horse's stomach and looked at it quizzically.
Frowning, he walked to the other side of the horse.

"I can't believe this," he said with a grin. "I thought the cinch must be
hung up, but it's going to have to be let out, and this is the saddle I
use on my biggest Quarter Horse."

After his ride, the cowboy shook his head and said, "Maybe these little
horses aren't so little after all."

Q: How are they at carrying weight?

A: A man in Idaho took a Peruvian on an elk hunt, prompting strange looks
from fellow hunters mounted on a larger breed. After another horse
refused to pack an elk out of rugged country, the meat was loaded on the
Peruvian.

One of the cowboys allowed as how, "He's a little small for that much
weight."

The Peruvian not only brought the meat out, but did it in record time.


 

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