Peruvian Paso Q&A

Questions that have been asked about the Peruvian Paso Horse

by noted Historian, Mr. Verne Albright

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

A: Arlene Magrino is a writer, 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. Iíve ridden them all and believe me this is it!"

Jeannie Sullivanís 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 sheíd ride Peruvians. She now insists that her back feels much better on days when she rides.

The smooth ride of the Peruvian horse was a revelation to Rose Walker even though sheís ridden gaited horses most of her life. At 79 years of age, she rides nothing but Peruvians, often on all-day outings. When people tell her how remarkable she is, Mrs. Walker is embarrassed. After all, her 100-year-old mother often comes along on her own 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 isnít synonymous with "spirit". In English, we sometimes call a horse "spirited" because itís difficult to handle. In Spanish, that doesnít happen. Brio refers to a horseís 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 doesnít wander but is focused on the handler or rider, and thus theyíre quick to react and fast to learn. A horse with brio will turn heads wherever he goes, and at "crunch time" heíll have reserves he can tap for whatever he needs to do his job.

Q: Iíve 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, Iíd owned a mustang mare, caught wild in Nevada. After her, I couldnít be satisfied with horses that lacked enthusiasm. Beyond that, I was impressed that the breedís characteristics are hereditary. The Peruvianís 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 horsesí 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 donít. Paddling and winging are defects in any breed, including the Peruvian. The "swimming action" in the Peruvianís forelegs is called termino. Itís 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. Itís 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 wouldnít be able to keep up and deal with the difficulties. Iím happy to say that not only do my Peruvians keep up, but I have to hold them back! They perform beautifully. The field conditions donít faze them at all, and what style they have! Theyíve gained everyoneís 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 CTRís 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 Daveís 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 isnít 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." Isnít there a danger that breeders in the States will change this breed?

A: Itís a miracle that Peruvian horses have been in the U.S. for nearly forty years without the imposition of changes. Thatís 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 ĎAmericanizationí."

Q: But certainly there are some whoíd like to change the breed. Of course, theyíll 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 didnít 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 couldnít 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: Whatís wrong with that? Americans are bigger people than Peruvians. Lighter-bodies horses are seen as more beautiful and functional. Arenít 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 horseís 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, arenít 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 friendís 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 horseís stomach and looked at it quizzically. Frowning, he walked to the other side of the horse.

"I canít believe this," he said with a grin. "I thought the cinch must be hung up, but itís 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 arenít 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, "Heís a little small for that much weight."

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