- HEIGHT: 14–15 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Peru
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: A gaited horse known for elegance, endurance, brilliance, and spirit; easy to handle and ride
- BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure riding, trial riding, showing
The word paso means step or gait. The Peruvian Paso is a smooth-gaited horse from Peru whose history, derivation, and type are quite different from that of the Paso Fino of Puerto Rico. The first horses to reach Peru with the Spanish arrived with Francisco Pizarro in 1531. These horses included Spanish stock that came from in and around the Caribbean islands, particularly from what is now Jamaica, as well as from some Central American locations, notably Panama.
Two types of horses were established almost immediately. One was an elegant type used by the highest-ranking and wealthiest individuals to practice the cultured equestrian sports that they had known in Spain. The other, considered “ordinary,” was used for all other sorts of work and in the expeditions of the conquest.
During most of the 1500s, smooth-gaited horses were the norm in much of the civilized world and certainly in Spain. Because Spanish roads were rudimentary and often impassable by wheeled vehicles, a great deal of travel was done on horseback. People wanted the most comfortable ride available, so breeders selected for smooth gaits. Common ambling breeds like the famous Spanish Jennet were often included when horses were shipped to the New World.
During the 1600s, as networks of roads began to be built, the emphasis shifted to trotting breeds, which were faster for pulling vehicles along the new roads. The seventeenth century thus marked a historic change: at the beginning it was unusual to see a horse that trotted, but by the end, it was unusual to see a horse that did not trot.
AN INHERITED GAIT
Among Peruvian Paso breeders it is a matter of pride that the gait is entirely natural, never aided in any way by training devices or shoeing. In both the United States and Peru, horses are shown without shoes of any kind and always with a short, natural hoof.
At the same time, horse racing became extremely popular in many locations in Europe and again the emphasis shifted, particularly among the wealthy, to breed for speed rather than for smooth gaits. In time, particularly through imported horses, this cultural shift in horse types also reached the New World.
After Peru won its independence from Spain in 1823, records document that breeders imported purebred Hackney, Arab, Thoroughbred, and Friesian Horses, among others. The careful blending of several of these Old World trotting breeds with existing Peruvian smooth-gaited horses provided the foundation for the modern Peruvian, which developed quickly into three main types. The first of the three is the Coastal Horse, known as the Costeño de Pas, the breed we know today as the Peruvian Paso; the second is the High Altitude Coastal Horse, a breed used for cattle work in the high mountains; the third is the Andean.
On the Peruvian Paso the depth of the body and the length of the legs should be approximately equal.
Over a period of years, widespread and indiscriminate crossbreeding nearly eradicated the traditional Spanish type. Horsemen who remembered the excellent Peruvian horses of the past, however, recognized the need to save the desired type and qualities, which they did by selecting only the ideal breeding animals.
These breeders wanted a smooth-gaited horse with endurance, brilliance, and spirit, one that was spectacular to watch but easy to handle and ride. They have been quite successful in achieving their aims.
Today the Peruvian Paso is known as a spirited horse with an extremely soft gait, great sensitivity to the rider, a soft mouth, tremendous endurance, and the ability to adapt to various climatic conditions. Its exceptionally smooth, four-beat gait is an inherited trait. The modern breed retains its brilliant, unique action marked by high lift of the knee and fetlock combined with natural termino, a graceful, flowing movement in which the front legs roll toward the outside as the horse strides forward. Termino is often described as being comparable to the arm motion of a swimmer.
Termino, the graceful, outward-rolling movement of the front legs, is a feature of the Peruvian Paso’s smooth, four-beat gait.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses (founded in 1962):
• More than 12,500 horses are registered.
• Thirty to 50 new foals are added each year.
• Horses registered with the American association are not automatically registered with the association in Peru.
Pasos usually range in size from 14 to 15 hands and weigh between 900 and 1,100 pounds. The head of a Peruvian Paso is medium-sized, with a straight or slightly concave profile, and a small muzzle and mouth. The jaws are widely separated at the throat, moderately pronounced, and strong. The eyes are rounded, dark, expressive, and well separated; in breeding classes, glass eyes (blue eyes) are penalized. The ears are medium in length, with fine, slightly inwardly curved tips. The nostrils are oblong and extend easily. The neck is gracefully arched at the crest and of medium length. Compared with most light breeds, the neck is slightly heavier in proportion to the body.
The chest is wide, with moderate muscling. The long, inclined shoulders are well muscled, especially at the withers. The rib cage is well sprung, the girth and barrel deep. The length of legs and depth of body are approximately equal. The underline is nearly level from the brisket to the last rib. The back is strong, rounded, and short to medium in length. The loins are broad and well muscled over the kidneys. The croup is long, wide, moderately sloped, and nicely rounded. The tail set is low and carried straight.
The bones of the legs should be well articulated and straight, with strong, prominent tendons and medium-length pasterns that are springy but show no weakness. The cannon bones are short. The hocks are slightly more angled than are those of other breeds.
Colors are bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, gray, grulla, palomino, and roan.