Peru’s elegant Caballos de Paso have to be seen to be believed

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If you are an animal lover and you want a unique experience while you are in Peru, I highly recommend you make the effort to see the Caballos de Paso (Peruvian Paso Horses). I have always found horses to be majestic creatures and these horses are absolutely mesmerizing to observe up close and personal.

*A brief history of the Peruvian Paso horse*
This breed initially descended from the horses that the Spaniards brought to South America during the Spanish Conquest, beginning with the arrival of Francisco Pizarro in 1531. These horses were bred with Arabian stallions and raised in a desert environment on sand which helped to form their gait and which gave rise to the Peruvian Paso horse. For approximately 400 years, the blood of this new breed was improved upon and bred in relative isolation and developed characteristics that have made it one of the world’s most beautiful and elegant breeds. The main breeding of these horses takes place in Trujillo, Ica, and Lima.

The gait of this magnificent horse is what truly sets it apart from other horses. The Paso horse does not trot, but is distinguished by an ambling natural four-beat lateral gait (left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore) between the walk and canter and is referred to as paso llano. The gait is instinctive and natural and does not require extensive training. This unique rhythm allows this horse to be used in competitions and dance shows. Their gait has no vertical bounce as a trot would have and hence allows the rider a totally smooth ride in the saddle. The very gentle demeanor allows both beginners and experts to enjoy riding these horses as well.

*The Peruvian Paso horses characteristics*
Medium-sized, usually standing between 14.1 and 15.2 hands tall, compact, and muscular. They have deep chests and heavy necks and low set, quiet tails. The build of the horse is elegant and also powerful at the same time. There are a variety of coat colors such as bay, brown, black, buckskin, chestnut, gray, palomino, etc., and the desired coats are grays, dark skin and solid coats. My personal favorites are palomino in color.

Extensive efforts have been put into place by the Peruvian government to protect the Peruvian Paso horse. On November 28, 1992, Decree Number 25919 was enacted and the Peruvian Paso horse was declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation by the National Institute of Culture. There are also several laws in place that restrict the exportation of the national champion horses. These efforts have aided in keeping this breed almost exclusively in Peru.

*Peruvian Paso horse events*
These magnificent horses are truly majestic in person. I have attended a variety of Peruvian Paso horse events in Peru over the past seven years. I was fortunate to be invited to a private paso horse exhibition in Cieneguilla at a friend’s small ranch. One of the events I enjoyed greatly was the National Peruvian Paso Horse Competition (Concurso Nacional Oficial del Caballo Peruano de Paso) several years ago. This is the most important Peruvian Paso horse competition and event and is held annually at the Mamacona Stables near Pachacamac, located approximately 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Lima and is currently taking place.

The best Peruvian Paso horses and riders compete in various categories and demonstrate their abilities in this week-long event. One of the evenings at this event, a lively horse parade took place as well as folkloric dancing. A horse-drawn cart pulled the famed Peruvian criolla singer, Arturo Zambo Cavero into the arena as he sang to the appreciative crowd. The following day we attended the closing awards ceremony where various champion horses performed. I enjoyed the pride of the Peruvians in their horses. Interaction was encouraged and many attendees touched and rode these horses. There are a variety of other Peruvian Paso horse shows and competitions that take place throughout the year in different Peruvian provinces as well as internationally.

If you are unable to attend the yearly event mentioned above, another wonderful option is to visit Hacienda Mamacona. The Rizo Patron family owns this private hacienda and are one of the major breeders of Peruvian Paso horses in the world. They offer visits to their hacienda every Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. I visited this hacienda a few years ago with guests and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The visit begins with an introduction of the history of the Peruvian Paso horse accompanied by a pisco sour and traditional Peruvian appetizers. Shortly thereafter a group of folkloric musicians and dancers appear performing music and interactively dancing with a few of the horses. An adorable foal was brought out as well which had just been born a few days prior. From that point on you are encouraged to interact with a few of their horses. I rode one for a short time and can attest to the smoothness of the ride. The evening eventually progressed into a sitdown dinner and a variety of live folkloric music and more dancing performances.

Another alternative option to interact with these magnificent horses is through Los Ficus Hacienda that has tours Tuesday through Sunday, twice daily. This is next on my list when family comes to visit.

When people ask me for ideas of what to experience when they visit Peru, I always mention the Peruvian Paso horse. It is a definite must-see.’

*What unique aspect of Peru sparks your interets? If you have a story you’d like to share with the readers of Peru this Week, please email it to us at editor@peruthisweek.com (Subject: Only in Peru)*These beautiful horses have a very curious gait.

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Sheila was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She spent several years in Denver, Colorado at Regis University and lived eleven years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before moving with her Peruvian husband to live full-time in Peru in 2007. An epicurean at heart, Sheila first became inspired about food and cooking through the fantastic cooks in her Danish family. In her free time, Sheila is a volunteer at an orphanage, is involved in sports, including tennis and spinning, and loves exploring Peru’s incredible cuisine.