Peruvian Paso is a superbly well-gaited horse breed believed to have descended from the Palfrey and Jennet which are both Spanish horse types recorded in medieval literature. Palfreys were lightweight horses ridden primarily by gentlewomen and coveted because they could ‘amble’. Rather than trotting, the horse had an ambling stride. The amble is the name given to a group of smooth, four-beat gaits that are faster than a walk but slower than a canter or gallop.

The Jennet was similarly respected for its graceful movement. The much-storied horse of Renaissance Spain, the Jennet also had an ambling gait. It is extinct today, or more accurately, it has evolved into the Pura Raza Española. The two precursor horse types combined with others breeds to make the Peruvian Paso and they shared their smooth-walking characteristics with their descendants.

The Spanish also brought Barbs and Andalusian horses, and modern Peruvian horses’ colours are influenced by their Barb genes and their striking beauty reflects how the breed benefited from Andalusian bloodlines.

Peruvian Paso prancing by the pool

Peruvian Paso horse in grass pasture. 

Origins of the Peruvian Paso

Horses are not indigenous to South America. They didn’t evolve on that continent, but they do have a long history in the region that begins with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Spanish horses were instrumental in the conquest of the New World. Neither the Aztec nor the Inca had ever seen humans riding horses, or any other animals, before Europeans arrived with them. The psychological impact of mounted troops was tremendous and the warriors themselves were devastatingly effective.

Hernan De Soto, comrade of Pizarro, famously rode his horse right into the Inca Emperor’s throne room. Contemporaries record how, “…the captain advanced so close that the horse’s nostrils stirred the fringe on the Inca’s forehead. But the Inca remained still, he never moved.”

Spanish conquistadors like de Soto were inheritors of some of the finest riding techniques in the whole of Eurasia. The jineta riding style, unique to Spanish cattle-ranchers, emphasized spontaneity, speed, balance in the saddle and maneuverability. Bull-fighting, a pastime which grew out of Spanish ranching, also helped riders and their horses improve their techniques of forceful advance and swift retreat.

The conquistadors who sailed to the New World were skilled equestrians raised on the cattle and sheep ranches in the Iberian Peninsula. They’d ridden horses all their lives and brought their finest mounts with them across the ocean and the consequences for the indigenous peoples of the South America was catastrophic.

The Conquistador’s mastery of horses allowed them to swiftly defeat the Incan empire. On the morning of November 16, 1532, a surprise charge of just 37 Spanish cavalry riders, concealed in the Inca town of Cajamarca, unleashed historic slaughter. They easily overwhelmed a great army due to their novel appearance and fighting style. While Europeans soldiers know that infantry can form a square and use sticks or blades to repel mounted warriors, the Inca had no experience doing this, nor could they have heard about the tactic since they were so geographically isolated. Instead, they panicked and tried to flee, which allowed just three dozen conquistadors on their nimble Spanish horses to ride through and slay their entire force with great speed and efficiency.

Around 1542, Spanish arriving in South America created the Viceroyalty of New Castilla in Lima, Peru, which became an important New World colony and horse breeding centre. Horses were used by colonists to travel and move produce around the vast silver, sugar and cotton plantations spanning mountainous regions and deserts, requiring tough yet comfortable mounts with exceptional endurance. This became the aim of breeders in Peru who, over the next four hundred years, developed the modern Peruvian Paso.

In the 1950s, the Peruvian Paso, like so many other horse breeds, went into decline as the arrival of motored transportation eliminated their useful purpose. Asphalt highways put their future in peril and the Peruvian government did not help, but rather hurt the situation in the 1960s when much of the good breeding stock was decimated or exported.

Luckily, renewed interest in the breed began to flourish first in North America and then in Central America and now finally it has also regained strength in Peru itself where the National Show in Lima has become an important cultural event. This breed is protected by the Peruvian government through a decree enacted on November 28, 1992 in concert with the Cultural Heritage of the Nation, and Peru’s National Institute of Culture. It is now illegal to export national champion horses, and they’ve recognized the Peruvian Paso as a national Cultural Heritage, issuing stamps and featuring the purebred horses in ceremonial parades and at other functions.

Peruvian Paso

Peruvian Paso in Peru.

What’s the difference between a Peruvian Paso and a Paso Fino?

Despite their similar names, and how they share the same Spanish heritage, and similar Old World ancestors, the Peruvian Paso is not to be confused with the Paso Fino.  Peruvian horses are noticeably larger with broader shoulders and thicker manes and tails. More important is how they walk, and how Peruvians are specifically bred for termino, a signature ambling stride.

Their New World origins differ in that the Peruvian horses travelled south from Central America and migrated down to work the silver mines of Peru and even farther south into what is now Chile. They stayed isolated in that coastal region, sandwiched between the Pacific and the Andes. In that slender space, the breed developed a different gait than the Paso Fino which matured in the Caribbean for different purposes, namely as comfortable mounts on which island aristocrats could tour their plantations. The Paso Fino had a variety of genetic inputs while the Peruvian Paso traveled a long distance, and over rocky terrain to remain isolated. The Peruvian was selectively bred by Spanish colonists to produce faster, ground-covering gaits.

The Peruvian Paso is commonly referred to as the Peruvian Horse today in a bid to further differentiate the breed from the Paso Fino.

How big is a Peruvian Paso?

Peruvian Horses are mid-sized horses measuring just 14 or 15 hands, or 1.42 metres to 1.52 meters in height. That puts them just above ponies in terms of stature. These horses have solid bodies, deep chests with heavy necks sport thick, lustrous manes and abundant tails.

What colour is a Peruvian Paso?

In their lineage, Peruvian horses have some Barb genetics and that impacts their colouring. Today we find the Peruvian Paso in chestnut, black, bay, brown, buckskin, palomino, gray, roan and dun with white markings acceptable only on the face and legs.

Are Peruvian Paso horses good for eventing?

Peruvians are born show horses. Their unique inherent, four-beat lateral gait is why many equestrians believe they’re the smoothest riding horse in the world. Peruvians are also among the showiest of horses because of their ‘brio’ which makes it seem as if they’re always on parade. Brio in general means a willing energy, or a positivity that makes the horse curious, eager and responsive, but seldom hot-tempered or high-strung.
Peruvian’s gaits are unique: instead of trotting, they perform an ambling lateral four-beat saunter that’s somewhere between a walk and canter. Variations of this step include the ‘paso llano’ (four equal 1-2-3-4 beats), and the sobreandando, a faster version of this gait. The Peruvian also displays ‘termino’, an outward swinging motion of the front legs and this characteristic is highly desirable and sought-after.

What do Peruvian Horses eat?

High-quality hay and fresh grass pasture will serve a Peruvian Horse as well as any other equine. The Peruvian’s nutritional needs vary depending on the work or training they’re doing, and how active they are during the day. Horses being used as mounts for long rides or doing any work may need minerals and supplements with a feed concentrate, while horses who are not working are fine on good pasture and/or good quality hay.
Peruvian Pasos are renowned as easy keepers, but owners should keep an eye on them when turned out on lush grassland as they may overeat and gain unhealthy weight. Owners should also regularly groom their Pasos. Peruvian horses, like all equines, benefit from a regular currying to keep their coats clean and healthy. The horses have longer-than-average manes and tails, so caregivers need to frequently condition and detangle them to help keep the hair from knotting and breaking.

What health issues plague the Peruvian Paso?

Peruvian horses are renowned easy keepers and they are, generally speaking, healthy, happy animals. But people should know this breed is prone to Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis, or DSLD. The disease was first identified in Peruvian Pasos; afflicted animals experience heat, swelling, pain, and the degeneration of the connective tissue in their lower limbs. Once identified in the horse, the progressive disease will require the animal be retired from riding. While supportive care methods are available, there is no cure for DSLD at this time, and horses who are affected may need to be euthanized if their pain can’t be managed. The condition can be hereditary, so affected horses should not be bred.

What is a Peruvian Paso used for?

Because the Peruvian Paso is such a comfortable mount, the breed has always been coveted for pleasure riding and trail rides. Their legendary smooth gaits, where they have two or sometimes three hooves on the ground at a time, makes them terrific touring horses and smooth in the saddle over flat or rough terrain. They are even frequently suggested to equestrians who suffer sore backs during longer rides. They excel in long distance trail riding competitions, and eye-catching Peruvians look sharp and lively in parades.

Although they’re easy-going, Peruvians are also high-performance show stoppers in open gaited horse shows. Peruvian Pasos are born to naturally walk as gaited horses. That means, when under saddle they automatically perform one of three four-beat gaits. The horse either walks, a slow paso llano that resembles a 4/4 metronome in music, or the quicker and slightly uneven 1-2, or 3-4 sobreandando which has been likened to a musical 2/4 count. Regardless of the timing, the smooth gait means their motion is mostly horizontal with very little bounce for the rider. This is why landowners and rural country managers who spend long days in the saddle still seek out the breed.

Famous Peruvian Paso horse shows

The two best-known and most important events for the Peruvian Paso horse breed are the National Horse Competition Caballo de Paso Peruano held in Pachacamac, and at the Internacional de la Primavera during the months of September and October in Trujillo city and during the international Marinera Festival in January.

For more information, visit:
North American Peruvian Horse Association