Peruvian Pasos are the Rolls Royce of riding horses, definitely with an automatic - not manual - transmission," Ray Wood says with a twinkle in his eye. "They originated in Peru to carry their owners in comfort across vast haciendas, so they're naturally gaited and ultra-smooth - no bounce at all. All you have to do is sit and enjoy their gentle rocking ride."
This spring, the Oklahoman is opening his Wood Guest Ranch and Equestrian Center in Boswell with 54 Peruvian Pasos in his pastures. "They're perfect for our guests to ride: elegant, gentle horses," he says.
Last November, Wood hosted a trail ride for 47 riders and their Peruvian Pasos. They traversed the nearby Clear Boggy Bottom, a valley two miles wide and 30 miles long, with a river meandering through the middle. Three lakes enhanced the serene beauty. "The Peruvians are perfect trail partners. We can hardly wait to do it again next year."
Wood bought his first Peruvian Paso in 1990, impressed by their naturally smooth gait, kind temperaments, and their brio, the breed's special charisma and enthusiasm for life. And he's not alone.
More and more trail enthusiasts are embracing the smooth-moving Peruvian Paso for its strength and stamina over distance, its willing attitude on challenging trails, and the gentle demeanor that makes them suitable for the entire family. Here, we'll tell you more about the "National Horse of Peru," including on-trail stories and purchasing tips. We'll also give you information on the breed's history and gaits, explain the North American Peruvian Horse Association's Joy of Riding trail program, and include a handy resource guide.
Tops on the Trail
Pat Stevenson taught high school science in New York, and showed Miniature Bull Terriers to three Best of Breed honors at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But when she and her husband, Andy, retired in 1988, they decided to move south - to 27 acres in North Carolina - and get horses into their lives.
Pat researched equine breeds, with trail riding on her mind. Little did she imagine that in 2005, she'd be honored at the Peruvian Paso National Show as NAPHA's top trail rider, with more than 2,500 hours in the saddle. "I'm just making up for lost time," she says with a chuckle.
Pat's love affair with Peruvian Pasos began with a trip to Sonja Wirth's Phoenix Ranch in upstate New York. She recalls, "There were so many things about Peruvians that were 'just right' for me: their easygoing personalities, moderate size, and smooth gait," Pat recalls. "It wasn't long before Sonja had me riding her stallions, and they were wonderful. Today, we own six Peruvians."
One of the couple's most memorable trail rides was in West Virginia's Lost River State Park. "Andy and I read about the area in The Trail Rider, and just had to explore it," Pat says. "We went in the springtime when mountain laurel was in bloom, and rode through tunnels of their white blossoms. It was beautiful!
"One morning, as we rode up an old logging road, I saw a black nose poke out of some bushes - a black bear! When he sat down right in the middle of the road, I thought we might die! But my Peruvian, PR Laredo, just stood quietly and calmly looked at him. After a few minutes, the bear got up and walked back into the woods. I was so impressed with our horses, but I shouldn't have been surprised. They ignore flapping tarps, barking dogs, and loud tractors with the same reserve. We love our Peruvians!"
'Smoothest of the Smooth'
Julia Meek's lifelong passion for horses was challenged when back injuries from a car accident knocked her out of the saddle for eight years. Her husband, Gary, wanted to put a smile back on her face, so brought her to a friend's farm - a friend who raised Peruvian Pasos. That gentleman had a handsome chestnut gelding ready for her to ride.
"I never imagined that I could have such a comfortable ride on any horse," she recalls. "When I realized that I could ride again, I cried tears of joy." The horse, Rayo Blanco, went home with the Meeks.
"He's the love of my life," she says. "He changed our lives. We sold our home and bought 100 acres outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the Ouachita Mountains. Today we have 12 Peruvian Pasos, with three babies on the way."
The Meeks named their property Rancho de Rayo, after their first Peruvian Horse. Once a year, they host a ride on their ranch, where guests enjoy trails that crisscross gently rolling hills and wind through groves of sheltering pines. Last year, 48 riders and their Peruvian Pasos stayed the weekend. The highlight after an invigorating day in the saddle was a hearty Saturday night cookout by the shore of Big Mazarn Creek.
"The creek is spring-fed, clear, and clean year around," Julia says. "And just deep enough to get the horse's feet wet - but not the rider's. The ride is a great opportunity for us to provide some 'Southern hospitality' and share our enthusiasm for horses that are the smoothest of the smooth."
Californian Lynn Kinsky has ridden more than 2,000 competitive trail miles in 60 North American Trail Ride Conference events, all on Peruvian Pasos. More than 1,710 of those miles were logged aboard her black gelding, El Sinchi Roca (Sinchi). Today, she owns a dozen of the smooth- moving equines.
"I enjoy NATRC so much, because you get to ride beautiful wilderness trails, many not normally open to the public," she says. "And at the same time, riders learn valuable lessons in horsemanship, how to take care of their horses over challenging trails, and how to lessen wear and tear on their horses."
"Lynn is my mentor and inspiration," says Cheryl Calentine, who lives in Santa Ynez, California, just down the road from Kinsky. Calentine has recently started competing in NATRC events with her champion show gelding, AHT Romantico.
"Peruvians are very versatile, and adapt beautifully to just about anything," she says. "They have good heads. Romantico loves meeting people, and is a little Energizer bunny on the trail. There's nothing I enjoy more than riding him on the trail all day and camping with him.
"When we went to our first competitive ride," she continues, "people checked out his full body and there might've been some snickers at my 'little fat, barefoot show horse.' They didn't realize that shoes aren't allowed in the Peruvian show ring - and that Romantico had never worn them. And he wasn't fat; he had muscle. So when he finished hale, hearty, and sound, I think he earned some respect. In good fun, we renamed him 'Rotundico!' "
In fact, Calentine's family owns 37 Peruvian Pasos and expects six foals this spring. Her father, Bob, was on NAPHA's board of directors, and helped orchestrate the recent merger of the two largest Peruvian organizations. All of the family's Peruvians, including the show horses, are trained and conditioned on the trail.
While in the show ring, owners commonly use imported, traditional Peruvian tack. However, on the trail, Calentine finds that either an endurance or hunt seat saddle with a hunt-style bridle suit her horse perfectly. She says that Peruvian Horses usually have well-sprung ribs and broad backs, thus requiring a wide saddle tree. "And I always use a breastcollar and crupper line, because their withers aren't very prominent," she says. Otherwise, the Peruvian doesn't present special challenges when shopping for trail tack.
Purchasing a Paso
• Shopping for a Peruvian Paso? NAPHA has some great suggestions for you:Do your homework, and learn as much about the breed as possible. Visit the NAPHA website for resources.
• Evaluate your horsemanship skills, and look for a prospect that will be a good match.
• Take a knowledgeable horseperson with you.
• Don't buy on impulse. Do ask questions.
• Note general health. Prospects should have clear, bright eyes, a shiny coat, clear skin, and not be too thin or fat.
• Require good temperament: Peruvian Pasos should be calm and sensible, with good manners.
• Watch the prospect move to make sure he gaits naturally and moves freely.
• View the prospect in-hand and under saddle, and spend time in the saddle.
• If you're new to gaited horses, take lessons from a trainer familiar with Peruvian Horses.
• Ride the prospect in conditions similar to what you'll encounter on your home trails.
• Get to know the prospect's vices and virtues.
• Schedule a thorough prepurchase exam by a veterinarian familiar with the breed.
• And when you've found your ideal equine partner, enjoy his Rolls Royce ride on the trail!