Our personal and professional travels led us to
many interesting places and people, to some of the leading Equine
authorities on the Iberian Peninsula, the European Continent, the
Celtic Isles, North Africa and North America.
Breeds evolve, so to understand the Peruvian
horse we must gaze into its distant past. Thousands of years ago a
unique type of horse came thundering onto the world stage. In
ancient horse-cultures such as the Celts, Scythians, Mongolians,
Greeks, Persians, etc. they domesticated horses for specific
reasons. Hunting, travel, war and particularly conquest were some of
the primary reasons.
Eventually, an Indo-European horse skilled at
skirmish style warfare emerged. This Skirmish horse eventually
landed in Spain as a result of the Celts, an Indo-European tribe.
Predating this Indo-European horse used by the Celts, Persians,
Greeks and Iberians, the Scythians and Mongols had a similar type of
horse and advanced riding style. Excellent riding style was the
difference between life and death for many of these tribes.
THE ANCIENT SKIRMISH STYLE HORSE
This ancient horse had an aptitude for
maneuverability and an ability to become air-born for warfare
movements which required attack and retreat. The Iberians eventually
discovered the rare capabilities of this horse and began their own
Besides skirmish style warfare the Spanish
desired a horse that could work bulls and navigate the rocky terrain
of the Iberian Peninsula by remaining balanced and collected. Hence,
a Spanish/Iberian type emerged.
This is why breeders of all Spanish blooded
horses today desire a square horse instead of a rectangular horse
and a horse with brio (willing, hot and tractable temperament) and
natural collection. They did not need a horse for speed. The
Iberians also found this ancient horse to have a keen mind which
gave it the intelligence to become versatile.
While in Spain the blood of this ancient horse
was further infused with blood from the Barb in Morocco, the Celtic
horse (called the Galician or Austurian found in the north of Spain
called Celt-Iberia) and the Sorraia, a wild horse found in Portugal.
THE PERUVIAN HORSE-THE HORSE OF SPANISH
The horse of the Iberian Peninsula is called by
many different names such as the Andalusian, the Luisitano, the
Castillian, Gineta, Jinete, Pura Raza Espanol. Since it was the
finest riding and military horse in the world it was used by Spain
during the conquest of the Americas. Eventually the horse of the
Spanish Conquerors was given new names, such as Peruvian horse, as
the various countries colonized and gained their independence. In
essence, the Peruvian Horse that we know today is an antique
Andalusian from the 15th century with a gait. Pizarro was
a horseman. He would only ride the very best of horses.
It is well documented that the Spanish
Conquistadors brought with them both Hacks (amblers) and Chargers
(trotters) of the same breed to the New World, as recorded in the
Archives of the Indios, the Spanish Horse was (and still is) a breed
consisting of Galician/Asturian (Celtic) horses of the North,
Sorraia horses, and Barb horses from Morocco. Arriving in the New
World horsemen in those days often traveled as much as a “full
thirteen leagues” (39 miles) which is not a bad journey for those
who had only a single horse and were not certain of the road. The
gait they used for travel was called “Castillian Pace” or running
walk, or in Peruvian horse jargon in modern times…. Paso Llano.
Cuban historian and analyst Jorge DeMoya indicates that “Paso Llano
is actually a contraction of Paso Castellano, a smooth way of
THE PERUVIAN GAIT
The Peruvian gait comes directly from its
Iberian ancestry. While in Spain we discovered that many Andalusian
horses still had a propensity to amble and it is those horses that
the Peruvians selected to breed to one another to get the broken
lateral gait. The Spanish breeders of today still want high lift
which is also a characteristic of the Peruvian horse.
Throughout Spain there are many old statues of the Spanish horse
with high lift and gait.
It is common knowledge that the first group of horses brought
from Spain by Columbus to the New World were Sorraias. The Sorraia,
a strong and rustic horse, one of the wild predecessors of modern
Iberian breeds, proved to be very tough for this kind of uncharted
A 5-year old Sorraia stallion from Iberia with J.P. Giacomini. This
is the predominant wild ancestor behind the Andalusian, Lusitano,
Paso Fino, and Peruvian Paso horses
Later, however there were many shipments of prized Andalusian
horses and soon, breeding farms were being established in the New
World and began thriving. Columbus set out from the Puerta de Santa
Maria on his second trip to the West Indies (Caribbean Islands) with
horses, mares and stallions to set up Criadores (Breeding Farms).
These breeding farms were to be found on what is now the Dominican
Republic, Puerto Rico and as far South as Panama. It was in Panama
that Pizarro charted his voyage to Peru taking many of these horses
Spanish breeders settled in these islands and
Panama, to sell horses, especially to Spanish Conquerors, both in
Mexico and Peru. So important were the noble horses of the
Conquistadores that Bernal Diaz gives a description with their
colors, merits, and faults before he wrote about any of his
inimitable stories of conquerors.
Bernal Diaz, a chronicler, writes for
the conquistadors of the horses as friends and comrades. When a
horse was wounded or killed he writes, "The conquest was victorious
because of the horses, after God.”
THE PERUVIAN HORSE IN MODERN TIMES
Peru has had a tumultuous history with much
political upheaval and war. Yet, with all its problems Peru is like
the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes. For this reason prior
to 1945 many names and dates relating to horses in Peru are
virtually non-existent. Most records were lost during the Chilean
War. The Chileans not only won the War of Pacific, 100 years ago but
they also occupied Peru after the victory. This situation proved to
be devastating to both the people and the horses of Peru, most
particularly those in the South since it borders Chile. During the
war and occupation Chile not only killed horses and trainers
(considered military experts) but they also burned most of their
The Peruvian breeders fearing for the lives of
their most esteemed animals set many of them free in the Andes. They
hoped to retain these lines for the future and save them. Sol de Oro
Viejo is presumed to be one of the offspring of these horses and for
this reason finding him in the mountains must have been cause for
great elation. Many who saw him reported they recognized him as old
Spanish blood and interestingly enough he gaited and trotted.
In the post war era after the Chilean
occupation Peru began to recover. In approximately 1935 once Peru
began to regain its independence and restore its equilibrium,
agriculture began to flourish once again.
As part of this recovery in 1945, Peru made an
all out effort to preserve their treasure, almost lost. Peruvians
made a serious attempt to record the horses' fabulous history and
guard their legacy. It was at this time they decided to have shows,
form an association and start a stud book.
Then tragedy struck again when the government
implemented a program called the Agrarian Reform in the 1960’s. The
political powers decided to seize land from the patrons by force and
redistribute it. Many of these patrons/horse breeders had been
successful agriculturalists for generations. Overnight their
haciendas were taken away from them at gun point, under the threat
of death. Many had to flee in the middle of the night. Some left
with just the clothes on their backs and ran with their families and
horses over the boarder into other countries. It was a dark period
in Peru. Those who were lucky enough to retain their lands lived
under a constant threat.
Since horses are always viewed as a ‘luxury’
during a government takeover the beloved horses were under siege as
well. Some were confiscated; herds lay dead in the fields from lack
of government care, others were set free by their owners to run for
their lives. There were instances of breeders who hid their horses
from government thugs, sequestering their favorite horses inside
their haciendas. The Peruvian breeders endured unimaginable
conditions and made many sacrifices to protect the Peruvian horse
out of a deep sense of love. There are endless accounts of breeders
who risked their own lives to save their equine friends. These horse
breeders proved what it means to be courageous and honorable. Today
Peru’s economy is good and the horses are thriving. Yet, we owe many
thanks to the Peruvian Breeders and their families who endured so
much suffering so the world could encounter the Peruvian horse, a
treasure from the ancient past.
In summary, the Peruvian horse has all the
characteristics of his Iberian ancestors: conformation, temperament,
natural collection and grand movement, albeit it lateral or
diagonal. The Peruvian breeders' genius lay in their maintaining the
purity of their Spanish horses and its lateral gait.
Conde, "Verdadera Albeiteria" Maestro Harrador, y Albeytor mas
Antiquo, De La Real Cavallerja.
"The Horse of
the Conquest," R.B. Cunninghame Traham (Don Roberto) Wm Heineman,
Note: Robert B.
Cunninghame Graham known in Spain and South America as
"Don Robert" was the son of a high born Spanish mother
and a Scottish father of nobility. He was raised in
Spain by his Spanish grandmother and became a true
Renaissance man of the 1800s, he died in 1936. He was
well known in Spain, Mexico and South America spending
la Vega, el Ivea. Madrid - Archueve Le Vidios 1723.
Antonio, Arte Cavallania de quenta e estradiota Lisbon, 1678.
Augustin de: Historia de decubrirmento y Conquestor de la provincia
del Peru, Madrid 1826 - Archives.
Bernado de Vargas, Libro de Excicious de la Gineta. Madrid 1500.
Sylvia, The Royal Horse of Europe, J. A. Allen, London 1986.
Gueriniere, School of Horsemanship, Translated by Doucher, Allen,
Controversy, Oh, Controversy, Caballo Magazine, Vol. 9 Number 59,
General - Antonia de Herrera y Tordisillas Madrid 1726.