The Antiquity Of It All
Five top American breeders discuss their devotion to a handful of ancient, elegant breeds with smooth gaits and amazing style
Diana Stuart Jones
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99
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In 1982, Eugene Pepe, a weekend horseman, lay in a hospital bed recovering from a painful spinal fusion. His doctor's advice was painful as well: "No more horseback riding."
"I couldn't accept that," Pepe recalls. "So I went looking for a smooth-gaited horse."
He soon found one in Mendham, New Jersey: a Peruvian Paso mare with a new foal. Reluctant to let Pepe ride the mare so soon after its colt's birth, the horse's owner suggested that he visit a Texas farm that specialized in the breed. He flew there the next day and came home with five Peruvians. Today, Pepe's Westview Farms in Pawling, New York, is a leading American breeder of Peruvian Pasos.
"It was the gait and the smoothness of the ride that appealed to me," Pepe says. "I knew they were just what I was looking for. To prove it, I got my doctor, the one who'd operated on my back, and brought him to the farm. Then I put him on a horse. He was amazed at how smooth they were and gave me his blessing. Now 200 foals later, here I am."
The Peruvian Paso of today is descended from bloodstock brought to Peru in the sixteenth century by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. At the time, the Spanish were considered the world's foremost horse breeders. Their fine horses blended the Barb of North Africa (the most influential strain), the Jennet of Spain, the Friesian of the Netherlands and the Andalusian.
The modern-day Peruvian Paso owes much of its elegant appearance to an infusion of Andalusian blood introduced by the horses of Spanish noblemen who arrived after the conquistadores. Producing a riding horse that could comfortably carry a rancher for days was a priority, and it didn't take long for the reputation of the horses in and around Lima to become legend.
"Those early breeders wanted to create a tractable, elegant horse that was comfortable enough to ride all day on the huge ranches, and they got it," Pepe explains. "This was very important to them, since horses were their only transportation."
Once they achieved their goal, Peruvian breeders allowed no more foreign blood to enter the gene pool. "They still guard the pedigrees of their horses and can easily give you a detailed genealogy of a particular animal," he says.
The unique Peruvian Paso gait is believed to have come from the Barb side of its family tree. Its smooth, lateral, four-beat gait--similar to the tolt and other smooth, easy-riding gaits--is unique to the Peruvian Paso and its cousin, the Paso fino, bred in Puerto Rico. Executed with termino, a graceful, flowing movement in which the horse's forelegs are rolled towards the outside as it moves forward, the gait of the Peruvian is always smooth and animated.
"Both the Peruvian Paso and the Paso fino have the four-beat gait," says Pepe, who owns both types of horses. "They simply execute it differently. With the Peruvian, termino is all-important. Paso fino breeders, on the other hand, consider it to be undesirable, especially for horses in the show ring. They want to see up-and-down action in the rear legs, not overreach. They also want their horses to take a lot of steps when they cover ground. The Peruvian breeder values a horse that takes fewer steps to cover distance."
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