In 1531 during the Spanish Conquest, Francisco Pizzaro and the conquistadores swept into Peru. They brought with them their flashy Andalusians known as the Andalusian Moorish- the greatest of all Spanish horses for soundness, speed and endurance. These were the best riding horses existing in Europe at the time. In Peru their horses were asked to carry their riders on enormous, forced marches. This gave the conquistadores an advantage in mobility which allowed them to overthrow the Incas in a matter of weeks. But only those animals with the greatest endurance could survive the hard task of the conquest. These changes in surroundings and demands in Peru caused the Spanish Andalusian to be crossed with other breeds to be modified into a new breed. In addition to endurance and a smooth ride, the conquistadores wanted beauty. For those reasons, the elegant, stylish Andalusian was crossed with the North African Barb or Berber for hardiness and stamina and the Spanish Jennet known for its four-beat ambling gait, thereby creating the Peruvian Paso Horse.
As Peru was isolated by the Pacific to the west and Andes to the east, very little cross-breeding with outside blood was done with the Peruvian Paso horse, thus preserving genetic lineage
During colonization, the Spanish divided the rural agricultural zones into encomiendas, which later formed the basis for haciendas and kept the best farmland in the hands of a few wealthy owners. They established feudal systems based on peasant labor that lasted until the sweeping Agrarian land reforms of the mid-20th century. Until then, horses were the main form of transportation. They rode long hard distances in environments ranging from the sandy, desert coast, to the freezing and challenging heights of the Andes, and covering miles of expansive ranches and haciendas. A smooth riding horse with stamina was needed so the Peruvian Paso was the horse of choice.
In the early 1900s, there was a decline in the use of the Peruvian Paso horse in southern Peru. Major highways were built that allowed motor travel to replace the use of the horse. Many breeders sold their best horses to peasants living in the nearby valleys. But in northern Peru, the Peruvian Paso horse continued to be needed for transportation on the haciendas. That all changed in 1969 with the Agrarian Reforms, eliminating large haciendas and redistributing land ownership. This had a devastating effect on the Peruvian Paso horse. Major breeding operations were broken up and breeding stock was lost. It seemed to be leading to a period where the Peruvian Paso horse would fade from Peru. However, at that time there was a growing interest in the breed in the United States and Central America so some of the finest Peruvian Paso horses were exported. The 1960’s saw the beginning of major importation of Peruvian Pasos into the United States with a serious effort to breed and increase the population and awareness of these beautiful horses.
Also, over the past thirty years, there has been a revival of the Peruvian Paso horse in Peru with an annual major Peruvian cultural event, the National Show in Lima. The Peruvian Paso horse has been declared the National Horse of Peru, protected by the Peruvian government through Decree number 25919 of Peru enacted on November 28, 1992. It has been declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation by the National Institute of Culture (INC). There are now laws which restrict the export of national champion horses.
Because of 500 years of selective breeding, the Peruvian Paso horse has evolved as one of the purest breeds in the world. Because of this selective breeding we have a horse with the four-beat rhythmical gait called the paso llano, the elegant and proud appearance of a real conquistador, and the capacity to travel long distances – the Peruvian Paso Horse.
Today there are approximately 35,000 Peruvian Paso horses worldwide used for a variety of riding pleasure. The Peruvian Paso horse has become a popular horse in the United States with many Peruvian Paso horse shows held annually around the country. In addition to the show ring, the Peruvian Paso horse can be used for trail riding, including competitive riding, and equine physical therapy. People with injuries like back or hip problems, who find other breeds jarring, will enjoy the smooth ride of the Peruvian Paso horse. Western Dressage is becoming more popular, and the Peruvian Paso horse has entered that arena. Because they are “flashy,” the Peruvian Paso horse can be seen in parades and exhibitions. The Peruvian Paso horse is truly a versatile horse that can be enjoyed by almost any rider.