The Peruvian Paso originated in Peru, from the horses that were first brought to Peru in 1532 by the Spanish adventurer Franciso Pizarro. These horses blended the Barb, the Friesian, the Spanish Jennet, and the Andalusian, and the Peruvian Paso today is thought to be 75 percent Barb and 25 percent Spanish, or Andalusian. Since that time, no outside blood has been introduced into the Peruvian Paso for several centuries, and now it is the only naturally gaited breed in the world that can guarantee its gait to 100% of its offspring. Every purebred Peruvian Paso has the inherited gait, which is the trademark of the breed and it is also named for that gait.
The Peruvian Paso is not a large horse. Its average height is between 14 and 15 hands with its weight usually between 900 and 1,100 pounds; or about the same as the Morgan horse or the Arabian horse. It is a compactly built, muscular horse that is broad and deep through the body, yet standing on short, strong limbs. The flat, broad face of the Peruvian Paso complements the overall conformation with eyes that are bright and very expressive. The muzzle and jaw are refined and there is a natural thickness through the throat. The neck is arched and muscular but short and in proportion to the rest of the body.
The horse's shoulders are strong and they are sloped just enough to produce the required elevation in the forelegs for its special gait. The limbs have exceptionally strong pasterns in order to meet the requirements to perform any of the three gaits, especially over long periods of time, so the hock joints must be large and very well constructed. It has a strong, hard hoof that does not need to be shod and the horse is naturally sure-footed and agile.
The skin of the Peruvian Paso is covered with fine, shiny hair and it has a long, abundant tail that is also of fine hair. The breed comes in all the basic solid colors as well as gray and roan, but bay and chestnut are the most common colors. Every other coat color, including parti-colored coats, is possible. Because of the breed's direct link to the Barb horse, its coat has some striking color tones and shades.
The Peruvian Paso gaits have been developed and perfected so much that they are now considered to be a breed characteristic that distinguishes this breed from all other Spanish horses. The Peruvian Paso gait is not like the lateral movements of other gaited breeds. The Peruvian Paso is the only horse in the world with "termino"; a graceful, flowing movement in which the forelegs are rolled towards the outside as the horse strides forward, much like the arm motion of a swimmer. Termino is a spectacular and beautiful natural action that must be viewed to be appreciated.
The Paso Corto is the horse's normal, easy, traveling gait and there are three carefully preserved divisions to it. In the action of the gait, the hind legs take very long, straight strides, with the quarters held low and the hocks well underneath the body. In addition to the easy gait, the developers of the Peruvian Paso wanted the breed to retain the action displayed by high lift and flex of the knee and fetlock combined with "termino". The combination of the loose, flowing, arcing or rolling foreleg movement with the powerful driving force of the hind legs results in a motion of exceptional smoothness that the Peruvian Paso can maintain over long periods of time at a remarkable speed, even over rough terrain, while being extremely comfortable to the rider. This gait can be as slow as a walk or as fast as an extended trot or slow canter, but even though Peruvian Paso is able to canter, it rarely does, since it prefers its natural gait.
But what is most special is that the breed transmits this smooth gait to all purebred foals. Both the gait and the flashy leg actions are completely natural and not created or aided in any way by any artificial training or action devices. In fact, Peruvian Paso horses are shown without shoes and with a short, natural hoof. They are also shown under traditional Peruvian tack and costume and are traditionally given Peruvian names.
The temperament of the Peruvian Paso is one of the world's best, thanks to a long standing Peruvian practice of not breeding animals that have an unsuitable disposition. This gaited breed is intelligent, kindly and easily managed.
As for genetic anomalies, Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis (DSLD) is a possible disorder of this breed. Veterinarians do not yet know if DSLD is genetic; or due to overuse of affected limbs; or hormone fluctuations (previously-sound broodmares may develop symptoms of DSLD around foaling time); or if it is some combination of these. Although the condition is best known in gaited breeds (American Saddlebreds, Peruvian Pasos, Peruvian crosses, Standardbreds, and National Show Horses), it has also been diagnosed in Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Andalusians. DSLD is a progressive and rare condition and horses that develop it show increasing lameness, usually accompanied by physical changes in their pasterns as their suspensory ligaments lose elasticity. Veterinarians caution that symptoms differ per horse, but early signs might include stiffness in gait, change in attitude, and a reluctance to work.
Thanks to the unique, in-born, four-beat lateral gait, the Peruvian Paso horse is the smoothest riding horse in the world. One can carry a glass of water and never spill a drop while in motion. The breed is also one of the showiest of all horses because they seem to have an inner pride and energy that make them travel with a style that looks as if the horse is always on parade.