Peruvian horses enjoy resurgence as Easy Riders

Mon Jul 26, 2010 11:59am EDT
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By Terry Wade and Emily Schmall

LURIN, Peru (Reuters Life!) - In the shadow of the Pre-Incan ruin of Pachacamac, Peruvians in straw hats and white ponchos saunter around a lawn at a beauty contest for one of the most enduring symbols of Spanish colonialism -- the horse.

On the elevated viewing gallery, owners in crisp white pants and shirts sip pisco, a potent liquor, as judges at one of Peru's many equine competitions detail the attributes and temperament of each parading horse.

Despite the booze and pageantry, the gathering is no raucous Kentucky Derby and there is little money on the line.

The contests at Mamacona, a colonial hacienda that is home to Peru's main association of horse breeders, are held to celebrate the breed's elegance, which has long appealed to Peru's old aristocracy and, increasingly, to wealthy professionals.

The horses are not bred for speed or rustling cattle, but for comfort -- with a soft gait that keeps the rider from jostling up and down on long rides.

Though Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas, Peruvians say their national horse, the Caballo de Paso Peruano, or Peruvian Walking Horse, is unique and developed over five centuries.

"The great virtues of this breed of horse are that it is smooth and comfortable," said Juan Rizo, a director of the breeders' association. "It has the smoothest ride in the world."

Call it Peru's Easy Rider. The horse has a four-beat gait and dramatically throws its front hooves out laterally while walking. Its hind legs often follow up with short, quick steps.   Continued...