Foxhunting and the Peruvian Paso Horse
"You do WHAT with your Peruvian Paso?"
Yes, that is a common question I get from other horse owners - and not just Peruvian Paso owners. Growing up and living in Connecticut for most of my life, I was always around horses. Like the majority of riders in New England, I learned to ride in the English style - mainly huntseat and usually on a Thoroughbred. I also enjoyed trail riding, some distance riding, foxhunting and hunter paces.
I became interested in the gaited breeds about 12 years ago. While visiting the San Diego area, I happened to take a trail ride at an outfit called Holidays on Horseback that has ALL gaited horses. I really did like the Foxtrotters, Tennessee Walking Horses, Paso Finos and Peruvian Pasos that the ranch had on the rental string. Quite a different ride from my QH and TB/Paint Horse at home! I came back every year for the next 5 years and rode one of their gaited horses for a week. One year they had a new horse, a Peruvian Paso they called Poco that I really liked. What a wonderful, smooth ride this was!
Back in Connecticut, I began to ask around and look for a gaited horse. I wasn't particular to any one breed, and wanted to try as many as I could. Most of the responses that I received were, "gaited? Oh, you mean Saddlebred!" I saw a few ads for Tennessee Walkers and Foxtrotters, but they were far and few, and what I did see was either not well gaited, didn't gait or were not affordable to me.
In November 1992, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my lower spine and hips. The doctors said I had more arthritis than any patient my age that they had seen. I was in much pain and wondered if I would ever do any thing more than ride at the walk. With physical therapy and some anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants, I made it through a cold, damp Connecticut winter. I was back on my horses in the spring and in June of 1993 my husband and I moved to the San Diego area - along with our QH and Paint horses.
Ahhh...there are gaited horses out here!!! But now I am in cowboy country! English riders? We are definitely in a minority!! I had already purchased a Spotted Saddle Horse mare, and was looking for a good sized, strong, affordable Peruvian Paso. I found what I was looking for, and bought Cielo de Caramelo, an 11 year old gelding, in February of 1995. He had all the makings of the mount I needed for the kind of riding I like to do - he was of good size, strength, and a good temperament. I did some retraining with him, and we've traveled many miles together. Now if I could only find a hunt or hunt pace. Because of my arthritis, hunting on Cowboy, my Quarter Horse, or Tonto, my Paint was out of the question.
I belong to an Internet mail list for foxhunting enthusiasts, and after posting a comment about something, I received an e-mail from the Master Foxhunter of a club near Los Angeles who said he saw my post and also the town I came from. He invited me to be his guest at a joint meet they were having with another hunt club. I was thrilled, and of course, said YES! I also learned that here in Southern California, the hunt clubs hunt coyote exclusively. Something new for this Connecticut Yankee AND her gaited wonder horse!
I arrived at the hunt meet, and was asked which field would I like to ride in. The first field is a fast ride with the Master and Houndsman, and includes jumps. Since my jumping days are over, and Cielo had never hunted before, I declined. The second field is a bit slower paced ride, following the first field, but staying behind them. Jumps are optional. This is also called hill topping, as this group of riders will ride to the top of a hill and watch the hounds and first field.
The coyote is quite a formidable quarry. They are very smart, and seem to love to give the hounds a good chase. The coyote scent is also stronger than the scent of the fox. The coyotes seem to love playing games and really can keep us going in "circles". The hounds will pick up a line (scent) and then one coyote will go one way and the other will go another, creating quite a game for the Master and Houndsman, and the field.
The hounds were cast, and Cielo and I were off on our first hunt together! He was wonderful. He moved right along, and never minded being closely packed in with other horses at times. (All of who are bigger than he is). Much of the chase is at the gallop and canter, and Cielo loves it. He really caught on quickly, and when he hears the "music" of the hounds when they pick up the scent of the coyotes he really gets "on the muscle" and can't wait to go! He is such a sight, at least to me, when he's all cranked up with lots of brio. I ride him in a Hackamore, and he is completely controllable in it.
I joined the Santa Fe Hunt, and have been hunting with Cielo since January. Since almost all of the hunt horses are Thoroughbreds, I naturally expected some questions or comments from people. I mean, really, what is that little horse doing? He does not have much termino, but still.... it can look very strange to someone not familiar with the way the Peruvian Paso moves. Cielo is also 15.1 - big for a Peruvian Paso, but small for a hunter! Anyway, everyone was quite nice, as they could see that I had hunting experience, and a very fit, well-trained mount. A few cute comments I received were: (on our first hunt) - "you might want to ride third field - he's a bit chubby". (Third field is usually ridden by less experienced riders or less fit horses). I merely replied that he was very fit and I had done about 35 miles with him the previous weekend and also that there are some obvious conformational differences in comparison to the Thoroughbred. The reply was, "you are right! Please do ride second field with me." Another comment, "he really paddles along, doesn't he". Just as I was going to reply, we all broke into a gallop, and that was that! Another, "I saw a Peruvian Paso Fino at a friends once". After a brief explanation about the 2 different breeds, the answer was, " oh I guess I just lump them all together!" and off we went! I was also asked how he could see with that long thick forelock! Everyone laughed when I said that he sees better than I do!
When we are not at the gallop, canter or
walk, Cielo just motors along in the Sobreandando. We
cover a lot of ground and I am so comfortable - he is so
smooth - especially when I see all that posting and
bouncing abreast with me. Riding back to the trailers
after a recent hunt, Cielo was in gait, and I just took
my feet out of the stirrups and "went along for the
ride". The Master laughed and said to me,
"hey! Quit showing off!!" Of course, I just
had to show off some more, and by just using my seat and
legs, went into a beautiful, slow collected canter. We
all laughed! In conclusion, I must say that there are so
many uses for this wonderful breed. There are quite a
few of us non-traditional Peruvian Paso riders. While
they most certainly are exceptional show horses, there
are also suited to many other disciplines - just look at
me - I'm FOXHUNTING with mine!
I have retired Cielo from hunting, and he is now owned by a wonderful family with three young children. He is living a wonderful life as a teacher, trail horse and "babysitter".
I have a 6 year old, 16h Peruvain Paso /Spotted Saddle Horse gelding who might be a future hunt prospect. Time will tell. He currently needs many more miles under saddle, and a few more years to mentally mature. Who knows - I might just be gliding along leading the second field!