THE TRAINING OF THE PERUVIAN TRAIL HORSE
Reprinted from the 12/91(Pt.1), 4/92 (Pt.2), 8/92 (Pt.3), 3/93 (Pt.4), and 7/93 (Pt.5) issues of the AAOBPPH Newsletter. The first four articles were originally printed in Peruvian Horse World. The fifth article was submitted by Julie to update activities since the publication of the series in Peruvian Horse Review.
All photos used in this article are of Marinera's daughter, Carolana
PART ONE OF A FIVE PART SERIES by Julie Suhr
EDITOR'S NOTE: Julie Suhr, the author of this article, is one of only six people thus far named to the American Endurance Ride Conference Hall of Fame. She was accorded this honor in 1980, and no one else has been named in the years since. She has completed the world famous Tevis Cup Ride 12 times; only three people have completed this ride more often. All in all Julie has logged in excess of 4,000 miles of competitive endurance rides, and she has won a fair number of both 50 and 100 milers as well as Best Condition trophies. Not long ago she competed in a 130 mile, 3 day endurance ride held in the Orange Free State, South Africa. On a borrowed horse she finished second, in 9 hours and 41 minutes aggregate time, just five minutes behind the winner. Julie is a serious student of trail riding as well as a student of Peruvian horses. She rides three of her Peruvians almost every day on the mountain trails near her home in Scotts Valley, California.
I want to refute the often heard claim that all Peruvian horses can do is, like the hands of a clock, go inexorable around in circles. I hope by this series of articles to show our horses in a different light, not as show horses but as superior trail and pleasure horses. My subject horse is Carolana, a four year old purebred mare. Her sire is Paisano and her dam is *Marinera. I bred her, raised her, and any training she has is the result of my personal efforts. My goal for her is the completion of an endurance ride, the ultimate test of a fit horse.
This first article will focus mostly on background, with the actual training of Carolana following in future issues of the Peruvian Horse World Review. At times, when I think it is of interest, I will explain some of the whys and wherefores of endurance riding and pass along some of my personal observations. My articles are not necessarily written by an expert in the field, but will reflect what has and has not worked for me. The reader must keep in mind that an endurance horse is vastly different from a trail horse, but that the latter phase must precede the former. Whether Carolana will succeed as an endurance horse remains to be seen. She has already succeeded as a trail horse. I do not think there is a Peruvian alive, nor will there ever be, that can beat a Thoroughbred at the mile, an Arabian at fifty miles or hold a 1200 pound steer like a Quarter Horse. Nor do I think there will ever be a better trail horse than the Peruvian. Sure footed, safe, agile, smooth, willing and alert, their future is bright if we will prove to the world this IS a first class trail horse.
My youthful involvement with horses was fairly typical of most horse-crazy girls; but like many of you reading this, I never outgrew it. My pony ruined Thanksgiving when I was seven by depositing me unceremoniously upon my chin a gravel driveway. The guests disbanded; the turkey was never served, and I was hustled off to the doctor. I never saw the pony again. In my teens a tired gelding of undetermined origin listened to my woes. He disappeared when college appeared and my father told me grown-ups don't ride horses. He was right in my case for twenty-two years during which a family was raised and the commitments of a suburban housewife were fulfilled. Then the latent desire to have another horse in my life surfaced, and in 1962 a super husband indulged my fancy. Her name was Lady Kay, a Saddlebred/Thoroughbred mare. I think the $500 purchase was one of the happiest moments of my life. I had returned to the love of my childhood Boarded out, Lady Kay carried me joyfully through the Almaden hills several times a week. An overheard, chance conversation about the now-world-famous 100 Mile One Day Tevis Cup Ride gave me and Lady Kay a goal- We would tackle the Tevis, 100 miles of awesome Sierra Nevada Mountain Trail from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, California, with descents totaling 21,900 feet and ascents of 17,400 feet. Riding a horse around a golf course was not the way to prepare for this venture, and the Tevis tackled us instead of vice versa. The trail was like none other in the world. Disqualified at the first veterinarian checkpoint thirty-five miles into the ride, a lame horse and totally disheartened rider did not know whether to cry from shame or joy. I was defeated, but I had survived.
Determination and a borrowed Arabian gelding fulfilled my dream the following year, and a Tevis Cup belt buckle has adorned my midsection ever since. The year was 1965, and who had ever heard of a Peruvian Paso? Certainly not I. The borrowed Arabian had been returned, and while Lady Kay was still a joy to me, I knew she was not the horse on which to pursue the incredibly fulfilling sport of endurance riding. A drug store purchase of the October, 1965, Western Horseman magazine was responsible for shaping my future. An article by someone named Verne Albright told of a shipment of naturally gaited horses from Peru. He mentioned that they had a reputation for stamina. Just what I was looking for! A letter to George Jones, the President of the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses, presumptuously requested the loan of a horse for our mutual benefit (I would have a mount for the next Tevis Cup Ride, the Association would have the proof of the stamina of this special breed if all went well). As unlikely as it may seem, the letter produced the loan of a five-year-old blue roan mare from George Jones. *Marinera had entered my life. Reflecting the strength of her sire, Perote Huandeno, and the Coral blood of her dam and the excellent breeding program of Fernando Grana, *Marinera was about to embark upon a training program that probably rivals anything done with a Peruvian horse on the North American continent. She had been in good company on the twenty-seven day boat trip from Lima; *Burlador, *Fascinacion, *Amigo Fito and other well known foundation animals in this country were her shipmates The importation of Peruvian horses to the United States had begun in earnest.
*Marinera was settled in the Santa Cruz Mountains under the watchful eye of Verne Albright. The terrain was good for training an endurance horse, with plenty of steep country and some level stretches for extended gallops. The cardiovascular system would be tested and strengthened; the bone density would be built up by the demands to be put upon and met by this mare. After arriving in January of 1966 she was to be loaned to me until after the Tevis Ride in July. I found her to be very high-strung, nervous and excitable with an abundance of energy which was mistakenly interpreted by me as ability. Here was horse who had one idea, and that was full speed ahead. She literally never walked a step. She pasoed incredibly fast, up and downhill holding a good gait, but only when pulled back from a gallop. To my distress her jaw was rubbed raw most of the time in the curb strap area. She was ultra-smooth, sure footed and had a strong instinct for self-preservation. She was not going to hurt herself or get into any situation she could not resolve. Her intelligence and ability to make rapid decision, which invariably were right, protected her as well as the rider.
In retrospect I realize I sorely abused this horse. That she survived my ignorance is remarkable I hope the love lavished on her subsequently has made up for what was done to her because of the enthusiasm and naivete of a rookie endurance rider. In those days there were no books on training the endurance horse, and one relied strictly on hearsay. I took literally the macho talk going the rounds: "Train five to six hours a day; ride a couple of hundred miles a week; wet saddle blankets are the only thing; keep them lean; don't overfeed". These were the criteria, and I heaped this sort of a schedule on a gallant young mare so recently uprooted from her native land. Was she tough? Amazingly so! Skyline Boulevard along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains was one of our training routes. It has very wide shoulders, little traffic and mileage markers every tenth of a mile. I would gallop her along a fourteen mile stretch in under forty-five minutes from Gist Road to Saratoga Gap and back. In this time she never broke stride except to turn for the return trip. This mileage was usually added on to a couple of hours of mountain climbing - not once a week, but frequently three or four times. She gave and she gave and she gave. Her legs stayed clean, and her muscles hardened, and her nostrils enlarged for the great gulps of air required to fuel her body under my incessant demands. I learned to love her while never recognizing that somehow, her spirit kept the horse going long after her body should have ye!led quit - It is so easy for the uninitiated to think "If the horse wants to run, it must be okay" So many endurance riders have found out the hard way that nothing is further from the truth.
With the cooperation of Verne, several pre-ride training trips to the Sierra were made to familiarize *Marinera with the Tevis trail. It was considered essential to have the horse recognize the last thirty or forty miles that on the day of the ride would be done in the dark. They learn where the finish line, the stall and food are; and mentally it keeps them going.
When the day of the pre-ride veterinarian examination arrived, Verne, Bob, *Marinera and I were by the shores of Lake Tahoe ready for the 5 a.m. start the next morning. My little skinny gaited horse was not considered a likely finisher. But her indomitable spirit overcame the handicaps I heaped upon the animal, and she finished 22nd out of 92 starters and 54 finishers. It is traditional to gallop your mount around the track at the Auburn Fairgrounds at the finish of the 100 miles. I pushed her into a gallop, but she felt weak, and I pulled her back. She crossed the finish line in the paso gait with brio that belied her true condition.
The following day *Marinera showed no apparent signs of physical stress. No swelling in the legs, no heat. She was eating and drinking well, and she still snorted when approached as she does to this day at age 24. But if observed from a distance as she relaxed, the eyes told another story. This was an emotionally beaten horse. If you know your horse well, the eyes will tell you more than all the veterinarian examinations or experts can. I have learned to always take an extra minute to study my horse's eyes at the stops on an endurance ride. I pace myself according to what I see.
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