OCTOBER 1999 BACK ISSUE
Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 10/08/99; 2:00:00PM.
CANADA'S REAL WEST - Part 1
THE PERUVIAN HORSE
by Verne R. Albright
Over a century ago, a visitor to South America wrote: "Horseback riding is a vigorous form of exercise except in Peru, where breeders have managed a triumph over nature. They have created a horse that moves by means of a very smooth amble. These horses are greatly sought-after, for to ride one is much the same as being seated in a chair, the way in which a Peruvian gentleman prefers to take his exercise."
Peruvian Pasos are still the smoothest-riding horses on earth. They're also among the most beautiful and stylish. They have an action in the forelegs - called termino - that is extraordinarily eye-catching and graceful. Bred by a small number of hacienda owners for hundreds of years, the Paso's development has been closely controlled. Animals with unsuitable dispositions haven't been used for reproduction lest that same temperament show up in future generations. Yet an extraordinary energy and pride were bred in.
When the breed characteristics are added together, one has animals in which seemingly incompatible characteristics have miraculously been combined. Where else can horsemen find such smoothness combined with such extravagant action? How many working horses are as stylish and spectacular? Where else is so much energy combined with such willingness and tractability? What other breed carries its head so high and yet takes such a long stride?
Best of all, these characteristics are passed genetically. The breed is truly "natural" to the extent that the show rules of the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses forbid artificial devices and require horses to be shown barefoot, with hooves trimmed to a minimum length.
by Verne R. Albright
The two cowgals had been looking forward to riding in 'Canada's Real West'
They'd be riding Peruvian Pasos to assure that everything would go smoothly, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans....
Peruvian Pasos have a well-deserved reputation for being surefooted, but Alice Howse's was lying in a stream of water, flat on his side where he'd collapsed. The goods news was that he'd ceased struggling. The bad news was that her leg was firmly pinned beneath him.
The trapped leg had no feeling. Was that a bad sign? Had the freezing water numbed it? Was she injured? Or was the soft ground responsible for the absence of pain? After all, her leg was held by suction as much as pressure.
Anyhow, Alice had more important worries. If Soliviar resumed his struggles and forced her head under water ... well, that would be a much more immediate problem!
They were in a meadow in that part of northwest British Columbia known as Cariboo Country. Heavy and continual rains had saturated the soil, and the run-off had collected to form a stream near the edge of a meadow. Year-round, that area's meadows have water not far beneath the surface, making them quake underfoot beneath a crust of sod, even in dry weather. In the wet season, this particular meadow was nothing more than 30 acres of bog, peat covered by sod.
Four horses had already crossed the temporary stream ahead of Alice. Their hooves had churned up the bottom, filling the water with clouds of mud and plowing it into an ever-deeper and more slippery trap. Then the horse ahead of her had gone down. His forward progress blocked, Soliviar floundered around in the flowing water until his hooves broke though the crust. As if in quicksand, he quickly sank to where his knees were out of sight. Then, with his legs immobilized, the little seal brown gelding toppled onto his side. The suction made his subsequent struggles exhausting, and he soon lay still.
The water wasn't all that deep, but with Alice and Soliviar steadily sinking, there was more than enough for drowning!
It was hard to believe that so many things had gone so badly. What was advertised as a 7-day ride for gaited horses in Canada's "real Wild West" had begun in the early-morning dark on Vancouver Island, a short drive north of the U.S. border.
"Our two Peruvian Paso horses loaded in the dark, not knowing what adventures lay ahead," Alice wrote in her trip diary, "but then again, neither did we."
Getting to their destination took the better part of two days. It was plenty of time for a preview of how things would go on the ride itself.
After driving eleven hours the first day, the two women turned off the main highway, following directions they'd been given by telephone. At that point, they found themselves on a winding, narrow, hilly, often one-lane road. What had been benignly described as a seventeen-mile drive took an hour, but they repeatedly assured one another it was worth it because they'd made advance arrangements to put their horses up for the night at a stable there.
"After arriving, weary and hungry, we looked around and saw only one place for horses, a 100 acre field occupied by several mares and a stallion and surrounded by barbed wire," Alice wrote.
"Just turn them in with ours for the night," the owner told them. "They'll be fine and will follow our horses down for grain in the morning."
Alice's unspoken answer was short: No way!
Her eyes came to rest on a smaller fenced area, sixteen-feet-square and containing the remnants of the previous winter's firewood.
"Sure, help yourself" was the answer to her next question, and Alice and Ceci set about gathering wood and other odds and ends. Bone tired by the time the pen was cleaned to their satisfaction, they put their horses inside and tied a makeshift gate in place with the lead lines from their halters.
The "guest room" they'd reserved on the same ranch was a rustic, fifty-year-old log cabin, without a bathroom.
"Showers and toilets are in a building at the end of that path," the owner told them pointing. "You're welcome to use them for an extra two dollars."
"Events were starting to remind me of the movie Deliverance," Alice wrote in her trip diary.
"I think we're in the boondocks," Ceci said with a laugh as the two of them unrolled their sleeping bags across the tops of their beds' creaky, bare springs.
"Nonetheless, it was worth it," Alice wrote. "We fell asleep secure in the knowledge that our beloved horses were safe and comfortable for the night."
Just before dawn snorting sounds awakened them.
"I had seen my first groundhogs the night before and thought they must be responsible for the pig-like noises," Alice wrote later. "Ceci knew better and, after a quick peek through the window, told me to get dressed as fast as I could."
Wordlessly and half-asleep, the two pulled on their jeans and rushed out the door. The ranch stallion and some of his mares had escaped from their enclosure and were milling around the old firewood storage area, spoiling for a fight with Soliviar and Ceci's mare, Sonica.
"It took Ceci and I about an hour to tempt them back where they belonged with the help of some hay we slid out of the barn," was how Alice described it. "During all that time, no one showed up to help."
The two were still tired, but after their scare, getting more sleep was out of the question, so they loaded up and got an early start.
Eighty-five miles short of their destination, a passing storm forced Alice and Ceci to pull off the highway. Thunder, lightening, rain and hail were the leading edge of the storm that would eventually turn that meadow into a death trap. At the time, though, it seemed like no more than a temporary inconvenience.
In the bottom of a deep canyon, the pavement ended at the foot of a long, steep climb up the other side. The earlier storm had left the unsurfaced road a greasy, sloppy mess. Alice and Ceci seriously considered unloading the horses and waiting for the road to dry out, but Alice decided to press on in 4-wheel drive and low gear. Slowly but steadily, her truck crept up the grade, pulling its heavy load.
At the gate of the ranch that was the staging area for the ride, they parked the rig on the first level ground they'd seen in two days, anxious to unload their horses and meet their host and fellow riders. The trailer's door was jammed shut. It was a sign, but they ignored it by scraping and hosing the mud away so the door could be opened.
Later, when Alice and Ceci checked the horses after feeding and watering them, Ceci's mare had a mild case of colic. This they treated with an oil drench and a lot of walking. Worried about a recurrence, they checked the mare periodically throughout the night. At dawn, she was feeling fine, eating well and ready to go.
The guest's horses were put in a corral that could only be reached through another corral; and during the night, a band of half-wild mares and foals were run into the outer corral. By the time Alice, Ceci and two other guests were ready to saddle up, the new occupants had churned the ground until the muck was slippery and deep. While four of the guest horses -- including the two Peruvians -- were being carefully led through the slippery mess, the band of mares suddenly launched a pre-emptive strike to "protect" their foals.
One big mare charged, wheeled and pounded 2 well-aimed kicks into Soliviar's flank, tearing the hide and marking him with angry-looking welts.
What next? Alice wondered angrily as she tended to his wounds before Soliviar was groomed and his tack tightened in place. Soon, though, she was humming to herself. The worst was behind and they were about to start the eight-hour ride to the first camp. Alice had been looking forward to this for weeks, and she wasn't going to let a few minor setbacks ruin it.
Things started well. The country was beautiful and the company good. Aside from the guide, there were four women and three men, and everyone meshed well.
Alice and Ceci had chosen this ride over the Great Cariboo Trail Ride because it was restricted to gaited horses, meaning they wouldn't have to keep their Peruvians in check to match the slower walk of trotting horses.
Many a great-sounding theory breaks down in actual practice, and this was one of them. Soon the Peruvians had outdistanced their companions, forcing Alice and Ceci to slow their pace.
Then the rains came! An unusually wet spring was turning into an equally soggy summer, and soon the going became difficult.
"Now the other horses left us behind," Alice wrote in her trip diary. "They had larger hooves, a big advantage in the wet, boggy area where we found ourselves."
That day's lunch stop was a small cabin in the woods. Steaming horses were tied to trees and left standing in the cold rain and wind. Alice found it hard to enjoy lunch under those circumstances.
"I had packed grain and carrots for Soliviar and Ceci's horse," Alice wrote, "so at least they got something to eat."
Lunch was two slices of very good bread, a smokie and an apple (which the horses got) but nothing to drink. Concerned about their shivering horses, Alice and Ceci ate quickly. Then they dedicated the remainder of the lunch break to rubbing their shivering horses' legs back to life. The guide's big Rhodesian Ridgeback dog came close and watched, looking hopeful.
The afternoon's route took them along a creek and around a lake, still in the rain.
"Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink," Alice wrote.
Despite the intense cold, the dry lunch had left her and Ceci thirsty. No beverage was provided because the riders were expected to drink from a nearby creek. Having been warned of the danger of Giardia (commonly called "Beaver Fever"), Alice and Ceci decided to go thirsty until they could get boiled water or juice. Most of the other riders took their chances and drank from the creek.
For further information about Peruvian horses, visit the Internet Web Site of the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses at: http://www.aaobpph.org
NOTE: To be continued in next month's issue of Horse Previews Magazine.