Most people don’t know horses are not native to Peru. That’s probably because horseback riding in the Andean highlands has got to be one of the world’s greatest adventures!
By Carla Bragagnini
Did you know that Peru is famous for its caballo de paso: a breed of horse with Spanish and Moorish royal lineage? Horses are, of course, not native to Peru – they arrived along with the Spanish conquest. Interestingly, the Incas had never seen horses before, and it’s said that this new creature both intrigued and terrified them.
It’s also widely believed that horses were pivotal in helping the Spanish conquistadors invade and conquer the region, as they could travel and dominate with more force and greater ease. After Peru’s colonization by Spain in 1533, horses were bred on the continent and used for transportation.
Centuries later, a strong breed was created, which thrived for use on farms, or haciendas. During Peru’s agrarian reform during the military regime of the 1960s, lands were confiscated by the government with the aim of mass redistribution (a messy situation, with pro and con debates on its effectiveness on both sides), and the paso horses were exported and started declining in numbers nationally. Luckily, in recent decades, increasing their numbers became a priority in Peru, and they were given official “Cultural Heritage” status, ensuring their protection.
Paso competitions and shows take place in Pachacamac and Trujillo every year. In fact, the elegant horse is said to have the smoothest gait in the world! I highly recommend you not miss the opportunity to saddle up on one while you’re in Peru – you’ll find them at various stables across the country, but particularly ones in the Sacred Valley and Pisco. I guarantee the whole experience, like their gait, will go down very smoothly.
Trujillo offers opportunities to ride a horse to nearby beaches, to the archaeological site of Chan Chan, and to the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. I don’t know about you, but riding a horse to the ruins of an ancient city and civilization has garnered a spot on my bucket list.
The terrain of Peru makes it favourable for not just paso horse rides, but horseback riding of any kind in many locations. Besides the Sacred Valley, the rolling hills outside of Cajamarca, the alpine lakes and ruins at the foot of the towering Andes outside of Huaraz (near Callejon de Huaylas), and the plunging canyon country of Colca in southern Peru, provide terrific backgrounds on day- or multi-day horseback excursions across the highlands. In probably the most romantic setting that comes to mind, you can also ride horses along the north coast beaches.
Mancora makes for an especially idyllic location – it will be hard to do it at sunset without shedding a tear! Inland, the Huaringas Sacred Lagoon offers riding excursions (and they’re not to be outdone by the mystical healing and shamanism that characterize the area).
When partaking in guided multi-day hikes in the Andes, some options are horse-supported, like the treks to Choquequirao (known as “Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sister City”) or Mount Ausangate. People have been known to suffer from altitude on these treks.
Even if the hike doesn’t count on horses, for notoriously difficult stretches of popular treks (for example, the grueling Day Two of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu), some organizers may have contact with locals who can provide horseback-riding options (or even rescues, if need be!). And kudos to anyone who is able to ride a horse while dealing with a bout of altitude sickness. You are my hero.
- Carla Bragagnini, a Peruvian-Canadian, is associate editor for infromtheoutpost.com Peru