Horse Breeds Native to South America
South America has a number of indigenous horse breeds. This is not surprising considering its size and the diversity of its climatic and geographic regions. However, all have Iberian backgrounds. The different regions of South America were geographically isolated and the wonderful qualities of the South American breeds were unknown to the general public for many years.
The first horses brought to the area came with Christopher Columbus and the conquistadores after the Spanish Revolution. Barbs, Spanish jennets and Andalusians feature in the pedigrees of most of the South American breeds. The Spanish jennet was a small horse which had, in addition to walk, trot and canter, an ambling gait which has since been inherited by some of the breeds.
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The Peruvian Paso and the Paso Fino are closely related having the same foundation stock ie Spanish jennet, Barb and Andalusian. Because of the differing climate and terrain, the two breeds have developed independently. Both are gaited horses but the gaits differ somewhat between the breeds.
The Peruvian Paso stands between 14hh and 15.2hh and has a classy elegance. It is comfortable at high altitudes and copes well with low oxygen levels. It has an inborn ability to traverse shale slopes, deep water and steep inclines.
The Peruvian Paso ambles in a kind of broken 'pacing'. This is a four beat lateral gait – near hind, near fore, off hind, off fore. There are two variations: the first is the paso castellano (abbreviated to paso llano) where the beats are equal and the rhythm even. The other is the sobreandando which is faster. Breeders declare that 100% of Peruvian Pasos inherit these gaits and young foals will display these gaits perfectly as they move beside their mothers.
The Paso Fino has the same origins as the Peruvian Paso. The Paso Fino is somewhat smaller and finer than the Peruvian Paso. There are three main gaits - paso fino, paso corto and paso largo. The paso fino is a highly collected, elegant and rapid gait. At its best, the extremely rapid footfalls sound like a drum roll. Movement forward is at a very slow rate.
The paso corto is about the same speed as a trot but much smoother. It is ideal for those with bad backs or knees.
The paso largo is a fast, lateral, four-beat pace. Speeds equivalent to the canter can be reached. There is a distinct extension in stride. Speeds reaching 25 to 30 mph may be attained.
Good flexion of the hocks and great impulsion are necessary for the gaits to be performed properly.
The Argentinian Criollo is highly renowned for its stamina and hardiness. It is arguably the best endurance horse in the world after the Arabian and may even be a better mount over long distances and long time periods due to its low basal metabolism. It is well known for producing exceptional polo ponies when crossed with the thoroughbred. It shows its ancient origins in many individuals by its dun colour, complete with eel stripe and sometimes a stripe across the shoulders and zebra stripings on the legs. The Highland and Exmoor are other breeds which display these markings.
The Chilean horse is small with a maximum height of 14.2hh. Its main purpose today is as a rodeo horse. Chile's unique rodeo event involves two horses and riders pursuing a young heifer or steer round a semi-circular arena (medialuna) and attempting to pin it against a cushion on the wall of the arena. The event has been formalised from the days when vast herds of cattle were brought down from mountain grazing once a year and sorted into various categories.
The Chilean horse is strong and muscular but short, standing between 13.1hh and 14.2hh. It is South America's oldest registered horse breed and the oldest registered native American breed.
The Falabella horse lays claim to the title of being the smallest horse in the world. Surprisingly, for such a tiny horse, it has thoroughbred blood in its origins. The Falabella began when an Irish man named Patrick Newtall discovered some unusually small horses running with an Indian tribe's larger riding horses. Later thoroughbred, Shetland, Criollo and even Arabian blood was added. A good Falabella resembles a good thoroughbred. It should should not exceed 76cm in height. Most Falabellas are somewhat fragile. Falabellas breed true to type but inbreeding has resulted in a loss of vigour and a weak constitution. However, they do make lovely pets and can pull small vehicles.
The Mangalarga Marchador is endemic to Brazil. It is also Brazil's National Horse and one of South America's most popular and widespread breeds. The breed is a gaited horse and has a single Alter Real stallion as its foundation sire although other Andalusian and Alter Real blood was added later. It is a good quality, finely built, riding horse used extensively for stock work. It has phenomenal stamina and an excellent temperament.
The South American breeds are fast gaining popularity throughout the world as their good qualities become better recognised.