Horsing Around: A Visit to a Peruvian Paso Ranch in Virginia
Despite growing up on a farm, I never thought I would need that knowledge for an academic career in anthropology, let alone as an intern at the Smithsonian. Two months into my three-month internship working on the 2015 Folklife Festival’s Peru program, the curators asked me to research options for bringing Peruvian animals to the National Mall. I was not only honored to have this responsibility but also excited to draw from my rural upbringing.
In addition to researching various alpaca farms throughout Maryland, I arranged a visit to a Virginian ranch that is home to some Peruvian Paso horses. This breed of horse is known for the delicate way they walk; their particular musculature allows them to move with great agility. We are told that the ride on a Peruvian Paso is so smooth that you could “text and ride” no problem—although definitely not encouraged.
The story of the Peruvian Pasos begins with the arrival of the Spanish to South America. Because the conquistadors arrived on the coast of Peru, their horses had to adapt to walking in the sand. When horses developed into a status symbol in Peru, their agility became even more desired. You can’t train just any old horse to perform like a Peruvian Paso—it’s in their blood.
Because of their graceful movements, Peruvian Pasos have been integrated into routines of the national dance of Peru, the Marinera. This couples dance thrives on its romantic performance. In one routine, while the woman is on the ground dancing barefoot—yes, barefoot—the man is atop the horse taking on his role as “El Chalan,” or “the dandy.” The two “flirt” for the length of a song with the horse as an integral part of this interaction, circling around the woman, dancing as if of its own accord.
On our visit to the Rancho San Miguel de Aquia in Gainesville, we were greeted with Peruvian hospitality, coffee, ginger ale, and even turkey paninis for lunch. We learned a great deal about the history of the Peruvian Paso horses and personal history of the ranch owner, Wilde Moran, who grew up around horses on his father’s farm in Peru. He helped take care of them and knew he wanted to work with horses in the future. After traveling to the United States for their honeymoon, he and his wife decided to move here and establish their own ranch. His wife, believe it or not, was once scared of horses.
While Peruvian Pasos are symbols of social status and cultural heritage in Peru, Moran’s dedication to his horses clearly goes beyond these responsibilities. He treats them as if they were his own children: waking up at the break of dawn to head to the ranch to care for them all day. It was too cold to bring the horses out of their stables on the day we visited, but we did get to meet three Peruvian Pasos. Explosivo is Moran’s favorite. I was surprised to see how short they are compared to common breeds in the United States. Overall, it was a great day to escape the city and learn a bit of Peruvian equine culture.
We hope Moran and his horses can collaborate with our Marinera group at the Folklife Festival to exhibit both formal and informal dance performances. We expect the Peruvian Paso horses will be a huge hit with our visitors, from the United States and Peru.
Caity Huffman is an intern on the Perú: Pachamama program. She hails from Michigan, does not understand the logic behind how they handle winter weather in D.C., and is a self-proclaimed expert alpaca-wrangler.