Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hacienda Los Ficus - Peruvian Paso Horses

We turned off the highway and headed down a dirt road. There were small houses along the road, surrounded by walls, with the occasional store-looking building. And by store-looking building, I mean a small house with a sign stating they sold food or ice cream, etc.

When we arrived at Hacienda Los Ficus, we were greeted by two women the proper Peruvian way, with a kiss on the cheek. We walked up through a beautiful archway and through a gorgeous space shaded by overhanging trees. The farm was beautiful. There was a huge lush green lawn with horse stables to one side, and small buildings to the other. There was a shaded patio with lounge furniture and beautiful flowers creating a roof and cascading off light trellises and around columns.

As we made our way onto the patio, an older woman offered us small boiled potatoes with a cheese sauce, and pisco sours. Drinks in hand, we wandered back through the archway and out towards the fields and gardens. The garden contains over 40 kinds of lettuce complimented by various herbs. There was lemongrass, camomile, arugula... dozens of varieties. Organic and watered with on-site well water, the owners use the garden to provide a daily supply of organic and safe lettuces and herbs to their restaurant in town.

Back on the patio, we settled in to learn about Pasos and see them strut their stuff. One of our guides explained the history of the breed, and the three stages of training they go through. This particular Hacienda has been breeding Pasos for generations. After she explained each stage, a horse in that particular stage was brought out onto the lawn for show. The horses are both trained and bred with great patience and care. A horse that is not naturally gaited or is of poor disposition isn't used for breeding. The three stages of training can take several years; a horse may not see a bit for 3 to 4 years. We saw horses in all three stages of training, from just a rope to a fully saddled horse with a rider.

After the explanation and show of training, we were privileged to watch a traditional peruvian dance - the Marinara. A beautiful young girl in a flowing colored dress danced demurely around the lawn, teasing and flirting with the rider on the horse. In turn, the rider chased the proverbial skirt, moving in and out and around as she danced. It was a captivating thing to watch.

Following the dance, the show ended with a group of fully trained horses parading around the lawn. The skill of both the horses and riders was incredible - the horses rode within inches of each other, completing figure eights and circles. When they had completed their parade, we were invited to ride the horses.

I haven't ridden a horse in a decade, but I was eager to give it a try! It was such fun! It only took a minute to feel at ease - the horse was very gentle and easygoing. A man led me around the yard for a few minutes, and when I asked to go faster, he let go and told me I could. My horse and I sped up slightly and trotted around the yard. With the wind in my hair and the warm sunshine, I felt like I should be flying down a beach of white sand, under a clear blue sky. It was a pleasure to ride the horse - it was certainly less bumpy than I recalled riding a horse to be.

We enjoyed a glass of Peruvian wine and a delicious lunch of fresh lettuce and herbs, chicken, potatoes, rice, and beans. The food was excellent, varied and healthy. To compliment the meal, we were served fresh mango and a variety of ice creams for dessert.

There were several other horses on the farm, including three baby horses - one only a week old. We wandered around in the hot sunshine, visiting horses and chickens. All of the horse pens have chickens in them, both for practicality and to keep the horses company.

The filling meal and the warm weather had made us all quite sleepy, though we were certainly enjoying the beauty of the farm. It was odd to be seated on a shaded patio, surrounded by lush green and flowers, and to look up and see the surrounding dirt mountains. It felt quite out of place, as if we were part of a mirage.
As we said goodbye to the arch of overhanging trees, the lush green grass, and the calm and peace of the farm, I found myself wishing I could sit up against one of the big clay pots and nap, or read a book. We climbed back into the van, and made our way through the winding dirt roads and back into the highway towards Lima.

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