WHEN the Peruvian Paso is trotting, its head stays fixed in one place, its front hooves coming up high like the marching of a soldier, tossing the soft sand beneath its hooves lightly into the air.It is a proud creature, adorned with artistic and complicated saddles, an animal that has made a massive impression on the horse-breeder and -collector communities in Latin America for centuries.The magnificent horses brought together breeders and collectors from throughout Central and South America last month, at an event hosted by Frances Givens and Howard Solomon to inaugurate their ranch, Quinta Salitral, in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, and to kick off a drive to reinvigorate the Peruvian Paso association in the country.“THIS is the fun thing,” Givens said as she looked across her 8,000-square-meter ranch to the small groups of people spread throughout the hillside estate, talking, laughing and admiring the 11 horses brought to the event. “This is what we want to create.”Mark Washburn, a businessman from the United States who has lived in Costa Rica for the past 18 years, slowly chewed on an unlit cigar as he watched Givens and other riders galloping by, showcasing the animals.“I used to have a bunch of horses,” Washburn said, adding that while he admires the Pasos, he prefers the smaller U.S. quarter horses. “I never really got away from the whole horse-riding thing. You go through your modes.”“Horse people are just a whole different breed,” he said. “I think that no matter what country they’re from, they’re all the same – very down to earth.”ALSO among the 50 guests at the event was José Domingo Bolaños, horse breeder and brother of Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños.“I compete and ride all types of horses in Nicaragua,” Bolaños said. He has been involved in Latin American-Iberian horse breeding in Nicaragua since the 1960s.“It’s the feel of their strength, like wood, like a tree,” he said, describing the differences between the Peruvian Paso and other horses. “They like people. They have a way of moving strongly and proudly ahead.”The movement and style of the Paso’s traditional and unique form of trot has garnered it much praise in horse-collecting circles.“To get from point A to point B, there are fewer beats (steps) with the Paso,” said Nubia Smith-Vaughan, who, along with husband Thomas Vaughan, owns the Vaughan Breeders stable and several Pasos in Nicaragua. “The fewer beats you have, the better,” she said, pointing out the increase of efficiency.“If it’s an efficient horse, its hoof from the back will make a mark past its front hoof marks,” she explained.IT’S not just the amount of ground covered in a certain period of time that lends so much elegance to the Paso. As its front hooves leap high into the air, they make a subtle, swimming motion called término in Spanish, in which the horse appears to flick its hooves outward at the peak of its stride.Aside from its elegance and style, the Paso is unique in the way it forms relationships with its riders, according to Smith-Vaughan.“You create a bond with the horse you ride – it’s amazing,” she said. “If you have the luck of finding the horse that has the brillo, the heart, it’s like riding a volcano.”DESPITE the popularity of the Peruvian Paso, Costa Rica has a relatively small official organization of collectors and breeders in comparison with other Latin American countries, according to Givens.“In every other country, the horse has stuck (in popularity), but here we just aren’t doing it,” Givens said. “Our main goal is to reinvigorate and kick off the association drive.”The national Peruvian horse organizations in every Central American country except Costa Rica have rosters of about 25-30 members, Givens said.Having an organized association is important to horse owners looking to participate in yearly competitions, as it allows for more serious consideration by contest officials deciding acceptance.“We need to have an official event in which a horse wins a class among other Costa Rican horses,” Givens said, when asked how to instill more confidence among horse judges in the quality of Costa Rican Pasos. “Then (at international competitions) people can look and say, ‘Wow, look at what Costa Rica has.’” A legal Paso association exists in Costa Rica but is currently nothing more than a loose confederation of a few scattered owners, Givens said.AS a band played up-tempo Peruvian music, complete with a pan flute that echoed off the green hills surrounding the ranch, Givens smiled, looking at the horses in her stables.“It’s a noble, antique breed,” she said, standing in a traditional Peruvian white poncho and khaki riding hat in front of the stall of Oro Negro, a stallion owned by Eric Koberg, a Paso collector from Costa Rica. “Anyone interested in the proudest and smoothest riding breed (of horses) in the western hemisphere should look into the Paso,” Givens said.For information on Pasos or joining the Paso association here, call Givens or Solomon at 203-6131.