MANKATO, Minn. – Just north of Mankato and off a Union Pacific changing station, a Minnesota family has been following their passion. The Austin family has been raising Peruvian horses for over 20 years – breeding, training, showing and selling these very unique animals.

“Railview Peruvians was established in 1996,” said Chris Austin. “We breed and sell Peruvian horses and we also have a few boarders. The Peruvian horse is a gaited horse.”

Chris’s parents, Lynn and Darla, first started Railview Peruvians, but it has quickly become a family operation with their children, Chris and Danielle, getting involved. Now, Chris’s wife, Aura, and their two daughters, Kaia and Chiara, are active in Peruvian horses, as well as Danielle and her children, Tanner and Hailey.

“What I appreciate most about our participation with Peruvian horses is that our whole family does it,” Chris said. “We get to do it as a family. We own 12 Peruvians at the moment and then we have four additional horses we are boarding.”

Worldwide, there are about 25,000 Peruvian horses with about 5,000 in the United States.

Originating from Peru, Peruvian horses are very sure-footed animals with a desire to please their riders.

“They were used as a mode of transportation, so not only was smoothness important when they were breeding the horses, but temperament was just as important,” Chris said. “What they produced is a horse that has a term that we call ‘brio,” which is best defined as a willingness to please.”

The unique trait of the Peruvian is its natural gait. This horse does not trot like a Quarter Horse or an Arabian. The gait is 100 percent natural and no special training is required. Peruvians, unlike other gaited breeds, can guarantee the gait to be passed along to their offspring 100 percent of the time.

“As soon as they stand, one to two hours (after birth), they are moving with this gait right next to mom,” he said. “There’s no artificial things that we use to make them move that way. It is 100 percent natural.”

“In the showring, they have to be barefoot, there are no shoes allowed to ensure that the natural gait of the horse is judged,” Darla added.

The naturally smooth step of this breed means the rider is not bouncing in the saddle. The horse kind of steps out with an outward swimming motion with the front feet called “termino.”

This motion makes them an excellent horse for people with back or hip problems or other physical issues that cause them pain while riding.

“We have a good friend north of the Twin Cities who was told that she can never ride again by her doctor,” Chris said. “She found the Peruvian horse and now she owns five or six of them. She rides with no pain and it amazes her doctor. You just don't have that jarring action.”

Their smooth gait and excellent temperament make the Peruvian a great therapy horse.

Over the years, Railview and the Austins have invited Mankato’s local pediatric therapy clinic out to the farm to use their horses in the clinic’s therapy programs. The family is amazed at the difference the horses make in the children who participate in the therapy program.

For the Austins, one of their top show horses is also their best trail horse, and that same horse does extremely well in these therapy sessions.

“It’s a testament to the Peruvian horse that the same horse that is a national champion is the same horse we use for a therapeutic rider,” Chris said.