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The American Bashkir Curly: Riding the Curl

An Old Surfer Term Is Coming to Refer to this Still Relatively Rare Breed!

The American Bashkir Curly (ABC) Registry opened in 1971 at Sunny Martin's place in Ely, Nevada, with twenty horses. Now there are close to seven hundred registered Curlies, with the 1988 crop of some 100-120 foals not yet registered and counted in. The figures are approximate, because the numbers keep changing, as new registrations come in, horses are bought and sold, and horses die.

California boasts the most Curlies with 85, Washington State runs a close second with 81, Missouri has 73, Nevada has 69, and Oregon has 36. South Dakota has 15, Kansas and Colorado each have 8, North Dakota has 7, Oklahoma has 6, Texas has 6, New Mexico and Wyoming each have 4, Utah has 3, and Minnesota has 2. Over two-thirds of the Curlies are at home on the range, or on the farm or in the backyard, in the Western states, but Curly lovers east of the Mississippi, with a big boost from the Eastern States Curly Club, are playing catch-up. At last count, there were 230 Curlies east of the Mississippi and 460 west.

Right now, Kentucky is home to 36 Curlies, Indiana has 24, Pennsylvania has 18. Curlies are found in most of the other eastern states as well, with breeders in North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New York, Mississippi, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky.

There are 250 registered stallions in the USA. Of those, eighty percent are under 10 years of age, fifty percent were born in the last five years, with sixty standing at stud. The ten top producing stallions are Prince Charming with 32 registered get; Walker's Prince T (who just died) with 31; Colonel Austin, 24; Peacock D, 22; Pat's Diamond Chip, 19; Dixie D, 17; the Red Baron, 15; Peter J, 14; Spotted Cossack, 11; and Xanadu with 10.

There are not very many geldings, but several owners are having their stud colts and even some of their mature stallions gelded, keeping just the outstanding prospects for sale or for breeding.

"There are quite a few stallions for sale, but people unfamiliar with the breed are understandingly hesitant to take one on. It's tough making that decision to geld a Curly, because the stallions are so easy to handle. But few riding clubs allow stallions on the trail, which limits their usefulness. Anyhow, the country needs more Curly geldings. They are perhaps the best ambassadors of all for the breed. My own gelding, KZ, is a great advertisement every time I head him out across the fields or into the woods for another trail ride, " says Jay Hensley, a Kentucky breeder.

Photo Sidebar: Ruffen Red Dee, just two days old in this picture, foaled in March, 1988 and is owned by Linda Strickland of Sunman, Indiana.

As for color, thirty-eight percent are sorrel or chestnut, fifteen percent are bay, ten percent are buckskin, eight percent are palomino. There's a good sprinkling of Appaloosa Curlies, a few pintos, and a smattering of other colors, too. You name it, and some Curly somewhere has probably got it.

"You can trail ride Curlies, work them, hitch them up to a buggy, condition them for endurance competition, train and show them for dressage, jumping, and other horse show events. They've already given a good account of themselves in all these categories.

"If you'd like to buy a young filly or stud colt, breed to or buy a stallion, chances are good you can probably find one not too far away. (Until the Registry closes, if your straight-haired non-Curly drops a Curly foal from a Curly stallion, you can even ABC register it.) There are even a few seasoned brood mares for sale right now."

Both the ABC Registry and the Eastern States Curly Club can supply the names of stallions at stud in your area and Curlies for sale. Just write to them at the following addresses and be sure to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope and $1: ABC Registry, Dept. HH, Box 453, Ely, Nevada 89302 or the Eastern States Curly Club, Dept HH, Rt. 1 Box 44, Sunman, IN 47041.

"The best way to buy Curlies is from owners and breeders. Some lucky people have found Curlies at a horse auction for just a few hundred dollars, a bargain indeed. But buyer beware! Not all curly-coated horses are the real thing," Jay Hensley warns.

Photo Sidebar: Johnny Come Lately smacks owner Rollie Newman with a smooch. Newman says that, "Love is owning a Curly horse."

According to a warning issued by ABC Registry secretary Sunny Martin, a small number of horses have a pituitary glad problem that causes their hair to appear quite curly. These unfortunate horses have given Curlies some undeserved bad publicity.

Here's how to tell the difference: American Bashkir Curlies have a thick, soft, long curly coat in winter, while the problem horses have rather short, dry hair that turns up. Curlies shed their curls in summer, while those with a glandular problem tend to keep their unusual coat. So, be wary of horses that are as curly in the heat of summertime as they are in winter. (Many Curlies do keep their fleecy foal coat through the summer, but not so the adults unless they are in a wet, cool, summer climate.)

Curlies also have a thick hide, more like a cow that a horse. In contrast, horses with a pituitary problem have a skin almost paper-thin that tears easily and seems to have a jelly-like substance under it. Consequently, these horses look as if they've been chewed on, as they have skinned and scratched places all over them where there is no hair. Curlies also have tough hooves and rarely need to be shod. Problem horses tend to have shelly feet.

There does not seem to be any cure for the horses with a pituitary gland problem and many of them end up at the auction.

"Curly-haired horses? Gentle stallions? Extremely people-oriented? Easy keeper? Girl, you really bought the sales hype this time. Those were private thoughts as I listened to my girlfriend, Sharon Williams, babble and rave about her horse discovery."

Tongue-in-cheek, Glen Conley of Williamsburg, Indiana, accepted her invitation to attend the first Eastern States Curly Club mini-convention at Strickland Farm in Sunman, Indiana, in 1986.

Photo Sidebar: Add Colonel's Buff Penny to the growing list of American Bashkir Curly horses.

"Strickland Farm also owned the stallion to which Sharon had just bred one of her Appaloosa mares. When I learned this stallion came in off a Bureau of Land Management round up, I was really anxious to see how badly she had been suckered.

"The eventful day arrived, and when the curly-haired stallion, the Red Baron, came loping up to meet visitors, I was dumbfounded. My mental image of wild horses had just been shot down. This was a real horse! He had eye appeal, he was sound, he was muscular, he had charisma, he was gentle, and he had curly hair! Somehow, I just couldn't accept the fact that he was a wild horse. I wasn't going to get snicker all the way home," Conley recalls.

"I might casually mention that I am now very actively involved in a Curly horse breeding operation. Don't laugh."

Conley and Sharon Williams became obsessed with wanting to know how Curlies came to be; where they came from. What was in print had too many holes in the theory. Volumes of European and American horse books were pored over, looking for any hint of a sound lead to indicate origin. Dozens upon dozens of long-distance phone calls were made to anyone they thought could give sound evidence. They found other obsessed individuals looking for the same answers. Research is nowhere near complete, but some major findings have been unearthed.

Curly-haired horses are found among several breeds. Missouri Fix Trotters sport a line of curly-haired horses, a different physical type, but with comparable dispositions. Isolated Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota ranchers have been breeding Curlies for many years. It seems that each group had been perpetuating the breed with little or no knowledge of each other's activities.

Nevada has Curlies in the feral herds. The origin of this family of horses is as yet unknown, but undeveloped leads have been established. Domestic Curly stock from the Nevada feral herds has been perpetuated for over half a century. Serious Nevada breeders are responsible for putting the rare Curlies on the national map.

Wyoming's division of the BLM Adopt-A-Horse program has placed a guesstimate of 200 Curlies since the inception of the program. These horses came from the Rock Springs area.

The origin of the Rock Springs Curlies traces back to one prepotent stallion owned by the late Isaac "Ike" W. Brooks. The stallion was known as the Laramie Stud. The horse was acquired from a Laramie, Wyoming, horse traded by the name of George Fawcett between 1942-45. Where this stallion came from is unknown.

The Laramie Stud was allowed to run with various bands of mares until his death at the estimated age of 18. On open range he bred Morgans, Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walkers, and existing "wild horses." Ike Brooks also had bred Curly get to Arabians and Belgians.

Another significant prepotent stallion from this family was a son of the Laramie Stud. Owned by John Kappes, Rocket was bred judiciously until the horse was retired to open range in 1974. Rocket served John for fifteen years as a working stock horse, doubling as a show horse in Western pleasure and reining events. Get out of both these stallions were used to as working stock horses.

Strickland Farm's foundation stallion, the Red Baron, came from a Rock Springs round up. Strickland Farm since has acquired more horses from the Rock Springs genetic pool.

Photo Sidebar: One-year-old filly Kara is owned by Bob and Carla Kruckenberg of Ridge, Illinois. She's light brown, white.

A 77-year-old South Dakota Horse rancher provided one of the hottest tips on origin. He claimed South Dakota rancher and Curly breeder Slim Berndt had acquired his original Curlies from a North Dakota Sioux, Eli Bad Warrior, in 1933. Eli Bad Warrior's stock was believed to have been handed down from his father. The rancher emphatically insisted the Indians had Curlies for years before the white man became interested.

Sharon Williams already had located a painting by Sioux Chief Red Cloud that depicted a Curly horse in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Red Cloud was a Little Big Horn survivor.

Photo Sidebar: Eight days after first seeing them in the wild, Gayle Sharp, of Union, West Virginia, latched on to these Curlies. Even in "wild" BLM land, these Curlies are quite tame.

Photo Sidebar: Benny Damele rides his trust Curly, Shoshone. Horse looks fresh despite full morning of branding calves. Curlies' origins can be traced back to Crow Indians.

"We had correlated Sioux Indian migrations and the appearance of feral Curly herds on Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Alberta, Canada, but what we had been searching for was a Nez Perce connection because of recessive curly genes in Appaloosas," Conley reports.

The Sioux/Curly connection information was passed on to Ken Budney, Curly horse breeder and Sioux Indian historian, in Bridgewater, Michigan. He located documentation showing the Sioux to have had Curlies in 1802. Documentation indicated the Sioux had acquired Curlies from the Crow tribe.

Origin of Curlies in North America is still unknown. It is possible they came in riding on the chromosomes of their ancestors. It is possible the original stock came from Russia. It is possible their ancestors trekked from South American. And it is also possible, and probably, the Curly is a mutated breed developed on American soil.

"Horses in North America are a recent occurrence by historical standards. The answers to the missing links are out there somewhere and someone surely knows how to come up with those answers. I urge anyone interested in researching Curlies to join in. Curlies have also been referred to as burned, singed, and woolly. Send new finds to Glen Conley, PO Box 131, Fountain City, Indiana 47341."

"I had my first experience with Bashkir Curly horses last October. I had read about the breed and was interested. So, when I had the chance to adopt four wild horses, all Curlies from the BLM in Wyoming, I didn't hesitate," reports Gayle Sharp at Seneca Trails Curlies in Union, Wyoming.

"The horses ranged in age from a yearling filly to a 3-year-old stallion. All were terrified of anyone getting close to them.

"After only eight days' work, about two days per horse, I walked into the corral where the horses were running loose, caught each horse and led all four, together, to get them posed for a picture. The hardest part was that one mare insisted on putting her nose up to the camera. We couldn't keep her far enough away to snap the picture.

"Since then I have acquired five more Curlies, including one 11-year-old wild stallion from the BLM. Even he is gentling down nicely. Without hesitation I would say that a typical Curly is friendlier and calmer than your average horse, even a horse with a good disposition. There really does seem to be a difference."

Photo Sidebar: Shiloh's Bronco Billy appears ready for a bedtime stop atop Dale Woolly's lap. Woolly, of Hasting, Michigan, said the 1.5-year-old still tries to sit on him.

When the dressage judge said, "He's too cute," Spartacus just cocked an ear and tossed a curl, a slight frown on his sloe-eyed countenance. Although standing just over 15 hands and still growing, this stud of five years thinks he's tall and handsome. One can tell by his macho manner and elegance of movement as he passes that winsome mare on his way to the ring.

"We are hoping more of his breed will join him in the dressage ring. The American Bashkir Curly Registry became a member of the All Breeds Council of the United States Dressage Federation this year and, so far, Sparky is the only representative.

"The Bashkir's heavy bone, short back, and high head carriage, plus forward way of going seems beneficial in helping him perform the required movements. In total length, the hind legs are a bit longer and more angulated. These characteristics make these horses suitable for competitive dressage. While watching a clinic on first-year training for the Western horse, I was struck by the many similar techniques. Dressage is a great beginning for any type of riding," comments Sandy Hendrickson of Greycoat Farms in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"'Strong enough for a man, gentle enough for a child.' The breed's motto is apt. When I read the literature supplied at the Hoosier Horse Fair, I saw the statement, 'They rarely spook, preferring to stand their ground when frightened.' I wanted one. Several recent leg fractures, plus a hip prosthesis had taken away some of my leave-it-to-chance attitude.

"My first Curly mare, 18-year-old Hedge's Dolly, from North Dakota, was a rawboned, squared-off buckskin with a leg coming out of each corner. But each corner and every part of that mare gave the most responsive ride. She was a thinking horse that would carry you safely and wisely past any noisy, loud, flapping contraption, up any hill and across any creek, turn on a dime if needed, but never unpredictable.

"My herd now numbers eleven and continues growing. Although the Registry stresses temperament, I like to combine that with that interesting Trojan war horse type conformation. It has taken me thirty years to have found the right breed. Those warm nudges and soft blowing through those velvety nostrils as I stand by the fence have me convinced. Give these horses the proper beginnings, such good training, firm loving kindness, as well as lessons for the rider, and mom and dad can feel more relaxed about that young rider," Sandy Hendrickson says.

The dressage judge said, "How steady," as she watched Spartacus entering the ring with strong, cadenced trot and crested head set, carrying his rider with balance precision. He seems to be listening. Does he hear the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom as the Sioux Indians ride his ancestors victoriously home after performing coup along Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota?

Does that blood in his veins carry the memories of intricate footwork and responsive leg yields necessary in battle or the long buffalo hunts? His proud neck curves and ears move as he feels as one with his rider. Does he imagine the rhythmic swish of a tomahawk hanging at the waist of the erect, red-skinned rider of yesteryear? Perhaps the luminescence of his eye reflects the remembered warm glow of the campfires at the trail's end and the welcoming nicker of that special mare from the center of the herd of Curlies that were prized and kept separate by the Indians.

The test ends as the horse comes to a square halt and the rider salutes. As Nicole Michna, the rider and trainer, starts to leave the ring, the judge steps out of her booth, asking, "You have a very nice horse, but what kind is it?" It happens every time.

There is one other facet about the Curly that receives little mention. The breed appears to be nonallergenic. It cannot affect allergies as happens with most horses.

Janis Parks of Greensboro, North Carolina, is the one who discovered this. "That's one of the reasons we got them," she said. She also owns several Quarter Horses, but her husband can't ride them because of an allergy.

"I love to ride," Herb parks says, "but when I get around horses, I get red blotches on my skin and I'm itching in fifteen minutes."

Another look at Velvet's Red Riches, enjoying a little grooming. This Curly was purchased as a weanling for $2,500. His sire, Red Baron, lived in a wild horse herd.

He first heard of the nonallergenic horse during a visit to Lexington, Kentucky, and, by his own admission, "I thought it was a crock."

However, on Christmas morning, 1986, he found three Curlies on his lawn. His wife had bought them as a present.

Wilmore, Kentucky's Jay Hensley takes her first ride aboard her Velvet's Red Riches, a two-year-old Curly stallion.

"I jumped on the back of one and rode all around," Parks recalls. "It was cold, and, when I went in the house, I waited for the symptoms to come up, but there was no itching, no sneezing, no runny eyes. I let the Curlies rub all over me and there was not a bit of a problem."

John Nonecker, a North Carolina veterinarian, says that, so far, there seems to be only anecdotal evidence that the American Bashkir Curl is nonallergenic.

"We're trying to do some credible research," he reports. "There are large numbers of people who are allergic to horses and it would be worthwhile to find out."

From Horse & Horseman 1988.

 

 

Tamea C. Denault

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Tamea C. Denault is the founder of Dreamswept Farm and coach of the MountainWind Vaulters in Kettle Falls, WA. She is a certified CHA multi-discipline riding instructor. While earning her degree in psychology and education at Mt. Holyoke College, she also learned vaulting and has continued vaulting and coaching ever since. More...