The Serology Lab at the University of California at Davis did blood typing on 200 curly horses, according to "Breeds of Livestock¾Bashkir Curly Horse," prepared by Oklahoma State University, and found no characteristics that would identify the Bashkir curly as a genetically distinct breed.
What the testing showed was that many breeds were involved in their development. "The rare and unusual variants that did emerge from this testing are found only in feral horses or those breeds based on feral herds. No single common blood marker was found."
"So there is nothing to show where they originated," Diane said. "All we know is that they have been in North America for at least 200 years."
Sandy Hengstler writes in the "History of the Curly Horse" that Sioux and Crow Indians had curly horses during the winter of 1801-02. They were recorded in a Sioux winter count kept by artist/historian Swift Dog, whose people now live on the Standing Rock/Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.
The Indians thought curly horses were medicine horses and prized them, Diane said.
In drawings made in 1881, Red Cloud, a Sioux chief, depicted curly-haired horses in his drawings of the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Members of the Damele family, which had a ranch near Eureka, Nevada, saw three horses with tight, curly ringlets in the Peter Hanson mountain range of central Nevada in 1898, according to the Oklahoma State University article.
Much of the Damele stock was killed during the harsh winter of 1932, Diane said. "Only the curly horses survived.
"And when they broke those curly horses to ride, they discovered they were easier to break, calmer, gentler, and tougher than their other horses."
The Dameles started breeding Curly horses for ranch work, she said. But a lot of people thought curly horses were defective and many were slaughtered. By 1971, they were on the federal endangered species list.
The American Bashkir Curly Registry was founded in 1971 to save the curlies that were left, and today curlies are no longer considered endangered.
The curly horses were called Bashkir curlies, Diane said, because everyone assumed they came to Nevada with the Bashkir Russians who worked in the mines.
But when relations with the Soviet Union warmed up enough for correspondence, the Americans learned there were no curly-haired Bashkir horses in Russia.
One origin theory is that the curly horse's ancestors crossed the land bridge with the ancient Indians who migrated to North America.
Sharon Williams, a breeder from Williamsburg, Indiana, retells on the Internet an Indian legend that curly horses first appeared to people as a group of "large, curly red dogs."
"Some time after the legend of the curly dogs," Williams writes, "it has been found that the curlies were described by the Native Americans as the 'horse before there were horses.' which would seem that the curlies were apparent prior to the arrival of the Spanish horses in North America."
But no fossil evidence has been found to support that theory.
There is also a theory that the curlies came to North America with the Spanish.
"The Portuguese had a curly horse that has become extinct in the last 100 years," Diane said.
But Europeans left no written account of curly horses in North America until a Jesuit priest described curly-haired Sioux horses in the 17th century.
"Perhaps it was a recessive gene that became dominant," Diane said. "Perhaps more than one gene is involved."
Two curly horses can produce either a curly foal or a straight-haired foal, she said. Two straight-haired horses occasionally produce a curly foal.
Copper Son is one of about 80 curly breeding stallions. He is considered a "foundation stallion," Diane said. For the last four generations, all of his predecessors have been curly horses except two in the fourth line back.
Of his nine offspring¾three with curly mares and five straight-haired mares—eight foals have been curlies and one was straight-haired.
Diane said curly horses have a reputation for being protective of humans.
A couple in Canada tells a story about a dog attacking their daughter, who was playing in the front yard. They heard her screams and ran from the house, but before they could reach her, their curly horse had jumped a fence, grabbed the dog in its teeth, and pulled it off the child.
The couple in Camp Verde told her one of their curly horses jumped its fence to protect a neighbor's horse that was being attacked by a dog.
"They're not known as jumpers except in emergencies," Diane said with a smile.
She has experienced the curlies' protective nature first hand, too, she said. When she first bought Copper, she was riding him too fast through rough terrain, and he fell, pinning her legs so her head was near his front hooves.
"Usually, a horse gets up by sticking its front legs out," she said. But he kept his front hooves curled under him while he pushed himself up.
"To me, it meant he knew he couldn't straight his feet out without hurting me."
Diane and Rex plan to have an open house all day Nov. 29 and in the morning Nov. 30 at their place north of Casa Grande.
The roughly 14 other curly horse owners in the state will be invited to bring their horses, too. (Curlies come in all colors. There are even Appaloosa and pinto curlies. Diane just bought a curly pinto mare that will be here in time for the open house. Cheyenne Spirit Hawk, whose ears and forehead are brown above her white face like a medicine hat, has a brown patch on her chest that looks like an eagle.)
The public is invited to come and see curlies and pet them, Diane said. For information about how to get to the Mitchells' home, call them at 836-5943.
For more information about curly horses in general, check the Internet. Sharon Williams' web site is www.ywl.com/yw/frostfire/frstmain.html. Wendy Hiller's is www.geocities.com/yosemite/1056/curly.html. The Canadian Curly Horse Association is www.telus-planet.net/public/spirit/home.htm/. And other web sites link to these.