My husband and I met through horses. I’ve had horses since I was 12 years old, and Terry became a horse addict when he took a job as a carriage driver in Texas about 10 years ago. He bought a horse and carriage of his own and brought it all out to Davenport, Iowa, in hopes of building a business around the gambling boats. He advertised for a driver, and I jumped at the chance to have a job around horses. He liked me so much he just kept me. We even used horseshoe nail rings for our wedding bands!
We got into the Curly horses through people who had hired us to bring the horse and carriage to their bed and breakfast business. They had a herd of 12 Curlies and they told us enough about them to entice us, but were not really interested in getting off on that subject as they were concentrating on trying to get their business off the ground. Things did not work out for them, and due to massive financial problems and divorce, the owner was forced to sell his horses. We bought a stallion, mare, and four-month-old colt.
I had seen only one Curly horse in my life before these when I was 15. A friend bred a Quarter Horse to an Appaloosa stallion, and, much to everyone’s amazement, out popped a black Appaloosa baby with thick, beautiful curls all over his body. His mane and tail were adorable little ringlets. I remember touching him and running my fingers through his soft coat of rich, thick curls. He was quite a little show piece and had a large audience of spectators. Prior to that I had never heard of any horse with curls and I certainly never dreamed I would ever own such an animal. Something like that always belongs to someone else.
When the owner of the horses we purchased began telling us about them we were thinking, “Sure! Got any swampland for sale, too?” They sounded too good to be true. Their fabulous coat is only the tip of the iceberg where these magnificent creatures are concerned.
The breed is originally from the Bashkir region in Russia’s Ural Mountains. No one is quite sure how they got to America, as the vast majority of our horse supply came from Spain and they are all straight coated. There is also evidence of Curlies in China, Turkey, and North Africa. A stuffed Curly is on display in England. The first documented Curly in America was caught in 1898 in Central Nevada.
Other than their fantastic coats, I think the first thing we noticed is that they love people. Their personality is more like a Golden Retriever than that of a horse. I would never have believed it if I had not experienced it for myself. They come when called and actually compete for your affection and attention. They would come in the house with you if they could, and we did actually have one that figured out how to work the doorknob.
It was in the middle of the night, and I was at work. Terry was home asleep. He woke up to the sound of the door rattling and immediately wondered who in the world was trying to get in, especially since we live way out in the middle of nowhere. He tiptoed toward the door, and it slowly began to open. In popped our filly Fantasia’s head, looking all around the kitchen.
Curlies bond with people emotionally and have an intelligence like we’ve never seen. They are also curious by nature, sometimes to the point where they’re obnoxious. They have a heart the size of Texas and will do anything to please you, but do not understand and will not tolerate abuse.
Training a Curly is altogether different than any other breed as well. Most horses learn through repetition, but Curlies become quite bored with that technique. Once you show them something, they’re ready for whatever comes next. Terry hooked up his 1 1/2-year-old stud colt to a dog car (a dog cart is similar to a harness racing cart) and used only his halter. Off they went! This colt had never been in harness, let along pulled anything. it was as if he had been doing it all his life.
The same applies to riding. Curlies have a natural Fox Trotter gait and are a true pleasure to ride.
Curlies are easy keepers. They do not require grain, only a good quality hay. They are also foragers, eating plants other horses refuse. They will dig up roots as well.
Nature has provided these horses with a unique heating and cooling system. Curlies have two layers of body fat instead of just one, as other horses do. In the winter, they grow a thick coat of soft curls. Texas A&M University tested this hair and found it to be quite similar to angora and hypoallergenic as well. In very cold areas, their hair can get up to 4-6 inches long and has several different patterns, ranging from tight and kinky to a loose wave and everything in between. Curlies are so well insulated that snow and rain freeze on their outer coat, leaving them warm and dry underneath, and they are able to withstand temperatures down to -30 to -40 degrees. Other horses lose their body heat and become wet and cold.
They have almond-shaped eyes, which also offers protection and gives them a wider vision range to the rear and narrow nostrils which help shut out biting winter winds.
They have unusually tough, round hooves which retain their shape and rarely require a farrier.
In the spring, they shed their long coats, and their wonderful hair can be harvested by grooming them just as you would any other horse. Their body coat will slick out for the summer, but some retain a short curly coat or wavy pattern. The mane and tail remain curly year round.
Mares have been known to give up to six gallons of milk a day, and it can be used for milk, cream, butter, and it makes a wonderful cheese, we are told. In Russia, they ferment the milk into a drink called kumiss with an alcohol level of 1-1 1/2%. It is used in hospitals for medicinal purposes for treating ailments such as ulcers, and, of course, just as an intoxicating drink.
Curlies are a light draft breed and range in size from pony to draft. The horses we own are saddle horse size. Curlies have five lumbar vertebrae like Arabians. They have the ability to cool out quickly with their pulse and respiration returning to normal rather quickly, and don’t seem to have trouble at the point of inversion as other horses do.
Foals born with the curly coat will inherit other Curly qualities as well. We have a Quarter Horse/Arab palomino mare and we bred her with one of our stallions. she has had three colts now and each one of them have spectacular coats and all of the other wonderful qualities, too. Terry would like to cross a Percheron mare with a Curly to have more pulling power, and I would like to cross one with a Paint mare not only for the beauty of the horse but for the color variety of hair I would have to harvest.
We were invited to speak about our beautiful horses at a local horse club. This is primarily Quarter Horse and Paint Horse country with a dash of Arabian here and there. Our talk went well but no one seemed interested in the breed other than as a passing curiosity. Being homesteaders, we offered to barter in exchange for stallion service and were met with a roar of laughter. They thought we were kidding. So we’d like to make this offer to people who do understand. Since there are so few Curlies (less than 2,000 registered Curlies in the world) about the best way to get one is through breeding, and there is a half-Curly registry. We may also barter for the adult horses we have available. I would like to learn to spin and would gladly trade a breeding for a spinning wheel and good book on the subject. We would also trade for a good beef calf or fruit trees or horse-drawn farm equipment. Or if you have something to offer, let us know, and we’ll see what we can work out!
We welcome all inquiries and would appreciate a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply.
By: Terry & Veronica DeSimone, PO Box 276, Charlotte, IA 52731
From: Countryside & Small Stock Journal, March/April 1997