Believed to have originated centuries ago in Russia and today one of the rarest breeds in America, the Bashkir Curly remains a curiosity even in Kentucky, a state renowned worldwide for its fine horses.
Currently, there are only about 750 Bashkir Curlies in the US, and 50 of them are registered in Kentucky. Jim Howard of Owensboro owns 10 of them and has traveled to Missouri, Nevada, and South Dakota in his quest for the animal.
Howard, a lifelong horse lover, wanted to raise Thoroughbreds but had no specific plans to do so until a friend introduced him to the Curly.
“He had seen an advertisement in a horse magazine for Curlies and went out west looking for them,” explains Howard. “When I saw them, I decided to raise them.
“I like them because they’re different; most of them are more gentle and docile than other horses,” he continues. “They remind me of a pet dog. My three-year-old daughter can even pet one of our stallions.” According to Howard, Curlies are also more curious than other horses, closely examining his farm machinery on at least one occasion.
Howard, a native of Kentucky and a supervisor at Alccoa, first started raising Curlies in 1986 and continues to breed them for sale. He also raises Curly Belgian horses.
The animal gets its name from the four-to-six-inch-long curls covering its body, and from the Russian Bashkiri tribe, which cultivated the breed for transportation, clothing, meat, and milk.
In Russia’s Ural Mountains, the horses were kept in herds like cattle. Mares could yield up to six gallons of milk a day, some of which was used to produce cream, butter, cheese, and even an alcoholic drink make with fermented milk. Howard says today the milk is used only for the nourishment of foals.
Mongolian nomads, including Genghis Khan, reportedly utilized the horses’ strength and endurance, riding Curlies into battle.
Some people speculate that Curlies crossed the Bering Strait into Alaska and moved down into the continental United States. The first Curlies known of in this country were found on Peter Damele’s Nevada ranch in 1898. The Damele family discovered some of the horses in the wild, and many of today’s American Curlies can be traced to Damele’s animals.
Most of the herd lose their manes, tails, and much of their head-to-hoof curls during the summer. Curls grow back in the winter, but the Curlies’ cottony-soft coats are so thick that sweaters can be woven from the excess hair. Howard sells some fur to a local spinner who turns it into yarn.
In addition to their unusually thick fur, the Bashkir Curly exhibits other characteristics suited to cold environments and functional use. The breed has thick skin, with an extra layer of subcutaneous fat serving as insulation. A flap of skin over small, flat nostrils limits intake of cold air, and the horses’ short ears are also lined with curls. Their eyes are slightly slanted, giving them a wider range of peripheral vision.
Curlies are bred in all colors and usually stand between 13-16hh. An excellent family horse, according to Howard, Curlies are gentle, intelligent, require little care other than bathing and brushing, and are suitable for riding or driving.
A three- or four-year-old Curly that has been broken for riding costs about $2,000.
For more information, contact the Bashkir Curly Registry, Box 453, Ely, Nevada, 89301.
By: J. Holly McCall
Photos: Bonnie Nance
From: Back Home in Kentucky, May/June 1992