In recent years, the American Bashkir Curly horse has been receiving national publicity–and with good reason. Curlies are an all-purpose breed; they can pack, plow, pull, and have an extremely smooth gait. We fell in love with these horses when we first met them eight years ago. Now, under the name Celtic Curlies, we breed these intelligent and gentle horses in Lakebay, Washington, and greatly enjoy introducing people to them.
Curlies were first discovered in 1898 by Peter Damele and his father while they were riding in the Peter Hanson Mountain Range in the high country of Central Nevada. After the severe winters of 1936 and 1948, the Dameles observed that while most of the Mustangs died, among them were some curly-coated, stocky horses that survived just fine. They started breeding some to their own stock to see what would happen, and were delighted with the result.
The most obvious characteristic of a Curly horse is its long, curly winter coat. In the summer, the only way to identify a Curly is by the curls behind the fetlocks and in the ears. The colder the weather, the longer the coat gets. Curlies in Alaska get curls up to six inches long, while here in the Pacific Northwest, we get only an inch or two.
The length and tightness of the curl is variable. In our herd, we have one horse that looks like crushed velvet even in the summer, while most of the others look almost like a normal horse. In the spring, along with shedding their body hair, many Curlies shed part or all of their mane and tail.
The hair is unusual, too, because it’s more like mohair. Texas A&M University did a study on Curly hair several years ago and proved it wasn’t like regular horse hair at all. This explains why people who are allergic to horses can be around Curlies without adverse reactions–something we’ve seen demonstrated many times in the past few years when people allergic to horses have visited our farm and had no allergic reaction.
Curlies have many other physical characteristics that make them different from other breeds. They have a double mane, a dual nasal passage to preheat the air before it reaches their lungs, and an extra layer of fat to keep them warm. Their wide-set eyes give them more peripheral vision than other horses, and a higher red and white blood cell count enables them to heal faster from cuts and scrapes. They are stocky animals with strong hooves, a higher respiration rate, and a shorter back than most horses–with only five lumbar vertebrae instead of the usual six.
In conformation, Curlies look somewhat like the old-style Morgan, with a thick chest, shorter and thicker neck, and thicker legs than other breeds. They stand between 14 and 15 hands, weigh around 1,000 pounds, and come in all colors. Curlies are strong for their size and work well in harness, which we’ve done with our stallion.
Curlies don’t need to be fed grain. They evolved from horses that grew up on sparse scrub grass, and grain is often too rich for them and can make them ill. We feed our Curlies grass hay and alfalfa, and have never given them grain, even when working them.
These animals are known to be intelligent and calm. A curly caught in a barbed wire fence won’t try to rip itself free. Once caught, it will stand and wait for someone to help it instead of tearing its legs to pieces trying to get away. Curlies learn quickly, and they love to go places and do things with their human partners, pricking up their ears when on the trail–where they are very sure-footed–and looking around curiously at the world.
Our stallion, JC’s Jubilee, is a typical Curly stallion. He lives with the mares and foals all year and would never harm them. In fact, he sometimes plays with the babies. He’s so gently that we can be out with him when he’s breeding a mare, and, if necessary, put a halter on him and lead him away. When he finishes breeding, he often comes over to us to be petted for doing a good job!
Curlies are a rare breed, with only 2,000 or so in North America. Curly breeders are scattered throughout the country, with the largest herd owned by Joe Mead in North Dakota. Many of us in the Pacific Northwest got our start from Joe during the time he lived in Sequim, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula.
For more information about Curly horses and a current breeder’s list, send $2 to the American Bashkir Curly Registry, PO Box 246, Ely, NV, 89301. If anyone wishes to visit our farm, please call us at (253) 884-9947.
By: Jim and Tames Alan
From: The Trophy, September, 1997