You may find a Curly horse just about anywhere: the dressage arena, the Rose Bowl Parade, packing hunters and meat in Alaska’s interior, pulling wedding carriages by summer or sleighs by winter at South Lake Tahoe, working cattle on the Nevada range, competing in the Competition of Breeds, winning endurance races, babysitting the kids, as part of feral hers, and at the National Curly Convention and Show in Ely, Nevada, every June.
There are a lot of questions and speculations concerning how this breed came to the US, but you won’t find many documented answers. Fortunately, the history of the breed in North America is easier to trace. Sioux Indians pictographs dating to the early 1800s show curly-coated horses. In P.T. Barnum’s original autobiography he tells of acquiring a curly-coated horse in 1848. From the 1800s on, there are numerous documented reports of Curly horses.
In the late 1890s, the Damele family of Nevada spotted curly-haired horses in the feral herds near their ranch. During the winter of 1932, much of the domestic and wild stock in the Great Basin froze or starved to death. The Curly horses fared better and were captured by the Dameles, broke, and crossed with other stock horses. Thus began the Damele line of Curlies so sought after today.
In the 1960s, it was decided to breed the Damele mares to a registered Arab–Nevada Red, AHC 18125, a grandson of the well-known Serafix, AHC 8955. He was used as a stud and working stock horse until his accidental death in 1981.
Nevada Red’s replacement, still standing at stud on the Benny Damele ranch, is a registered Morgan–Ruby Red King, AMHR 26101. His outstanding pedigree is an interesting combination of Western Working Family and old Vermont (Lipitt) bloodlines.
The get of these two hard-working stallions, along with other Damele horses and feral Curlies, make up the majority of the Registry’s foundation stock
The Registry was started in 1971 to protect and promote the Curly. Reports of curly-coated horses being killed because they were thought to be genetically inferior greatly disturbed those who knew how tough and unique these animals truly were. (There is a pituitary gland problem found in horses that causes long, wavy hair, but it’s a much different coat from that of the genetically influenced curls.) The North American Curly was not to become extinct as the South American Curly apparently had. The Registry is getting close to having 1,000 horses listed and has about 60 licensed breeders in the US and Canada combined.
A recently completed study, directed by the C. S. Fund Conservancy in California and assisted by many people worldwide, should be very helpful in drawing up guidelines for preserving the Curly horse and its unique characteristics.
At this time, it appears the Registry may be closing as early as the end of 1990 in order to keep from diluting the rare blood factors found in this breed any further.
Due to the limited number of Curlies available, they have been crossed with many other breeds, and, consequently, you will see quite a variation in conformation types today. Besides being a light horse breed, the Registry also has draft and pony divisions. Curly horses come in all colors, including those with Appaloosa and Pinto markings. You can find a Curly to meet your personal preference.
Ask any Curly owner what is so special about their horses, and, of course, the first thing they’ll say is “the curls.” Curlies have curls all winter but typically shed out in the summer. Some people save the hair for spinning into yarn, as it makes warm hats, scarves, and vests. Certain owners who have developed horse allergies say the Curlies don’t bother them. Even though that has not been scientifically substantiated, these people don’t seem to care.
Other Curly characteristics include corkscrew manes that split down the middle (which may shed out in the summer), tough hooves that seldom need shoes, gentle disposition with a real affinity for people, very easy to train, and some have a fourth gait, that of a natural running walk. No description of a Curly horse would be complete without including stamina and “heart.” If you don’t abuse him, the Curly will give you all he’s got to give. The goal of most breeders is to keep the Curly as natural and tough as when he came off the range, and not to “improve” him beyond recognition. The Curly horse motto is: Gentle enough for a child; tough enough for a man.
Pinto Curly mare & foal owned by Clyde Johnson, Eatonville, WA
The Pacific Northwest has been blessed with more than its fair share of good Curly horses and breeders. The largest breeder resides near Sequim, Washington, and sells weanlings of breeding stock quality for $1,500. This price may increase if the Registry closes as soon as expected.
If you’d like more information concerning this breed or want to see what one looks like and talk to someone with first-hand experience, please contact one of the breeders advertised on page 15 of this issue, or write to the Registry and include a legal-sized, self-addressed, double-stamped envelope and $1.00 for information and a copy of the Curly Cues newsletter.
By: Laraine Rasmussen
From: Northwest Horse Trader, October, 1989