"How strange." "Weird." "They're hysterical!" These are just a few of the comments heard as people view a Curly horse for the first time. Then the inevitable question: "Where do they come from?"
In this country, the majority of curly-coated horses are from the feral herds or their descendants, mainly out of Nevada or The Great Plains area. The Damele family of Nevada has been credited with being the first ones to actually capture, breed, and domesticate the Curly horse in numbers. Since the late 1890s, the Dameles had been aware of curly-coated horses in the feral herds near their ranch. But it wasn't until the terrible winter of 1932 took such a heavy toll on both domestic and feral stock in the Great Basin area that the Curly was significantly noticed. Being the main survivors, they were crossed with the Damele family stock horses that were left. The resulting offspring and descendants make up the majority of the horses in the American Bashkir Curly Registry today. An additional 20% of the Curlies have come from the BLM herds and are listed as such in the stud books. Some are double registered with both Mustang and Curly registration numbers.
Besides being survivors, the Curlies are usually gentle, learn quickly, and like people. They seldom require shoes and seem to have unlimited stamina. Some people with allergies to horses have found the Curlies to be hypoallergenic. The Curly coat is shed each spring and grows again each fall. The hair has been used for spinning and makes warm hats, scarves, and vests.
The American Bashkir Curly Registry was set up in 1971 with just a handful of horses and some dedicated people. Reports of these horses being slaughtered, because they were misfits or thought to be sick, greatly infuriated those who knew and loved this rare breed. The Curly coat is very distinguishable from that of the long, wavy coat of the horse with a pituitary gland problem. The South American Curly died out around 1947, but thanks to the ABC Registry members, the North American Curly flourishes today. There are close to 1400 Curlies registered with some 77 licensed breeders in the US and Canada. The ABC Registry is no longer accepting BLM Curlies for registration, and the 1991 foal crop will be the last that can be registered without having two Curly parents. The books have been closed in order to keep from further diluting the rare blood factors found in this breed.
A new registry, the American Curly Horse Association, is in the process of being organized and hopes to start registering horses this year. It will be open to all Curly horses, including those from BLM land. Future restrictions or guidelines for registering will be based upon research conclusions.
An independent group has been established specifically for this purpose. Known as The Curly Horse Foundation, Inc., it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and education concerning Curlies. (See EQUUS magazine, issue 160, p104-Feb. 91). It is hoped that blood and DNA studies will turn up evidence of what causes the curly coat and that this information can help to preserve and carry on the uniqueness of this breed.
Curlies are presently being used for dressage, packing, work, and pleasure riding, as parade mounts, and as working stock horses. As the focus now shifts from survival to research and utilizing their potential, you will probably find Curlies involved in a lot more competitive trail and endurance rides, combined driving, and 4-H activities. This horse, who is "different," seems to want to do it all.