All newborn animals are adorable in their own special way, but there's a new baby horse in North East Township who's not only adorable, but the first one of his kind ever born in this area.
Wind D Dakota Sky was born Jan. 20 at Windwalker Stable, owned by Wendy Sauersmith, a psychological tester at Hamot Institute for Behavioral Health. What makes the baby unique is his breed---American Bashkir Curly Horse, a "curly" for short.
He's just what his name would suggest---curly all over, even his mane and tail.
Sauersmith, 32, is proud to be introducing the breed to the area. She owns four other Curlies, including a stallion, although he is not the father of the baby. Mother Betsy mare D arrived at Windwalker from Vermont last November, already pregnant. According to the official Curly registry and studbook, the next closest babies were born near Toledo, Ohio, and south of Johnstown, Pa, Sauersmith said.
"I've owned horses since I was little, a variety of breeds," Sauersmith said. "But I never had the enthusiasm I do for these guys. They're a whole different ball game."
What makes them different in addition to their coats, which can range from waves to ringlets, is a sturdier bone structure than most horses and extra red blood cells. That means they're hardier than other horses. They also have tough hides and an extra layer of fat beneath the skin, so they're ideal for colder climates, Sauersmith said.
All those factors combine to make them ideal endurance horses, which is how Sauersmith discovered them. An endurance and competitive trail rider who's not crazy about the Arab horses generally used, she started doing research and fell in love with the breed.
"I started hearing what I thought ere tall tales, but now I think they're true," she said. One tale had an Alaskan Curly helping its owner carry firewood after seeing the person make the trip a few times. Last summer, one of Sauersmith's Curlies picked up the handle of a running weed whacker in its teeth and took it to the next spot she would be trimming, she said.
"They're extremely people-oriented and easy to train," Sauersmith said. "Last summer after only 45 hours of training, I took my other mare on a two-hour ride in Clark Gorge (Harborcreek Township). She rode like an old pro. She never hesitated at vertical drops and steep banks that my 10-year-old Arab would have hesitated at. She was just perfect.
"Also, most breeders believe their gentle disposition and desire to please are genetically passed along with the curly coat. Another advantage of the curly coast is that most people who are allergic to regular horses aren't allergic to Curlies."
Sauersmith's husband, pat Smith, testifies to their disposition. He was scared silly of horses when they first got married, but now he says, "You still have to watch yourself, but I feel more comfortable around Curlies than any other kind," he said.
The origin of the horse is unknown. The "Bashkir" part of the name refers to the Bashkiri region of Russian, where some curly-coated horses were known. The breed was considered almost sacred by some Plains Indians in the early 1800s, but by the time the West was more settled, they were considered defective and most were slaughtered, Sauersmith said.
A Nevada rancher began breeding wild ones in 1906 after an especially bad winter killed most of his ranch horses and most other wild ones. The official breed registry began in 1971 with 21 horses. About 1,800 currently are now registered in the US and over the past few years they've been making their way to regular owners instead of being used almost exclusively for breeding stock that was not trained for riding, she said.
Because more are now available, the price of the Curlies is about the same as other breeds in the area. "If you just want a plain horse to ride, it could be $1,500 to $2,000," Sauersmith said.
She gives talks about the breed to 4-H and other interested groups and is always willing to spread her enthusiasm for Curlies. She can be reached at 725-2336.