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American Bashkir Curlies--gentle enough for a child, tough enough for a man!

Here are some of the basic traits of these highly unusual horses that set them apart as a distinct breed.

Curlies are of medium size. They also come in pony and draft size. They somewhat resemble the early-day Morgan in conformation, and a number of traits have been found in this unique breed that links them to the primitive horse. Many individuals have been found without ergots. Some have small, soft chestnuts.

Their soft, calm-looking eyes have an unusual Oriental slant to them, which gives them a sort of sleepy look, but which also tends to give them a larger range of vision to the rear. The sleepy look is very deceiving, as they have a proud carriage, are very alert and not lazy, and most move at a running walk.

Their unusually tough, black hooves are almost perfectly round in shape. Too, many Curlies with white legs will still have four black hooves.

Curlies have an exceptionally high concentration of red blood cells; stout, round-bone cannon; straight legs that also move straight; flat knees; strong hocks; short back, which indicates five lumbar vertebrae; round rump without crease or dimple; powerful rounded shoulders; V'd chest and round barrel, all of which contribute to their strength and endurance.

The foals arrive with thick, krinkle coats almost resembling astrakhan fur, even inside their short, broad ears, and also have beautiful curly eyelashes. They are born with an unusually affectionate disposition, and insist on being friendly. When excited or at play, the foals move at a bold trot with their tails absolutely straight in the air.

One especially odd feature of the breed is the fact that some can completely shed out the main hair (and sometimes even the tail hair) each summer, to grow back during the winter. The mane hair is usually fine and soft. They have a double mane which splits down the middle, leaving curly ringlets hanging on both sides of the neck. Their body coat sheds out in the summer and they become wavy or fairly straight on their body, with their beautiful coat returning in late fall.

Several winter coat patterns have been observed, from a crushed velvet effect to a perfect marcel wave, to extremely tight curls over the entire body. It has been tested and proven that flat hair is curly, yet when the hair of Curlies was tested, it was found to be round.

One other thing about their hair should be mentioned: a number of owners who are allergic to horses find that they aren't allergic to their Curlies.

Outcrossing produces color¾since Curlies have necessarily been crossed with other breeds due to their own scarcity, they come in all colors. Some even have Appaloosa or Pinto markings.

Their most cherished quality is their calmness and extremely gentle disposition. We do feel that this is one of their finest features. Many have been taken off the open range, even full-grown animals, and in a day or two, they are gentler than horses that have been handled for years.

Nothing seems to ruffle them. They do not tend to resort to flight when frightened, which has been claimed the horse's greatest means of survival. Curlies, with their naturally curious nature, prefer to face the unknown rather than run from it. If they feel something is a real danger, they prefer to kick rather than run. Although they will struggle frantically when first roped or haltered, their inherent gentleness willingly responds to kindness and affection. They seem unable to cope with or tolerate abuse. They will tend to freeze in a tight spot, so seldom get themselves hurt even if caught in barbed wire.

They delight in human companionship and love to be talked to.

Although there is a "dominant" curly gene that makes it possible to get curly-coated foals from curly-coated parents, there is also a "recessive" gene that occasionally caused curly-coated foals to show up in the straight-coated breeds¾from pony to draft horse! Strangely, the curly-coated foals, whether from "dominant" or "recessive" genes, all seem to carry most of the same basic traits. And many of these traits do not fit the norm for other breeds.

Performance-wise, Curlies are a no-nonsense horse and have an uncanny ability to do all that is asked of them, since they are unusually intelligent, learn quickly, and have a remarkable memory (for either good or bad experiences). They have won trophies in arena events such as Western riding, reining, gymkhana events, hunter, jumper, roping, English equitation, Western pleasure, gaited pleasure, dressage, and driving. They have won in competitive and endurance trail riding, and are excellent mounts in the mountains, ranch work, and an all-around pleasure horse.

Horses with curly coats are most certainly an ancient breed. They have been depicted in art and statuary in early China as far back as 161 AD. There has been evidence of their presence in South America and Europe. A photo of a curly-coated Bashkir horse from Russia was printed in the March 1938 issue of Nature Magazine entitled, "The Evolution of the Horses." The horse's picture was later drawn by John Hix and featured in a cartoon called, "Strange as It Seems." He clipping had been saved in a scrapbook by the Damele family (early-day Curly horse breeders in Nevada). This information was one of the factors that helped in determining the name of this unique breed, American Bashkir Curly.

It is still a mystery how the Curlies came to the US. Many theories have been advanced on this subject, but not factual proof has yet been found. But there is evidence that Curlies have been in North America since the early 1800s. Many India pictographs illustrating the "winter counts" have noted that in the winter of 1801-1802, the Sioux had stolen some curly horses from the Crow. This incident placed the tribes at the Standing Rock/Cheyenne River Reservation at the mouth of the Grand River. A significant location of the Curlies today has been traced to Indian reservations in North and South Dakota. Many Curlies then and now have been acquired from the wild horses that roam the lands of the United States. They have been domesticated and raised by ranchers throughout the US and Canada.

The American Bashkir Curly Registry was established in 1971 in Ely, NV, by a handful of breeders with a deep love of these unique horses. Their sole purpose was to preserve, propagate, and promote them.

If you do not now own a Curly, perhaps you will one day have the pleasure of owning one. American Bashkir Curlies¾gentle enough for a child, tough enough for a man!

For more information, contact the American Bashkir Curly Registry, PO Box 246, Ely, NV 89301, telephone (775) 289-4999, fax (775) 289-8579, E-mail secretary@abcregistry.org.

From Record Horseman, 1999



Tamea C. Denault

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Tamea C. Denault is the founder of Dreamswept Farm and coach of the MountainWind Vaulters in Kettle Falls, WA. She is a certified CHA multi-discipline riding instructor. While earning her degree in psychology and education at Mt. Holyoke College, she also learned vaulting and has continued vaulting and coaching ever since. More...