His eyelashes curl seductively upward from his exotic, almond-shaped eyes. His long hair swirls in luxuriant waves over his lean, muscular body. Yes, he's a real stud.
Spartacus ("Sparky" to his family) turns heads wherever he goes in the equine world. His owner, Sandy Hendrickson, has gotten used to the inquisitive stares and the well-meaning but sadly misinformed questions. Like the woman who said to her, "Why did you spend all that time putting curls on that horse?"
Hendrickson just laughs. Sparky, a 4-year-old stallion, is one of seven American Bashkir Curly horses she keeps on her far-Northside backyard farm. They're a rare (only 685 in the United States) and unusual breed with their naturally permed coats.
Curlies were discovered running wild in central Nevada in 1898 by a rancher and his son, according to the breed registry office. The animals, with their tight, kinky ringlets, were certainly horses of a different color.
Today, the mystery of where they came from still hasn't been solved, but most think they are descendants of curly-coated horses raised by the Bashkir people in the Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.
Besides their thick, wavy coats, which they shed in the summer, they have other characteristics such as small nostrils that indicate they're adapted well to a cold climate.
Some speculate that Russian ancestors brought them to this continent, perhaps across the Bering Strait, long before horses escaped from the early Spanish explorers and began running wild as mustangs.
A registry was established in 1971. Since there were so few of them originally, horsemen have been forced to cross the Curlies with other breeds, but their unusual traits seem to dominate, said Sunny Martin of Ely, Nevada, the registry secretary.
Hendrickson, a longtime horse lover, became intrigued with the breed a few years ago when she saw Bill and Linda Strickland's stallion, The Red Baron, at an annual Hoosier Horse Fair in Indianapolis. The Stricklands, of Sunman, Indiana, were the first people in the state to own registered Curlies. Hendrickson began reading about the breed and discovered that besides their unique physical traits, they are admired for the easygoing, unflappable temperament.
Those qualities were of particular interest to Hendrickson since she had hip surgery: she anted to reduce her chances of making unscheduled landings from the back of a more high-strung horse.
"I thought I'd raise them. They're such a novelty, and I fell in love with them," Hendrickson said.
Besides Sparky, she now has four mares and two weanling foals, whose coats are so thick and wavy they almost look like big sheep.
Hendrickson has won another convert to Curlies, Nicole Michna of Zionsville, who has been training Sparky and showing him in dressage, the equestrian discipline in which the horse performs a series of prescribed movements to demonstrate its obedience, harmony, and grace.
Michna recalls the first time she saw the horse with the curly locks. "He was funny-looking, but he moved well. I thought the curls were real interesting. They grow on you.
"The thing I like the most about them is they're very intelligent and learn quickly. And they're willing to please."
Hendrickson wants to prove to other horse lovers that Curlies are more than a curiosity; they can perform, too. Sparky ended his first show season by placing fourth in training level (the level for beginning horses or riders) in the Indiana Dressage Society's year-end awards.
Hendrickson's interest in the woolly breed will take on an international flavor in March, when she plans a trip to the Soviet Union with her husband, Thomas, an Indianapolis attorney who is an avid ice-boat racer. He will take part in ice-boat races in Leningrad.
Hendrickson hopes to engage in what she calls "a quest for the Curly." She hopes she'll have a chance to do some detective work and perhaps visit the area of the Ural Mountains, to find out more about Sparky's ancestral home.
Her brother, a professor of Russian at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, will equip her with a few words of Russian, like the terms for gelding and mare, to help her talk to Russian horse folk.
In the meantime, she'll continue chuckling over the typical reaction to her longhaired horses.
There was the dressage judge (judges are normally dignified and reserved) who came down out of the judge's box and asked, "Can I pet his curls?"