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The Curly: A Horse of a Different Temperament

By Greg Oakes, Guelph, Ontario

Buck Mountain Elee Mae

My wife Sonja could never get me to share her love of horses until she brought home a strange-looking horse with almond-shaped eyes and a coat so curly you'd think it just got a perm. Intrigued by its looks, I got better acquainted with the animal, and what I learned about this unusual breed astounded me. The Bashkir Curly is a gentle, intelligent breed that requires less care than other horses and has an array of attributes as marvelous as its appearance.

Sonja is now a breeder of Curlies here in Ontario, Canada. She first discovered these rare horses on a trip to a Kentucky horse park, where she spotted an unusual-looking horse surrounded by children. Worried that the horse might get nervous and hurt someone, Sonja reported the situation to the horse's owner.

"It's okay. It's a Curly," the owner said. Sure enough, the horse remained calm while the kids petted and prodded it. When Sonja came back home and did some research on Curlies, she thought they sounded too good to be true. Curlies need only a minimum of grain in their diet, making them very economical to feed. Their tough feet do not require shoes. Their furry coats allow them to stay outdoors all winter long, eliminating the messy job of mucking out a stall. And as if that weren't enough, their unusual hair is hypoallergenic. People how usually break out in hives as soon as they get near a horse are able to own and ride Curlies without any problem.

The Bashkir Curly horse has been around for centuries, but it has only been a registered breed since 1971. Their popularity has escalated in recent years. Curlies were voted one of the top 10 favorite breeds by Horse Illustrated in 1996, and have been showing well in dressage and endurance events.

But what has impressed both Sonja and I the most is the disposition of this breed. When we decided to start breaking in our 4-year-old Curly mare, Buck Mountain Elee Mae, she had not had any ground work. We were riding her with a saddle in the space of about five minutes.

Elee has been a doll, no bucking or silly behavior at all. When she gets confused about what we ask her to do, she just stops, and when she's figured it out, she starts again. I never rode at all until Elee Mae, and she seems to sense this. With Sonja, Elee is lively and spirited, but with me, she's much more subdued. If I lose my balance, she'll stop and wait for me to adjust. Sometimes it feels like she's teaching me to ride. If you're thinking about getting a horse, you can't do much better than a Curly. They excel at just about everything, and they're beautiful and lovable, too.

From Country Journal, April 1998.



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...