The American Bashkir Curly, usually known as the Curly horse, was mistakenly named after a Russian breed called the Bashkir, which at the time (1898) was thought to normally grow curly coats. When Mustangs were spotted with curly coats and kinked manes and tails, the Americans assumed they were descendants of Russian Bashkirs. It wasn’t until the 1990s did everyone realize the naming error, but that time the name had stuck.
No matter what you call them, this one incredibly rare breed is now becoming more common in North America. The best breeders not only produce horses with conversation-starting coats, but also highly trainable and athletic animals.
Legend has it the Curly horses were among those ridden by Native Americans when they had their brief triumph over invading white Americans at the Battle of Little Bighorn. One of the Chiefs of that day, Chief Red Cloud, later made drawings of what he could recollect of the event and included drawings of Curlies.
Rancher Giovanni Damele first claimed to have spotted Curlies in the wild in Nevada in 1898. They didn’t manage to catch one until 1931. Unfortunately, the winter after the capture was exceptionally bad and most horses, wild or domestic, died. The Curly horse survived and so did some feral Curlies.
The local ranchers realized the Curlies were not only funny-looking, but seemed to possess exceptional stamina. Many also had naturally smooth gaits, called then an “Indian shuffle”. They decided to keep the Curly strain going. By 1971, interest in the Curlies was so great that the American Bashkir Curly Registry began. Since Curlies were so scare, the ABCR decided to cross the remaining Curlies with Morgans, Missouri Fox Trotters, Arabians and Appaloosas.
The Curly horse is a versatile stock horse type, with a body similar to the earliest photographs and drawings of Morgans. They are medium-sized horses, averaging 15 hands high, but can be as 14.3 hands. They average about 1,000 pounds. Most have a straight profile, but some may have a slightly dished profile or a small bump just before the muzzle. Their eyes sometimes look a little too small for the head, but they are spaced widely enough to give the horse good eyesight, especially for objects in the distance.
The body is short and lightly muscled, with a short back and low-set tail. “Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America” (Storey Publishing, 2005) note that the hooves are noted for being very tough. The legs are also often free of ergots (a sort of horn-like growth on the hind legs, similar to the chestnuts of the forelegs).
But what about that infamous coat? It must be seen to be believed. The tight curls are in the manes and tails, while the body coat looks more wavy that curly. It’s easier to see this in the winter coat than the summer. Some claim that the Curly horse is hypoallergenic, but take that claim with a large grain of salt.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Dutson. Storey Publishing, 2005.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Dorling Kindersley; 1991.
American Bashkir Curly Registry. “Breed I.D. Standards.” http://www.abcregistry.org/breed_id_standard.asp
CBC News. Marketplace Microscope. “Hypoallergenic? What’s in a Word?” http://web.archive.org/web/20060619171056/http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/microscope/micro_2000/hypoallergenic.html