Use and characteristics of the Curly Horse
Since the breed standard focusses on the gene that produces a curly coat or curly mane and tail, all sizes of Curly Horse exist, from miniature to draught horse size, although extremely small or tall individuals are only admitted to some registries. When purchasers buy a Curly Horse, most are between 14 hands (56 inches/142 cm) and 16 hands (64 inches/163 cm) high. Some are naturally gaited. The breed exhibits three levels of “curliness”, and breeders may sell a Curly Horse of any of these types. Horses with minimal expression of the gene often have curly hair in their ears and on their fetlocks, as well as a curled or kinked mane and tail. Individuals with a maximal expression of the gene have curly coats as well as a fully curling mane and tail. Extreme genetic expression produces a very tightly curled coat which can fall out completely in summer.
Origin and history of breeding Curly Horses
The gene that produces the curly effect has clearly been in some horse populations for a long time. Although the Curly Horse is called the Bashkir Curly Horse by some registries, notably the American Bashkir Curly Registry, the Bashkir breed after which it is named does not actually exhibit curly characteristics. The Lokai horse from Tajikistan, however, does have a similar coat. While the ultimate origin of the curly gene remains something of an enigma, the more recent history of the Curly Horse in the USA is better known. This history also has unanswered questions, which add to the mystery of this appealing breed. One theory is that they came from Lakota Sioux stock and appear in a drawing of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Another suggests they were the descendants of horses that escaped from Russian settlements in Alaska. Yet another believes they have Iberian ancestry. What is known for sure is that horses with curly coats were first noted by Nevada rancher Giovanni (known as John) Damele and his family. They were distinctively different from the other mustangs that the family knew. It was some time before Damele and his sons captured one of the unusual horses and broke it in. After a very hard winter, the family noted that only the Curly Horses seemed to have survived. In the early 1950s, the Dameles picked a chestnut Curly colt out of one of the herds and started a breeding programme. This was Copper D, a foundation stallion for the breed, and many Curlies today are chestnuts. Other stallions including a Morgan and an Arabian were also used in the programme.
Curly Horses in equestrianism
Curly Horses are noted for their endurance, generally kind temperaments, and enthusiasm for working with humans. This makes them excellent competition horses and they can, and do, participate in all equestrian sports. In fact, they now have their own sporting organisation, Curly Sporthorse International. They are good horses for novice riders.