The Caspian is a small horse that grows no larger than 12 hands high, but is considered a horse rather than a pony. It is thought to be descended from Mesopotamian horses which became extinct in the 7th century, but was rediscovered in the 1960s.
The Caspian Horse is extremely hardy, with very dense bone and hard feet that rarely need shoeing. It is similar in build to the Arabian. The head should be short and fine with large eyes and a tapering muzzle. The nostrils are large and low-set, and the ears should be very small (no larger than 4.5 inches long). The shoulder is sloping, allowing the pony to take exceptionally long strides, so that it can easily keep up with a horse at the walk, trot, and canter, despite its small height.
The body of the Caspian is narrow, with a high-set tail and strong hindquarters. Although the limbs are fine, they have dense bone, the pasterns are fine and sloping, and the hooves are oval somewhat more oval-shaped than other breeds and very strong. There is little feathering on the fetlock, although the pony has a dense mane and tail.
Caspians are usually bay or chestnut, rarely black, and may also be gray, dun or chestnut, and may occasionally have white markings on the head and legs. Interestingly, some horses lack chestnuts or ergots.
The horses range from 10-12.2 hh, and average at 11.2 hh. However, improved feeding programs at the Norouzabad stud have resulted in horses with a height smaller than their parents, which may indicate that the original size of the breed is around 9 hh. Improved living conditions outside Iran have also produced horses that are larger than their parents. It is likely that the stock is not completely pure, but more likely superb examples of the original “type.”
The Caspian is thought to be one of the oldest horse or pony breeds in the world today, dating back from the now-extinct miniature horses of Mesopotamia, who lived in the region from 3,000 BCE until the 7th century. The horses now inhabit an area between the Caspian Sea and the Elburz Mountains, although new groups of horses potentially related to the Caspian have been identified in a much wider range.
The Caspian Horse was rediscovered in the 1960s in a mountainous region of northern Iran, not far from the Caspian Sea, by American-born Iranian horse breeder, Louise Firouz. Firouz was searching for small ponies to be ridden by children, when she happened upon a bay stallion in the town of Amol. The horse was pulling a heavy cart, and was nicely conformed with the body of a “well-bred oriental horse.” She purchased the stallion, naming him Ostad. Finding that the animals were few in number and in poor condition, she began a breeding program with Ostad at her riding school in Norouzabad, starting with seven mares and six stallions. He became a successful sire of children’s ponies.
A breeding program was set up by the Shah of Iran, who established the Royal Horse Society at Louise and Narcy Firouz’s Norouzabad Stud.
In the fall of 1965, on a visit to her family in Great Falls, Virginia, Louise Firouz approached Kathleen McCormick with the Caspian story and photos of the horses she had brought to Norouzabad. A plan was made to export a Caspian stallion from Iran to the United States. Kathleen selected the stallion Jehan* from the group of photos. In April 1966, William M. Santoro, DVM, accompanied Jehan* on the four-day, 8,000-mile journey to New York. Because there was difficulty getting Jehan* out of Iran, only a partbred breeding program was established in the U.S. at that time and plans to import mares were put on hold.
Prince Philip suggested that some of the horses be shipped to England to start a population, and in 1976, a Caspian Stud in England was formed, saving much of the foundation stock. During the Iranian Revolution, the horses were again used as pack horses and for food, further depleting their numbers.
Following the revolution, the ban on horse ownership was lifted and Firouz managed to find 15 horses that could be used for breeding (after performing DNA testing to confirm they were the Caspian breed). These horses began the Persicus stud, and in 1993, seven of the horses were exported for breeding in England, with the help of the Russian Horse Society. The combined efforts of breeders across the world have established the breed in several European countries, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
The first U.S. Caspian purebred breeding program only began in 1995. With approximately 300 in the U.S., we now maintain close to half of all Caspians in the world outside of Iran.
The horses are used in the towns of Amol, Babol and Shahi in Iran, as cart ponies, and outcrossed with other breeds such as the Mongolian Pony or Tarpan to increase their size to make them suitable riding horses. They are known for their speed and ability to carry very heavy loads, but are not used for draft work.
The Caspian also makes an excellent children’s mount. The breed is known to be incredibly versatile. They are natural jumpers and are especially suited for children, because their conformation, gaits and temperament is like that of small horses, rather than a pony.
They have fantastic temperaments, so that stallions are even handled by children, and several stallions can be turned out together.
They have excellent movement, with an exceptionally long stride that allows them to keep up with a horse, making them good show animals. There have also been several outcrosses with Thoroughbreds, producing very fancy show horses. Additionally, the Caspian has exceptional jumping ability.
The Caspian is also well suited to be an elegant harness horse. Their acceleration, maneuverability, endurance and intelligence bring them considerable success in the show ring.
Breed Association: Caspian Horse Society of America? (CHSA)