Breed evolution: According to the American Bashkir Curly Registry, curly-coated horses were immortalized in Chinese art as early as 161 A.D. But it remains a mystery how the breed arrived in the Americas. Some theorize the horses crossed a former land bridge over the Bering Strait; some say they arrived in the Northwest with Russian settlers in the 1700s.
Still others believe the breed arrived with the horses of Spanish explorers, then established wild herds in the Southwest. Pictographs from the early 1800s show Sioux and Crow Indians riding horses with curly coats.
Modern-day history of the American Bashkir Curly is much clearer. In 1898, a young man named Peter Damele and his father were riding in the Peter Hanson Mountains of central Nevada’s high country when they came upon three horses with coats of tightly curled ringlets. The family used these horses to begin a breeding program.
Today, many Bashkir Curly horses trace back to the Damele herd. The American Bashkir Curly Registry was founded in 1971, both to save the breed from extinction and to promote it. There are approximately 4,900 Bashkir Curly Horses worldwide.
The Bashkir Curly has a short body coat that feels like crushed velvet. Over this coat, they grow a thick, curly winter coat that often has ringlets several inches long. Their hair is round instead of flat like other horsehair; tests reveal that Bashkir Curly hair is more closely related to mohair than common horsehair.
The Curly has wide-set eyes with curly eyelashes. His back is short, and he has a deep girth, heavily boned legs, and short cannon bone. He averages 15 hands high and 800 to 1,000 pounds.
Owners tell us: With tongue-in-cheek, Greg and Sonja Oakes of Oakesmuir Curly Horses in Ontario, Canada, tell us that their horses are nothing to sneeze at. “People with allergies to other breeds often discover that the Bashkir Curly is totally different,” Sonja says.
“The horses’ coats also provide them with a unique heating and cooling system,” adds Greg. “Their thick, curly winter coat repels rain and snow. Underneath, air is trapped near their short haircoat next to the body, keeping them warm. In spring, they shed their outer coat, so they’re cool in summer. It’s an exceptional feature, really.”
Owners also cherish the breed’s calm, gentle temperament, dense bone, tough, round hooves, intelligence, and remarkable memory.
On the trail: Marni Malet of Bear Paw Ranch Curly Horses in Troy, Montana, owned Thoroughbreds until she bought a Bashkir Curly for her grandchildren. “They’re like potato chips: you can’t have just one!” she says. Malet, who lives in the Purcell Mountains, has bred trail-ready Bashkir Curly horses since 1997. Three of her broodmares trace to the Damele herd.
“The Curlys are awesome trail horses,” Malet says. “They’re strong and have tremendous endurance. Here in the mountains, you never know when you might come upon elk, deer, moose, cougar, or bear, so I also appreciate the calm nature and common sense these horses have. They’re versatile, too. I sold one horse to an owner who rides in the Pasadena Rose Parade every year.”
Jim Washington of Southern California and his family also traditionally ride their Curly Horses in the Rose Parade. Washington, his wife, their two children, and his mother-in-law are all devoted to the breed. “It’s the glue that binds us,” he says. “The Curly’s sweet, calm disposition and solid bone structure make him exceptional on the trail. And they’re great competitors – we’ve won many [California’s State Horsemen’s Association-sanctioned] Trail Trials with our Curly Horses.”
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