Raised for centuries on the southern slopes of the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Bashkir Curly — named for their remarkably wavy winter coats — served as beasts of burden, means of transportation, and sources of both meat and milk for that region's people.
Photo by Jean Unglaub and Paul Hodges
Meet an unusual animal that just might prove to be the ideal family horse.
Raised for centuries on the southern slopes of the Ural
Mountains in Russia, the Bashkir Curly — named for their
remarkably wavy winter coats — served as beasts of burden,
means A of transportation, and sources of both meat and milk for that region's people. And — like their
stouthearted ancestors — the modern-day American members of
the breed are hardy enough to withstand high altitudes and
extreme weather conditions, as well as being agile enough
to maneuver across rugged terrain.
The Curly is also one of the gentlest (and most
intelligent!) breeds of horse imaginable. Since they
possess an unusual affinity for humans, the animals can be
easily broken and trained. In addition, when confronted
with a new or threatening situation, they rarely shy or
bolt in the way that most of their equine relatives do. Instead, they
generally stand their ground and face the problem.
Since you probably won't find mention of the Bashkir Curly
in the encyclopedia, dictionary, or even in your favorite
horse book, you might (understandably!) be wondering if
this breed really exists. Indeed, few people do know about
this horse... because there aren't that many of them and
they've only recently been officially declared a breed.
But, believe me, the folks who do know Curlies all seem to
Take 76-year-old Bill Valentine in Wales, North Dakota, for
instance. Bill brags that his elderly Curly mare, Dolly, is
so gentle that his 2 1/2-year-old grandson won two classes
with her at a local horse show last summer.
Urbana, Ohio resident Rhonda McQuinn obtained a Curly
stallion through an adopt a wild-horse program last year.
Expecting to spend months breaking and training her new
acquisition, she was amazed to find that it took only a
couple of days to have her rough and-ready mount
saddle-broken and behaving as well as a seasoned pleasure
pony! "Why, he's just a big baby!" Rhonda reports.
Sunny Martin of Ely, Nevada — who is the breed registry
secretary — says, "Curlies really do take to people. I've
never seen anything like it!" And she should know, because
she's been on hand to watch many of these horses be brought
in from the range . . . fight that "one good fight" at the
end of a rope . . . and settle down almost immediately into
friendly, tractable animals.
One of Sunny's favorite Curly stories (and she's gathered
so many of them she's decided to write a book about the
breed) is about a Connecticut mount named Fazie.
Fazie — true to his heritage — did not like to be pampered,
and he had a pretty clever way of letting his owners know it. In cold weather, his overly attentive masters
swaddled him in a horse blanket. But just as soon as his
owners were out of sight, Fazie undid the two surcingles
under his belly with his teeth, and then (unable to
manipulate the buckle under his chest to release the
blanket) he reached over his back . . . caught the rug in
his teeth .. . pulled the whole thing over his head . . .
and deposited it neatly in the corner of his stall. Spying
on him one day, Fazie's owners got the
message and quit coddling him!
There are countless other tales extolling Curlies, and many
of them might seem a bit hard to swallow at first. "Believe
them!" says Ed Brice, of the Kentucky Horse Park in
Lexington. "Curlies are so unusual you really need to be
around one of them for a while before you can truly
appreciate the breed." Ed claims that Kewpie, a Curly lent
to the park by Sunny Martin, was so endearing that she
spoiled him and his coworkers on the breed. And now the
park (which displays about 40 different equine breeds) has
its own Curly, Mel's Lucky Boy, to show off!
Damele's Wild Herd
Just how, when, or why Curlies arrived on the North
American continent is left to speculation. Perhaps the
Russians brought them over when they settled Alaska and the
West Coast. Or maybe these hearty beasts carried their
Mongolian masters across the Bering Strait centuries
However, it is known for certain that in 1898
eight-year-old Peter Damele made the first recorded
sighting of Curlies in this country. One day, when he and
his father were riding in the remote high country of
central Nevada, the youngster caught sight of three
strange-looking horses with tight fur ringlets all over
It actually wasn't until 50 years later that the Dameles
brought some Curlies in from the ranges and tamed them.
That year — as the result of a killer winter — most of the
family's ranch horses either froze or starved to death. So
the cowpokes were forced to domesticate the only equines
left . . . the rough-and-ready Curlies!
And the Dameles soon discovered how remarkable Curlies
really are! Naturally athletic and keenly intelligent,
these animals are easy to care for. They require neither
shoes nor fancy food, and their thick winter coats, which
are shed (along with their manes) in early spring, rarely
get parasites. What's more, many folks who are allergic to
horse hair find that they're not allergic to Curlies.
Registry Saves Lives
Eventually, the Dameles enlarged their herd and sold some
of the Bashkir horses here and there. As a consequence,
many of the Curlies you see today are direct descendants of
that Nevada herd. Unfortunately, when Curlies became more
widespread, a lot of people mistook the wavy coated
critters for genetically defective equines . . . and
decided to slaughter them. In 1971 — in part to put an end to
this sort of senseless killing — the American Bashkir Curly
Registry was established. Curlies constituted, at long
last, a recognized and respected breed!
The registry accepts any color — even Appaloosa and Pinto — and
allows for double registry (as in the case of Curly-Aps,
for instance) just as long as the horse in question
displays the telltale three- to six-inch-long kinky winter
coat and good conformation. Currently, there are only about
245 registered purebred Curlies in the United States, and
most of these horses are located in Nevada, California, and
The American Bashkir Curly: It just may be the perfect
horse for the homesteader in search of an equine for all
seasons and all reasons!