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You Have a What? The Horse with the Permanent Wave - The American Bashkir Curly Horse

You Have a What? The Horse with the Permanent Wave - The American Bashkir Curly Horse

The American Bashkir Curly Horse is a hardy breed with a wide variety of curly coat types that range from a crushed velvet effect to a perfect Marcel wave; or from extremely tight ringlets to long spiral curls; or to no apparent curl at all.  The latter coat type is called a Smooth-Coated Curly and may or may not produce Curly horses themselves.  The breed's name was inspired from a photo of a curly coated Bashkir horse from Russia that was printed in the 1938 March issue of the Nature magazine entitled "The Evolution of the Horses".

In this unique breed, there are dominant and recessive curly genes and either of these makes it possible to get curly-coated foals to show up in normally straight-coated breeds - from pony to draft horse.  Oddly, the curly coated foals, whether from the dominant or the recessive version of gene, all seem to carry most of the same basic traits and many of these traits do not fit the norm for other breeds.  Some Missouri Foxtrotters carry a dominant Curly gene through the lineage of *Curly Jim and the breed also carries the recessive curly gene.  Percherons also carry the recessive gene. The American Bashkir Curly transmits this curly characteristic to its offspring about fifty percent of the time even when mated to horses without the curly coat. A horse that is homozygous for the dominant version of the curly gene does not appear to have any undesirable effects.

But where these genes originated is a mystery. What is known is that curly horses have been depicted in art and statuary in early China as far back as 161 AD and there has been evidence of their presence in South America and Europe.  The earliest recorded Curly Horses in North America were with Native Americans during the Winter Count of 1801-1802.  The Sioux had stolen some Curly horses from the Crow which placed these tribes at the Standing Rock Cheyenne River Reservation at the mouth of the Grand River. A significant location of Curly Horses today has been traced to Indian Reservations in the Dakotas and many Curlies have been acquired from the wild American Mustang herds. They have been domesticated, bred and raised by ranchers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

One theory for how curly horses ended up roaming with the mustangs is that Russian Bashkir Curly horses came with Russian colonists during the 1700’s, but research that included consultations with Russian scientists, the Moscow Zoo and the Soviet Union's Ministry of Agriculture has determined that there were no curly haired horses from the Bashkir region and no proof of the gene originating in Russian Bashkir horses. Another theory is that ancestors of the Curly Horse crossed the land bridge during the last Ice Age, but there is no fossil evidence to support that until reintroduction of horses to this hemisphere by the Spanish.  Yet another theory is that the gene came from the Lokai horses of the Tajikistan region of Russia which sometimes display the curly coat, but there was no mention of importation of horses in ships' logs when the Russian settlers arrived in North America. Several other theories have failed to be proven or simply remain untested.

Blood typing on 200 Curly horses in the Serology Lab at University of California-Davis could not confirm the Bashkir Curly as a genetically distinct breed. Instead, the typing showed that many breeds have been used, particularly Quarter Horses and Morgan Horses. The rare and unusual variants that did emerge from the testing are found only in those breeds that are based on feral herds with no single common blood marker being found.

Fortunately, more is known about the modern American Bashkir Curly Horse which dates back to 1898, when Peter Damele and his father were out riding in the remote Peter Hanson Mountains in the high country of Central Nevada near Austin.  Peter remembered seeing 3 horses with tight curly ringlets over their entire bodies and it intrigued them both. From that day forward, there were always curly-coated horses on the Damele range and many of the Bashkir Curly Horses in the U.S. can be traced back to that Damele herd.

The American Bashkir Curly Registry (ABCR) was established in 1971 when the founders discovered that many of them, through ignorance, were being slaughtered. In January 2000, the registry was closed and only the offspring of two ABC registered Curly Horses can be registered.  Currently there are less than 4,000 registered Curly Horses living in the world. When the ABCR founders began the process of establishing breeding traits for the association by asking U.S. owners to list the characteristics unique to the Bashkir Curly, several interesting features of the breed emerged when the data was compiled.

American Bashkir Curly Horses stand 13.3 hands to 16 hands, but average 15 hands and their average weight is 800 to 1200 pounds. Due to the many breeds involved in outcrossing, the breed comes in all colors including Appaloosa and Pinto and has many different physical conformations. It is expected that this cross-breed influence will continue for the next 5 to 10 generations of Curly-­to-Curly breeding until a uniform type is finally established.  However, these offspring will all be registered as long as they meet ABCR criteria.  

Many Curlies with white legs have black hooves that are unusually tough and hard and almost perfectly round in shape and many Curlies are not shod. They also have stout roundbone cannons; straight legs that also move straight and flat knees. They have a noticeably short back of five lumbar vertebrae and a round rump without a crease or dimple.  They seem to have an exceptionally high concentration of red blood cells.

The foals are born with thick, crinkly coats, curls inside their ears and long up-curled eyelashes.  They are born with an unusually affectionate disposition and insist on being friendly. They delight in human companionship and love to be talked to. When excited or at play, the foals trot with their tails absolutely straight in the air.

The American Bashkir Curly coat is considered hypo-allergenic to people who are allergic to horses, but the reason why is still under study. It may be because the Curly Horse's hair is different or that the proteins in their skin are different. It has been proven that flat hair is curly, yet the Bashkir Curly's hairs are round. They are also barbed or feathered underneath a microscope and can be spun and woven into yarn. The hair is more closely related to mohair, than to horsehair.

One especially odd feature of the breed is the fact that they can completely shed out the mane and tail hair each summer, along with their body coat and their summer coat is wavy or fairly straight on their bodies, with the distinctive and more pronounced curly winter coat returning in late fall.  They have a double mane which splits down the middle leaving curly ringlets hanging on both sides of the neck. Oddly, the ears do not totally shed out in the summer.

Many traits have been found that links them to primitive horses, such as some have no ergots and others have small soft chestnuts. They have wide-set eyes that have a slant that is characteristic of the Oriental breeds and that gives them a wider range of peripheral vision. These eyes also give them a sleepy expression that is deceiving since they are very alert.

American Bashkir Curly Horses do not run away when frightened, but are naturally curious and prefer to face the unknown. If they sense danger, they prefer to kick rather than run and will not tolerate abuse. They also tend to freeze when in a tight spot, so they seldom get themselves hurt, even if caught in a barbed wire fence.

The American Bashkir Curly Horse is a no-nonsense versatile breed that has an uncanny ability to do everything asked of it. It is usually highly intelligent, learns quickly and has a remarkable memory for both good and bad experiences. The breed is actively used in most equine disciplines from western riding and rodeo, to jumping, dressage and driving, and they are wonderful with children due to their gentle nature.

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