Nothing to Sneeze At

Curly Horses will shed out all or most of their curls in the summer months and grow back their curls just in time for winter.
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Team of harnessed Curlies wearing winter coats

Team of harnessed Curlies wearing winter coats

Anyone who is allergic to horses might take note of a rare breed with a different hair coat that solves the problem. People with horse allergies find the Bashkir Curly horse does not create a reaction, because its genetic makeup is different from that of other horse breeds.

A team of Curlies wearing winter coats. Where exactly this unique breed originated has many theories: the Russians explored the Pacific Coast of North America and set up various settlements, from Sitka in the Aleutian Islands to Fort Ross in California, in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Perhaps the Russians imported these horses. The name Bashkir comes from the Bashkiri people of the Ural Mountains, who supposedly bred horses with curly hair.

The winter of 1801 to 1802 is recorded in pictographs on Native American buffalo hides as the year the Sioux stole curly horses from the Crow. And in the 1870s, a prominent wealthy Nevada rancher named Tom Dixon reportedly imported curly horses from beyond the Khyber Pass.

When Napoleon conquered Austria in 1805, he found “poodle hair horses” at the Vienna Zoo, and had some of them transported back to Paris for his personal enjoyment. Charles Darwin, in his famous book about evolution, mentions sightings of curly haired horses in South America in the early 1800s.

The celebrated exhibitor of curiosities P.T. Barnum purchased a curly horse in 1847 from an agent in Cincinnati. Barnum waited for the perfect opportunity to introduce the curly horse to the public. When noted explorer Colonel John Fremont got lost in the Rocky Mountains, America waited for news of his survival. As soon as he emerged from the wilderness, Barnum took advantage of the situation to promote his curly horse as a strange new bred Fremont had discovered in the wilderness.

Jim Alan logs with Curly stallion JC's Jubilee sporting his summer coat.

Jim Alan logs with Curly stallion JC’s Jubilee sporting his summer coat.

Barnum made a small fortune charging curiosity seekers 25 cents a head to see the horse. His returns got even better after Fremont sued Barnum for his chicanery. The curly horse litigation made national headlines, and the free publicity further promoted Barnum’s woolly horse exhibit.

Pioneers recorded various sightings of curly horses among wild herds in western Canada and the United States. In Canada, the pioneers saw them in such diverse places as the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan and Aishiik Lake in the Yukon. No one has yet to discover for certain where these horses originated.

Few cowboys initially bothered with the strange breed until rough cold weather and temperature inversions wiped out a lot of the wild horses. Only Curlies, with their thick winter coats, survived, though they were gaunt. Given no choice, ranchers brought in several of these horses for work and quickly discovered their marvelous characteristics.

Nature ha provided curly horses with a unique heating and cooling system. Their thick curly winter coat, which they shed each spring, repels rain and snow. A shorter hair coat next to the body traps air that keeps the horses warm and able to withstand cold winters. For some reason, this unique hair coat is hypoallergenic, and most people with allergies to horses are not allergic to this breed.

We have had many people from around the world visit our farm near Guelph, Ontario, to see if they are allergic and have to disappoint a customer. Nothing could be more heart-warming than to se a smile on the face of someone who has been deprived of owning a horse due to allergies, able to realize the dream of horse ownership with a Curly horse. We have sold horses to Pennsylvania farmers who farm with horse-drawn machinery but are allergic to other horses.

Curlies have a gentle nature, bond with people, and learn quickly—traits that make them easy to train to harness. They also excel at modern events, including dressage, in which two Curly horses in the United States have reached high levels. Almost 3,500 head of this rare breed have been recorded since registration began in 1971. Our farm has the largest selection of trained Curly horses in Canada.

Another person who loves Curlies for their versatility is Jim Alan of Celtic Curlies in Lakebay, Washington. “Curlies can pack, plow, or carry riders,” says Jim. “With their long legs, thick chests, and heavy bone and muscle, they make excellent work animals. Their calm disposition makes them easier to work around, too. We had our stallion, JC’s Jubilee trained for harness work as well as riding so he could help with our farm chores.”

Jim uses Jubilee to ski logs, often working pretty close to the stallion’s feet without incident. “If you’re thinking of working a piece of land with horses, consider Curlies,” says Jim. “Their calm temperament and willingness to work, and the bond you’ll form with your horses will make your chore a pleasure. A Curly is a lot less expensive to keep than a draft horse.”

Among the best traits of these horses is their low maintenance. Our 55 Curlies stay outside year around. That consideration is important to a cowpoke tired of mucking out stalls. As a former feral horse, the Curly has tough hooves and, unlike other breeds, doesn’t need shoes. Curlies are easy keepers and do well in hay alone. They are endowed with tremendous stamina and a surprising ability to pull and carry. They don’t frighten easily, and in a bad situation will wait patiently until someone comes to help. Today, when so many people with little or no horse experience are buying horses, it is all the more important that a horse have a well balanced and gentle nature—qualities Curlies possess.

Greg and Sonja Oakes own and operate Oakesmuir Bashkir Curly Horses, RR 5, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1H 6J2, phone 519-822-1211. Visit them on the Web at www.curlyhorse.com.

By: Greg and Sonja Oakes
From: Rural Heritage, Winter 2004