The American Bashkir: A Horse With Curls

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Country Lines Magazine cover, January 2001

Have you ever seen a horse with a perm? It’s hard to image—a horse with tight, curly ringlets all over—but they do exist. And their unusual Mohair-type coat doesn’t seem to affect people who are allergic to horses.

The American Bashkir: A Horse With Curls

Cloverland Electric members Tom and Denise Conroy of Cedarville saw their first Curly horse in 1997. “I had wanted horses all my life, but due to my husband’s allergies, it was impossible,” says Denise. Then, a friend told them about the hypoallergenic Curly horse. Within a week, they had purchased Zig, their first Curly horse. “He was all that we hoped for and more,” says Denise. “My husband spent hours with him, cautious about it. He didn’t believe they could really be hypoallergenic. But they’re different from ‘normal’ horses.”

You might easily mistake one for a normal horse, though. Each summer, Curlies can completely shed their mane hair, and sometimes even their tail hair, making them look like an ordinary horse. But by the following winter, they have a thick, new hair growth, complete with their always curly manes, fetlocks…and even curly eyelashes.

Foals are born with their thick, curly coats. They even have curls inside their ears. “It looks like a berber carpet in there,” says Denise. “And, our little Lucy’s eyelashes were so curly that they folded into each other. Like someone took a curling iron to them.”

But, the Bashkir Curly has much more to offer than a curly coat. The breed is known for its “dog-like” disposition. Curlies are born unusually affectionate and insist on being friendly. “They are very much in your face. They’re lovable pests, really,” says Denise. “They get along well with each other, too.”

But, unlike most dogs, Curlies would rather have affection than a snack. “They prefer a scratch to a treat,” says Denise. “We hardly give our horses treats, so when you go out there, you know they just want you. And, they want you to scratch them as long as your arms hold out. They’re just sweet.”

The babies are even sweeter and are always good for a laugh. When excited or at play, Curly foals move at a bold trot with their tails sticking straight up in the air. “It’s funny how their tails will flip right over their backs and they’ll spring around like little kangaroos,” says Denise. Even her stallion has been caught pawing around playfully in his water trough.

And Curlies are very quick to learn and willing to please. So, trainers who aren’t familiar with the breed find working with a Curly for the first time a pleasure. “When we first bought Zig, he wasn’t trained exactly right, but our trainer said he learned in a day what it took other horses a week to learn,” says Denise. “It’s their willingness to please and do what you want done.”

Nothing seems to ruffle them, either. Curlies don’t get spooked or flee when nervous. “They don’t scare easily. They’re very curious and would rather walk up and stick their nose in barrels, tarps, or garbage bags than run from them,” says Denise.

The herd at Conroy’s Curly Corral has grown to 10 horses, with two foals due in 2001. They sell their Curlies to families all over the country. “They’re also sought after for therapeutic and handicapped riding ranches because of their quiet and gentle temperaments,” says Denise. Curly foals sell for between $1,500-$5,000. And hard-to-find, broke-to-ride Curlies get $4,000-$8,000.

Tracy Conroy and her Curly gelding Cheyene. In the summer Curlies shed their winter curls and can almost be mistaken for a “normal” horse

But, Curlies can save you money in the long run. After all, you won’t need that costly allergy medicine anymore…and you won’t need horseshoes. Curlies have extremely hard feet that don’t require shoes. “Our farrier has yet to put shoes on any of our horses. That’s a real benefit to the Curly,” says Denise. That, and they’re also able to withstand harsh weather, thanks to an extra layer of fat unique to the breed.

So, you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. “They are just all around fun, easy horses,” adds Denise. “They’re excellent companions for any age rider; great for novices. They are extremely intelligent, non-spooky, sensible, and willing mounts with a very curious nature.” And, no need for Benedryl.

If you’re interested in the breed, you should really do your research, because not all Curlies will have these wonderful traits. “I don’t want people to get a glorified view of the breed. You still need to evaluate each horse for bloodline and those special characteristics,” says Denise. At the Curly Corral, they carefully evaluate their breeding stock.

The ABC Registry, developed to protect and preserve this rare breed, began in 1971. Due to a limited number of Curlies, outcrossing was allowed to help build their numbers. This year, members voted to close the registry to prevent any more dilution and build on the current number of registered horses.

Before the registry closed, Denise and others breeding Curly-to-Curly developed the Early Curly Breeders Association to focus on what the breed represented 30 years ago. “We’re interested in maintaining the purest Curly possible,” she says.

Curlies have an amazing record since the Registry was started, winning trophies in everything from Barrel Racing to Competitive and Endurance Trail Riding. “We feel the only way to prove Curlies are everything we claim is by showing what they can do,” said Denise. So, the Conroys enjoy promoting the breed in local shows, parades, and fairs.

Their 14-year-old-daughter, Tracy, took first place in Hunter/Jumper with a Curly named Cheyenne. “At the competition, people joked and said, ‘What are you doing here with that little Jersey pony?’ The average height of a Curly is from 14.2hh to 15.2hh, and most Hunter/Jumpers are 16hh and need that height. But we showed them,” says Denise.

“People haven’t taken the breed seriously yet, but down the road they will.”

Bashkir Curly is a Breed Apart

With only about 2,500 in existence, the American Bashkir Curly is a rare breed.

Although you may not have seen on, they’ve been around awhile. Evidence shows that the Sioux Indians had Curly horses as early as 1801. And, in his 1848 autobiography, circus master P.T. Barnum wrote about obtaining and exhibiting a Curly horse.

But, the “American” Bashkir Curly horse dates back to 1898, when it was “discovered” by Peter Damele and his father in Nevada. Many Curlies today can be traced back to the Damele ranch.

It’s said that the horse got its name from an ancient Russian breed called the Bashkir, from which the modern Curly was believed to have descended. But now it’s thought that the American horse was named incorrectly. So, the name is still a mystery, but it’s no secret why the breed is growing in popularity.

If you’re seriously interested in buying a Curly horse, do your homework first and visit the Conroy’s Web sit at http://members.tripod.com/~omdesigns/. For more information, write The American Bashkir Curly Registry, PO Box 246, Ely, NV 89301. Or, for a tour of the Conroy’s Curly Corral, call (906) 484-3621, and be prepared for a very warm welcome from their horses.

By: Tameria Ewers
From: Country Lines Magazine, January 2001