About Curly Horses


The American Bashkir Curly has to be one of the most mysterious horses in the equine world. Ranchers first reported seeing them running with mustangs in the high deserts of central Nevada. At that point they were just an curiosity. That all changed in 1932 when the Great Basin of Nevada was hit by an extremely severe winter. Most of the domestic stock and wild horses either starved or froze to death. Among the few survivors were the Curlies. It was apparent that these horses had special features which enabled them to survive.

The Damele family on Dry Creek Ranch (Austin, Nevada) took a special interst in the horses and decided to breed them for ranch work. They started with Curlies captured from the herds and crossed them with their existing ranch horses. The end reslut was a line of stock horses that they described as gentle, easy keepers who could out work the best ranch horses in the state. The Damele Curlies were among the first to be domestically bred and carried the 3D brand of Dry Creek Ranch. Descendents of these horses have come to be known as the "Damele line".

It didn't take long for other ranchers in the area to take notice and the Curly horses popularity started to grow. In 1971, Benny Damele and Sunny Martin organized the American Bashkir Curly Registry in hopes of preserving this remarkable horse.

Because of the small number of horses that they had to work with, inbreeding was a major concern. In an effort to introduce new blood they chose to cross their Curlies with the following four breeds: ARABIANS, who shared the same short back and strong endurance MORGANS, who had conformation that was very similar to the Curlies. APPALOOSAS, known for their endurance and who shared the unusual trait of ocassionally shedding their manes and tails. MISSOURI FOX TROTTERS, who Sunny felt shared the smooth gait of the Curly.

Today some feel that the only “gait” exhibited by the original Curly was actually a “running walk” or "Indian shuffle”....not the full gait of the Missouri Fox Trotter. This issue has never been proven one way or the other but the cross produced some beautiful gaited Curly horses. Many breeders today breed specifically for the “Gaited Curly”.

In 1976, Western Horseman published an article about Curly Horses. Afterward the Registry received several phone calls from people who had either owned or remembered seeing a curly coated horse. They were all shocked to learn that their Curly was not the only one out there.

Research continued and it was discovered that the Curly horses were not limited to Nevada. Native Americans in the plains states had owned them for years. The Sioux winter count of 1801 depicts the Sioux stealing Curly horses from the Crow. In 1881, Chief Red Cloud was persuaded to make some drawings of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. One of those pictures depicted an Indian riding a curly coated horse. Descendants of these horses are considered the “Native American” line.

Sadly, the Sioux lost most of their horses to the US Army during the late 1800's. Just recently a group of Curly breeders donated four Curly horses to the Sioux in South Dakota. Research indicates that all four of these horses can be traced back to original Native American Curlies. The return of the Curlies created quite a stir on the reservation, expecially among the Elders. Their first crop of foals will hit the ground this spring.

There are many theories regarding how the Curly Horse came to the Americas and many of these theories have been explored in the book “The Curly Horse in America - Myth and Mystery”. It was originally believed that the Russian Bashkir horse was also curly coated and was probably an ancestor of our American Curly. Hence, the name AMERICAN BASHKIR CURLY. After the fact, it was discovered that it was not the Bashkir that had a curly coat. It was actually the Lokai. Members of the ABCR considered dropping the word Bashkir from the name but after lengthy discussions, for the sake of public recognition, they left the name as it was. Many breeders, however, have choosen to refer to their horses as simply “American Curlies”.

In the late 1990’s the number of registered Curlies was approaching 3000. There was talk of closing the books as many felt that continued cross breeding would dilute the gene pool to the point where the Curlies unique characteristics would be lost. Others opposed the idea as they felt the gene pool was still too small. Some breeders were crossbreeding in an attempt to create the “perfect horse”. As one old cowboy said, “They ain’t improvin’ the Curly none...they’re improvin’ the other breed!” After consulting with Dr.Ann Bowling, a genetics expert, and after many long discussions - the ABCR membership voted to close it’s books. As a result of that decision, in 2000, the ABCR became a blood registry. Knowing that there were many fine curly coated horses that would no longer be registerable, breeder Donna Vickery founded a second registry, the International Curly Horse Organization. ICHO continues to register all horses with a curly coat, regardless of pedigree, which allows the BLM horses and crossbreds to be tracked. This provides a valuable service to all Curly breeders.

What sets the Curly Horse apart from other breeds? Other then the obvious curly coat, it is valued for its gentle disposition, high intelligence, versatility of performance, strong bone, strength and endurance. As a result of the years of crossbreeding, the Curly can be found in every size and color. Mini to draft.....solid color, pinto and appy. This horse is famous for it’s ability to endure hardship and would definitely be classified as an “easy keeper”. However, it still needs all the care and comforts that would be offered to any other horse. Contrary to “old wives tales”, they DO need to be wormed, vaccinated and have their feet cared for.

As for that curly coat............ The coat is not typical horsehair but more closely resembles mohair. The hair can be spun and woven into garments. The hair is also considered, but not proven, to be hypoallergenic. People who are allergic to straight haired breeds usually will not have a reaction to Curlies. The winter coat expresses itself in a variety of patterns commonly described as marcel wave, crushed velvet, curl and micro curl. The summer coat also offers varieties ranging from smooth to wavey. Some horses shed their manes and tails every year, only to grow them back in the winter.

Our Curly horses have excelled in all disciplines - working cattle, trail riding, showing and they are always a favorite in parades and Equine Fairs. Every year the “Classic Curly Riders” can be seen in the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Therapeutic Riding schools have been searching out Curly horses for their programs. Knowledge of the Curlies now extends beyond the American and Canadian borders with several having been exported to European countries. Their popularity in Europe is growing by leaps and bounds.

Do our Curlies sound too good to be true? Then the next step is to have you meet one “up close and personal”! We would be happy to put you in touch with a breeder in your area.

Thank for your interest.