Curlies somewhat resemble the early day Morgan in conformation and a number of traits have been found in this unique breed that link them to the primitive horse. Curlies are of medium size. They also come in pony and draft size. Many individuals have been found without ergots. Some have small, soft chestnuts. Their soft, calm looking eyes have an unusual Oriental slant to them, which gives them a sort of sleepy look, but which also tends to give them a larger range of vision to the rear. The sleepy look is very deceiving, as they have a proud carriage, are very alert and not lazy and most move at a running walk.
Their unusually tough black hoofs are almost perfectly round in shape. Many Curlies with white legs will still have four black hoofs. They also have an exceptionally high concentration of red blood cells; stout round-bone cannon; straight legs that also move straight; flat knees; strong hocks; short back which indicates five lumbar vertebrae; round rump without crease or dimple; powerful rounded shoulders; V'd chest and round barrel, all of which contribute to their strength and endurance. The foals arrive with thick, crinkly coats almost resembling astrakhan fur, even inside their short broad ears, and also have beautiful curly eyelashes. They are born with an unusually affectionate disposition and insist on being friendly. When excited or at play, the foals move at a bold trot with their tails absolutely straight in the air.
One especially odd feature of the breed is the fact that some can completely shed out the mane hair (and sometimes even the tail hair ) each summer, to grow back during the winter. The mane hair is usually fine and soft. They have a double mane which splits down the middle leaving curly ringlets hanging on both sides of the neck. Their body coat sheds out in the summer and they become wavy or fairly straight on their body, with their beautiful coat returning in the late fall. Several winter coat patterns have been observed, from a crushed velvet effect, to a perfect Marcel wave, to extremely tight curls over the entire body. It has been tested and proven that flat hair is curly, yet when the hair of the Curlies was tested it was found to be round. One other thing about their hair that should be mentioned, is that a number of owners who are allergic to horses find that they are not allergic to their Curlies.
Outcrossing produces colour - and since Curlies have necessarily been crossed with other breeds due to their own scarcity, they come in all colours - even with Appaloosa or pinto markings.
Their most cherished quality is their calmness and extremely gentle disposition. We do feel that this is one of their finest features. Many have been taken off the open range, even full grown animals, and in a day or two, they are gentler than horses that have been handled for years. Nothing seems to ruffle them. They do not tend to resort too flight when frightened, which has been claimed the horse's greatest means of survival. Curlies, with their naturally curious nature, prefer to face the unknown rather than run from it. If they feel something is a real danger to them, they prefer to kick rather than run. Although they will struggle frantically when first roped or haltered, they soon respond to kindness and affection because of their inherent gentle nature. They seem unable to cope with or tolerate abuse. They will tend to freeze in a tight spot so seldom get themselves hurt, even if caught in barbed wire. They will delight in human companionship and love to be talked to.
Although there is a "dominant" curly gene that makes it possible to get curly-coated foals from curly coated parents, there is also a "recessive" gene that occasionally causes curly-coated foals to show up in the straight coated breeds - from pony to draft horse! Strangely, the curly coated foals, whether from "dominant" or "recessive" genes, all seem to carry most of the same basic traits. And many of these traits do not fit the norm for other breeds.
Performance wise, Curlies are a no-nonsense horse and have an uncanny ability to do all that is asked of them since they are usually intelligent, learn quickly and a remarkable memory (for either good or bad experiences) They have won trophies in arena events such as: Western Riding, Reining, Gymkhana Events, Hunter, Jumper, Roping, English Equitation, Western Pleasure, Gaited Pleasure, Dressage and Driving. They have won in Competitive and Endurance Trail Riding and are excellent mounts in the mountains, ranch work and ann all round pleasure horse.
Horses with curly coats are most certainly an ancient breed. They have been depicted in art and statuary in early China as far back as 161 AD. There has been evidence of their presence in South America and Europe. A photo of a curly coated Bashkir horse from Russia was printed in the 1938 March issue of the Nature magazine entitled "The Evolution of the Horses". The horse's picture was later drawn by John Hix and featured in a cartoon called "Strange as it Seems". The clipping had been saved in a scrapbook by the Damele family (early day curly horse breeders in Nevada). This information was one of the factors that helped in determining the name of this unique breed, American Bashkir Curly.
It is still a mystery how the curlies came to the US. Many theories have been advanced on the subject, but no factual proof has yet been found. But there is evidence that curlies have been in North America since the early 1800's. Many Indian pictographs illustrating the "Winter Counts" have noted that in the winter of 1801-1802 the Sioux had stolen some curly horses from the Crow. This incident placed the tribes at the Standing Rock / Cheyenne River Reservation oat the mouth of the Grand River. A significant location of the curlies today has been traced to Indian Reservations in North and South Dakota. Many curlies then and now have been acquired from the wild horses that roam the lands of the United States. They have been domesticated, bred and raised by ranchers throughout the United States and Canada.
All information and pictures for this article were kindly provided by the ABC Registry