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By Elizabeth Webster
(Hopstone Caspian Stud)


I will start my description of the Caspian Horse by quoting extensively from the Breed Standard:

"General impression: The Caspian is a horse, not a pony, and therefore should be viewed in the same manner as when judging a Thoroughbred, i.e. the limbs, body and head should all be in proportion to each other … The overall impression should be of a well-bred, elegant horse in miniature.
Eyes: Almond shaped, large, dark…
Nostrils: Large… finely chiselled, capable of considerable dilation during action.
Ears: Short…finely drawn, often noticeably in-pricked at the tips.
Head: Wide, vaulted forehead … Frontal bone should blend into nasal bone in a pleasing slope. Very deep, prominent cheekbones... Head tapers to a fine, firm muzzle.
Neck: Long, supple…with a finely modelled throatlatch.
Shoulders and withers: Long, sloping, well modelled with good withers.
Body: Characteristically slim with deep girth… close-coupled, with well-defined hindquarters and good 'saddle space'.
Quarters: Long and sloping from hip to point of buttock. Great length from stifle to hock.
Hocks: Owing to their mountain origin, Caspians may have more angled hocks than lowland breeds.
Limbs: Characteristically slender…dense, flat bone…pasterns neither upright nor oversloping.
Hoofs: Both front and back are oval and neat with immensely strong wall and sole and very little frog.
Coat, Skin and Hair: Skin fine, supple and dark except under white markings. Coat silky and flat, often with iridescent sheen in summer. Thick winter coat. Mane and tail abundant but fine and silky…Mane usually lies flat (as in Thoroughbreds). Tail carried gaily in action… Little or no feathering at the fetlock.
Colours: All except piebald or skewbald (pinto). Greys can fade through roans to near white at maturity.
Height: Varies with feeding, care and climate. Recorded range is between 10 to nearly 13 hands. Rapid growth rate in the young…making most height in the first 18 months and filling out with maturity. Average height is 11.2 hands.
Action/Performance: Natural floating action at all gaits - long low, swinging trot with spectacular use of the shoulder. Smooth rocking canter, rapid flat gallop. Naturally light and agile with exceptional jumping ability.
Temperament: Highly intelligent and alert, but very kind and willing.

I have italicised some parts of the description because these are readily discernible characteristics of the typical Caspian. Of course there are other significant differences, but for most people these form their perception of what it is that makes a Caspian unique. However, before one can assess the situation today for any breed, it is first necessary to look at their history.

Hopstone Bonafsheh meets the Queen

The Caspian Horse is now recognised as the ancestor of one of the four main types of horse breeds. A true hot-blood, his descendants include the Arabian, for long thought to be the oldest breed, and therefore the Thoroughbred and many of our well-known native horses and ponies.

As long ago as 3000 years before the birth of Christ, the peoples of the Middle East were especially fond of the small type of equid celebrated in the ancient friezes and carvings of that era. Indeed, Darius the Great, ruler of Mesopotamia around 500 BC, so favoured these courageous, swift little horses as his personal choice to draw his hunting chariot that he honoured them by having their likeness used on the royal seal (British Museum).

With the historical invasions and great battles that formed the history of those times, breeding of the little horses apparently ceased and documentary evidence was lost. For more than a thousand years nothing was heard or seen of them. The great stone frieze on the grand staircase at the Persian Palace of Persepolis depicting carved images of the animals presented to King Darius, but the height differences shown within species were put down to 'artist's licence'. Other treasures were found, such as the four tiny golden horses of the Oxus Treasure (British Museum), but archaeologists puzzled over their small size relative to the chariot they pulled. Unusually slender cannon bones discovered on archaeological digs were confusing, but they were then ascribed to the onager, a type of wild ass. Not until 1965 was any evidence of their continued existence discovered. Even then it was discovered by accident.

Mrs. Louise Firouz, a Cornell graduate married to an Iranian, was searching in the mountain villages of Northern Iran, near the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, for small mounts for her young riding school pupils to use instead of the 15 hand stallions then more usual. She was following up on a rumour that one or two smaller horses of pony size had been seen in the region. The first possibility that there was any substance to the rumour appeared in the narrow streets of Amol, when a tiny stallion was seen darting around a corner pulling a crude and over-loaded cart. Intrigued, Firouz followed him. One look was enough to tell her that Ostad was truly unique - " a small, slim bay stallion; a perfect small horse, with a bright, glossy coat, slim legs, tiny hoofs and the body and carriage of a well-bred oriental horse - no shaggy pony this, but an eleven hand dream out of a Russian fairy tale".

Ostad became the first of an initially small group of such horses to be hunted out and haggled over for the riding school at Norouzabad and eagerly welcomed by the young riders. Entering with gusto and astonishing ability into life and work there, their character and temperament proved to be as unique as their elegant appearance. Firouz became immensely excited by her discovery and set in motion the research into their provenance, genotype, blood, skeleton and bones that continues today amongst research institutions in the West. With the help of a boiled-down modern skeleton, links were finally made between those unusually slender bones and the formerly misinterpreted evidence at Persepolis and other sites. They showed that the little horse - which Firouz named the "Caspian" due to its geographical location when found - had managed to survive in remote pockets among the mountains. So prepotent was the Caspian gene that it had evidently survived as a recessive factor amongst the native horses, with a tiny foal of characteristically Caspian proportions occasionally being born to an apparently normal sized sire and dam.

Having survived from their ancient royal connections through centuries of violent upheaval to the present day, Caspians have again attracted the enthusiastic protection and patronage of royalty. A stallion and mare presented to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh by Louise Firouz, during the Peacock Throne Celebrations under the late Shah, produced a filly during quarantine in Hungary. All three soon found their way on loan to the Hopstone Stud in Central England where they joined a fledgling stud of other imported Caspians. After further importations to provide more blood lines, UK-bred Caspians have since travelled far and wide, from Hopstone and subsequent studs - to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Americas and several European countries. Since the mid-1970's a Society has helped advise breeders, license stallions and register foals in the National and International Caspian Stud Books.

Not all their troubles were solved on re-discovery, for their own country has recently lived through a host of political upheavals and two major wars. Caspians, once declared a national treasure whose further export was forbidden, undeservedly became the butt of revolutionary rage at the regime they represented. Many in the royal stables died of neglect or starvation. Others were sold as meat or turned loose in the harsh winter to take their chance. Such misfortune to many of the original or future foundation animals has, however, vindicated the earlier export of sufficient horses to ensure the survival of the breed. Yet whilst their path through the countries of the western world has been slightly less volatile, the breed has had to win over a long-established horse scene. That they have still triumphed is as much a credit to the courage, patience and inspiration of Louise Firouz and Caspian breeders as it is to the toughness of the Caspian itself.

Firouz has subsequently discovered further foundation animals, export has been re-allowed and their offspring thrive and impress in many parts of the world. A true and enthusiastic all-rounder, the Caspian has something to offer the whole family. Today's Caspians take part in driving events of all types as well as jumping, showing, gymkhana and racing. Stallions (and many mares) are routinely broken to ride and drive. Both pure and part-bred Caspians have had significant success in scurry driving and Prince Philip Cup Games. Caspians have featured extensively on television, radio and in various published media.

For many breeders their powerful combination of looks, brains, charm and character has been impossible to resist. More than a thousand registered pure-bred Caspians have been listed in the International Caspian Stud Book and crosses to mares of non-Caspian breeding have produced some spectacularly successful part-breds in many spheres and disciplines of the horse world.

The Caspian Horse Society holds an annual Breed Show each July, with classes for both purebred and part-bred Caspians of all ages and sexes and exhibits examples of the breed at many leading national shows. Lists of Licensed Stallions and Stock for Sale are published with their bi-annual Magazine, and are readily available on request. Above all the Caspian Horse Society welcomes new members, whether owners or not, who would like to keep abreast of progress with this most intriguing of breeds.


Those interested in further information can contact the Secretary of the Caspian Horse Society via the Society's website:

Recommended Reading:
"The Caspian Horse" by Brenda Dalton (International Stud Book Registrar), published by Horseshoe Publications, Warrington, Cheshire, £13.99 (UK).
"Guide No.1: The Caspian Horse" - By Brenda Dalton, Published by Allen Guides to Horse & Pony Breeds, £5.99 (UK).

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