3 Curly Horse Breeds

Curly horse breeds are less formalized as independent breeds, unlike their counterparts. They come in all different sizes, body types, and colors. What sets them apart from the other breeds is one specific gene. Instead of having a straight coat of hair, they have a unique curly coat that affects their mane and tail, in addition to the hair on their bodies.

Many simply refer to horses with this type of coat as a “Curly.” They may also be referred to more formally as breed type. There are three specific names that are used if referring to a specific type of Curly.

  • Bashkir Curlies
  • American Bashkir Curlies
  • North American Curly Horses

Although they are primarily known for their coat, most Curlies have a temperament that is friendly and calm. They tend to be willing when it comes to training and are highly intelligent. They also tend to have a strong stamina and are resilient to changing conditions.

Their intelligence tends to have them stop and evaluate situations before deciding to act. This makes them less susceptible in picking up negative behaviors. Most Curlies tend to have a strong work ethic, enjoy being around people, and are thought to be a very reliable horse.

What Is the Origin of the Curly Horse Breeds?

The known origin of the Curly horse breeds is a subject of debate. Because most of the horses that are Curlies tend to come from North America or Russia, it is believed that the ancestry of these horses originates from either or both of those areas.

There is artwork which appears to depict the existence of Curly horse breeds that has been dated to the 2nd century AD.

We also know through the diaries and journals of Charles Darwin that there were Curly horse breeds in South America in the 19th century.

In North America, the Sioux tribe believed that the Curly horse breeds were sacred animals. Horses with a curly coat were reserved to be used by their medicine men or their chiefs only.

There is also evidence to suggest that Curly horses could have originated on the Iberian Peninsula. Various cross-breeds from this region tend to produce foals which can have curly hair on a regular basis.

Because of the disagreements regarding the origins of this breed, it is difficult to separate the different curly horses into specific breeds. Each of the three different types that are listed as individual breeds have individual definitions that are used in the Curly horse community. That means the Curly horse breeds could all just be one breed, could be three separate breeds, or there could be more that are just not known.

It may also be possible for the Curly horse breeds to be more like the color breeds, with possible traits being passed through multiple breeds. This would potentially account for the various discrepancies being seen in the lineage of the Curly horse breeds, but there is no definitive answer. Research is ongoing to determine more about these horses and their unique coats to determine if there are genetically separate breeds that can be identified. 

Could the North American Curly Horse Be the One True Breed?

The first documented Curly horse in the United States was in the early 20th century. Rancher John Damele in Eureka, Nevada managed to catch a Mustang that had curly fur, then managed to tame it and then sell it. This success caused the Damele Ranch to focus on producing Curly horses as part of their business.

In 1932, Nevada was hit with a particularly difficult winter season. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, times were tough for everyone. By the end of that winter, the only horses that had managed to survive were the Damele Curlies and those who had purchased on from them.

Their stamina and resilience convinced the Dameles and others in the region to invest into more horses with the Curly trait. Twenty years later, another bad winter season convinced the famly to become serious Curly horse breeders. They found a stallion to serve as their foundation and have worked on creating a firmer Curly horse breed. Although not officially recognized as a stand-alone breed, the Dameles offspring are found in hundreds of different pedigress in the modern equine world. 

Are Curly Horse Breeds Hypoallergenic?

There are many claims that Curly horses are the only type of horse breed that are hypoallergenic. It is true that people who are allergic to horses tend to have reduced reactions when they are around a Curly horse. Some may not even experience a reaction. The reason why this is possible is that a protein in the hair is missing with Curly horse breeds and it is this protein that is believed to be the cause of most horse allergies.

Even when a Curly has their winter coat fully grown, the reduced allergic reactions are still present.

It is the winter coat that makes the curly hair become obvious with these horses. Although you can see the hair curl or kink in the mane and tail all year long, the longer and thicker coat of winter for these horses is quite apparent.

Most Curly horses can be separated into three basic coat types, based on the type of curl that their coat happens to have.

  • Minimal. Curly horses in this category tend to have curly hair at the fetlocks, a kinked tail and mane, and may have curled hair inside their ears. The rest of their coat may have a slight wave to it or may appear to have no curl at all.
  • Moderate. Horses in this category have curls that can be seen all over their bodies. Their mane tends to have dreadlocks form within it and even their eyelashes and guard hairs tend to have some level of curl to it.
  • Extreme. These curly horses have tight curls which form all over their body. The curls are so tight, in fact, that when a horse in this classification sheds their winter coat, they may go completely bald. The summer coat, when it does grow in, tends to have more of a wave to it, but the tail and mane may exhibit extreme curling.

There are some Curliest that will not have any curl to their coat at all, despite being the offspring of two purebred Curly horses. That is because the trait for the curly hair is carried as a heterozygous type.

The Curly horse breeds do have split manes. They tend to be left unbraided or clipped when the horses are being shown.

Most tend to have a chestnut coat, but any coat color is possible throughout the Curly horse breeds. Some have even been known to have markings that are like the Appaloosa breed. There are pinto patterns as well, along with color breed options, such as palomino or cremello.

Organizations and Registries for the Curly Horse Breeds

There are 4 recognized organizations and registries for Curly horses.

  • American Bashkir Curly Registry. When it first accepted registrations in 1971, there were just 21 horses which qualified. Now there are more than 4,000 of these horses, with most of them in North America. They have a closed stud book and are considered to be the original Curly breed registry.
  • Canadian Curly Horse Association. This association was formed in 1993 and focuses on creating community events to help people get to know the Curly horse breeds a little better. Their focus is primarily on Canada, but their outreach efforts do extend to all of North America.
  • Curly Sporthorse International. This registry was formed in 2003 to help support those who had Curly horses which were more of a sporting type. It is one of the more popular types of this horse and the focus here is to improve the breed while creating marketing opportunities to spread awareness of these horses. This registry sponsors several awards.
  • International Curly Horse Organization. This registry was formed in 2000. More than 800 horses have been registered for North America and is focused on the coat trait more than the genetics or lineage of the horse. Any horse which exhibits curly hair qualifies for registering with this organization.

Curly horse breeds excel when competition is present. They move well, have good endurance, and a heart to win. Although they are not always formally recognized as a breed, you will find them competing at high levels in dressage, show jumping, and other events.

Many Curlies have a superior patience as well, which makes them good therapy animals for those who would benefit from experiential treatment. They are a reliable mount and typically quiet and level-headed.

For those who are allergic to horses, having a Curly horse makes it possible to learn how to ride. They work well for beginners to those who are advanced handlers. Curlies are also one of the friendliest horses that you will ever meet. With their natural ambling gait and unique look, it is easy to understand why the Curly horse breeds are so highly coveted.