Farm Horizons, September 1997

American Bashkir Curly: horse in sheep's clothing


Native American legend has the American Bashkir Curly appearing to the people as "large, red, curly dogs," said Mary Aritt of Howard Lake.

She pointed to the tight curls inside her two-year old stallion's ears.

Although the curly coat and sometimes all of the mane and tail hair is shed in the summer, the curls inside the ears and around the ankles stay.

"It seems to help fight off the bugs," she said.

Aritt and her husband, Jim, own a stallion, two mares and foals, and have a yearling filly coming from Wisconsin later this fall.

The Aritts live on a dairy farm south of Howard Lake. Jim was a bit skeptical ofhorses in general, at first.

Jim is on the Minnesota Dairy Herd Improvement Association. If you couldn't milk them or eat them, he didn't think the horses could be much good.

When he and Mary got married, she told him it was a package deal: two kids and two horses.

Mary grew up on a dairy farm as one of 10 girls. She had a pony as a kid.

"It seems we always had horses around. The older girls had theirs, and as they left home, they took the horses with them.

"I never had more than one horse until I moved from home, she said. I still have my first one and she is 18."

About 14 years ago, Mary read an article about the American Bashkir Curly and was just fascinated, she said.

She called a breeder in Wisconsin, and she and her mom drove there to see some of them.

At that time she couldn't afford one.

A couple of years ago, Mary and Jim went to Kansas City, Mo. for a dairy convention, and she found out there were some Curly breeders in Blue Spring.

They took the side trip. The breeder didn't have anything to sell them, but showed them a picture of a buckskin colt for sale in Iowa.

The Aritts made the journey to Iowa. One look at the yearling, Tonka, and Jim fell in love with him. "It was totally his decision," said Mary.

When we decided to become a breeding establishment, we got videos of horses that were for sale.

They located two pregnant mares in Louis Creek, British Colombia and purchased them, said Mary. Of course, we are looking forward to the buckskin filly from Wisconsin.

Buckskin and dun are the colors they want to concentrate on breeding, Mary said.

Buckskin horses are a brownish gold with black legs, manes, and tails. The dun is a brown with a dark brown dorsal stripe down the middle of the back.

The red or sorrel color with flaxen or blond colored legs seems to be the dominant color of the Bashkir horse in Russia.

The exact origin of the horse is a mystery according to the literature put out by the American Bashkir Curly Registry.

Horses with curly coats have been depicted in art and statuary in early China as far back as 161 AD.

Evidence of their presence has shown up in South America and Europe.

In Russia, the Loika breed also produces some horses with curly coats.

It not known for sure how the horse came to the United States.

One theory has the Russians traveling over the ice on the Bering Strait and leaving the horses behind, when they returned to Russia by boat.

No factual proof has been found for any theory, but Native American pictographs show the horses here in the early 1800s.

A significant location for the Curlies has been traced to reservations in North and South Dakota.

The northern Sioux Tribes record Curlies before the white man came into the country.

At Wounded Knee, Big Foots' band of people and most of their horses were killed, many of which were Curlies, said Mary.

At this time there were only a few left on the Standing Rock and Fort Berthold reservations in the Dakotas.

In an effort to preserve the Standing Rock band of horses, the Fort Berthold group was discovered.

They belonged to a Native American family, who had traded for two Curly mares from Siting Bull's band when they were en route from Canada after the Custer Massacre.

Three mares were acquired for the Standing Rock band and helped enlarge the gene pool and kept the herd healthy.

Many of the Curlies have been captured from the wild horse bands that roam those states.

They have been domesticated and bred, by ranchers throughout the U.S.

Mary said the American Bashkir Curly Registry was started in 1971 by a handful of breeders encouraged by Sunny Martin of Ely, Nevada.

The Curlies are a general purpose horse of a medium size. They resemble the early day Morgan in conformation, according to the information put out by the breed registry.

A number of traits have been found in the breed that links them to the primitive horse.

They have an oriental slant to the eye, and have a calm, almost sleepy look about them.

Most of the breed move at a running walk or a fox-trot. They are touted as a sturdy, strong animal with a lot of endurance.

The foals arrive with thick, crinkly coats and long curly eyelashes.

According to the Aritts, the animals are an "in your pocket" type of horse. They want to be with people and are extremely affectionate and friendly.

One very odd fact about the horses, said Mary, is the shedding of their mane and tail.

"The hair is so long and full of ringlets, perhaps that is nature's way of dealing with the mats that would develop over the years in the wild," she said.

A number of owners who are allergic to other horses, find they have no problem with the curly horses. Their hair has tested and found to be similar to mohair and sheep wool.

Winter coat patterns can vary from a crushed velvet look or wave to a body full of tight curls, she said.

Because of the scarcity of the breed, some outcrossing has been done and produces all colors and markings.

Because of recessive genes, curly coats can show up in straight-coated breeds, from ponies to draft horses.

The Aritts want to keep their operation small, so they have the time to spend with each individual animal.

They want to have them fairly well trained before letting most go to their new homes.

Mary estimated the purchase price for a three-year old broodmare, unbroken, at about $3,000 to $4,000. Of course, the sky's the limit, she said.

Brandon, 13, and Dominique, 11, enjoy the horses. They play with the babies and ride the older ones.

The family likes to trail ride, and when Jim sells his dairy cows, they will have more time together.

If you want to find out more about this unusual breed, talk to Mary or Jim Aritt. The American Bashkir Curly registry can be reached at 1-702-289-4999.

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