Curly Horses

In simple terms, a 'curly horse' is a horse with curly hair (that is, a curly coat). The following photo (courtesy of Zeetz Jones) is a good example of the breed with a well curled coat, small curls in the mane and waves in the tail. Additional photos are further down this page, as well as on the Curly Horses for Sale listings.

Curly Horse in Parade 

The growing popularity of this breed is due to:

  • Hypoallergenic. Most people who are allergic to horses have no allergy to curly horses or have a reduced allergy. Consequently, this type of horse is popular with people who want to ride horses but have an allergy to them.
  • Appearance. Everyone has their own personal preference in terms of horse appearance, but many people find the coat of curly horses unusually attractive.
  • Feel. The soft curls of these horses have a wonderful feel to them, making petting and grooming of the horse a special tactile pleasure.
  • Temperament. These horses are reputed to be particularly calm, sensible and intelligent. As such they are especially suited to children and for therapy.
     

These characteristics are passed on from parent to foal in the genes. The exact genes responsible have not yet been identified, but current research indicates that there are two different types of genes which can produce curly horses:

  • Dominant Curly Horse Gene. A horse needs to inherit this gene from either parent, in order to have the curly horse characteristics (hypoallergenic, curly coat).
  • Recessive Curly Horse Gene. A horse needs to inherit this gene from both parents, in order to have a curly coat. If it inherits from only one parent, it will not have a curly coat but may still be hypoallergenic.

Note that curly horses refers to a horse with a naturally curly coat. Horses whose coats curl due to illness (i.e. cushings disease) are not curly horses.

Bloodlines and Variations

There is substantial variation in the curly coat characteristics, from one curly horse to another. Some will have a curly coat year-round, while others display a curly coat only with their winter fur. Some have only a slight curl, while others will have large, thick curls.

These differences are largely due to:

  • Horse has a Single Dominant Curly Horse Gene. Will display typical curly horse characteristics.
  • Horse has Two Dominant Curly Horse Genes. In most cases, the curly characteristics will be more marked. However, this is not true of all bloodlines.
  • Horse has Two Recessive Curly Horse Genes. Will have a curly coat, but the recessive genes are somewhat different than the dominant genes, so coat does not look exactly the same.
  • Bloodlines. Certain bloodlines display difference coat appearance than others.
  • Individual. Finally, just as not all people have the same looking hair, there are natural variations from one horse to another.
  • Season. As in all horses, the winter coat will have a different appearance than the summer coat. With curly horses the seasonal differences are often even more marked, as the winter coat is not only longer but also more curled.
  • Age. The coat characteristics tend to change with age, depending on the genetic background and bloodline.

Consequently, there are marked differences in appearance from one curly horse to another.

Breed Standard

The curly coat is the defining characteristic of a curly horse, followed by the associated hypoallergenic quality. However, a detailed breed standard has not yet been officially agreed, so there is considerable variation in terms of other characteristics such as: height, weight, build, shape, color. A number of organizations (such as the International Curly Horse Organization) are working to develop a breed standard, as the base for a breeding programme which will result in curly horses with a uniform set of characteristics. Until then, curly horses will vary in various aspects of their appearance and consequently are not an officially recognized breed. That is, one can buy a curly horse and there are curly horse 'breeders', but there is not an official recognized 'curly horse breed'.

The first reported breeding of curly horses was by a Nevada, USA ranching family (the Damele's), in the 1930s. Compared to breeds such as the Arabian, which have been bred for many centuries, this is extremely recent.

Appearance

The curly coat is most obvious in winter, when the hair is both longer and curlier. It's summer coat is smoother and sleeker, but shows less evidence of curl, with some horses showing no curl in their summer coat. However, certain areas (mane, forelock, inside of ears, often fetlocks) are more likely to show curl in the summer even when the coat itself does not.

In the case of dominant curly horse genes, the manes and tail hair in curly horses tend to be shorter and thinner than most other breeds, a quality they share with appaloosa horses. However, with recessive curly horse genes, the manes and tail hair are of the same length as

Unlike other breeds, the coat of the curly horse is not clipped for show. With most breeds, the long winter fur is considered unattractive so is clipped for show purposes, whereas with the curly horse its winter coat is considered attractive and a distinguishing feature so is allowed to grow.

The curly horse genes occur naturally and can be found (although not commonly) in horses ranging in size from miniature horses to standard-size saddle horses to heavy draft horses. Likewise, they vary widely in terms of color, and build. Reputedly, they often have a calm and sensible temperament, making them good horses for children.

Photos

The following photo shows a curly coat

Curly Horse

The above photos shows a coat with curls. However, some curly horses have more of a wavy coat than a curled coat, as can be seen in the following photo:

Coat of Curly Horse

There are also variations in the mane, which can be slightly curled or very curled, or even form dreadlocks as in the following photo:

Curly Horse Mane

The above 3 photos courtesy of wikipedia.

Extreme Curly Horses
 

Some curly horses display the curly horse traits much more strongly than the average curly horse and consequently are known as 'extreme curly horses'. Their coats are much more curly, the main and tail hair is even thinner and shorter (even extremely so), they are reputedly exceptionally calm and gentle.

As they age, the intensely curly coats often become frazzled or furry looking. However, this is not true of all extreme curly horses; some retain their exceptional curly coat for their entire life.

These horses are often the result of having two curly genes (i.e. from both parents). However, not all horses with two curly genes are extreme curly horses, so other factors (such as bloodlines) also play a role.
 

Changes in Appearance Over Time

If you are thinking of buying a curly horse because of its appearance, you should note that the coat can change greatly depending on the season and the horse's age:

  • The winter coat is more curly and thicker than the summer coat
  • In the spring, when the winter coat is shed but the new coat has not come in, the coat can be quite thin and some curly horses may even have bald spots (although this is quite common). The mane and tail hair can also be quite thin at this time, depending on the horse.
  • Depending on the bloodline and the individual, the coat characteristics can change with age.

Consequently, unless you are completely comfortable with these changes, you should:

  • If possible, observe the horse you are interested in at different times of the year. If this is not practical, ask for photos of the horse at different seasons so that you will know how it looks throughout the year.
  • Discuss with the breeder what changes normally occur with age, in his bloodline. Look at other horses in the same bloodline of varying ages to get an idea of the changes to expect.
  • If you are mainly interested in a curly horse for its hypoallergenic characteristics, rather than it coat, you may want to consider a 'smooth-coated curly horse'. This is a horse which is descended from curly horse parents but has a smooth coat despite its parents having curly coats. Some, but not all, of these horses are hypoallergenic despite having a normal straight haired coat.

Curly Horses and Allergies

Most people who are allergic to horses find that with curly horses they have a reduced allergic reaction or no reaction at all. Consequently, they are particularly popular with people who want to ride but suffer from a horse allergy. They are also popular with riders who may not be allergic themselves but have a family member who experiences an allergic reaction when the rider comes home (with horse hair or dander on themselves, their clothing or equipment).

If you are buying a curly horse for this reason, you may wish to:

  • Determine Allergy Cause. Some people who experience an allergy around horses are not allergic to horses but to something else (e.g. straw, dust) associated with horses. In this case, buying a curly horse won't make any difference (but using a different type of horse bedding might).
  • Verify Individual Horse. Once you have identified a horse that you may want to buy, carefully test whether you have an allergic reaction to that particular horse or not (and the strength of the reaction). The hypoallergenic benefits of curly horses vary depending on the horse and the individual, so you need to test the specific horse against the specific person to determine if there is no allergy, a reduced allergy, or perhaps even no benefit at all.
  • Be Careful. Until proven otherwise, do not assume that you won't have a reaction to a curly horse. If you have extreme (or even potentially fatal) allergic reactions, take appropriate medical advice on how to test safely.

Names

Curly horses are also known as:

  • Bashkir Curlies or Bashkir Curly
  • American Bashkir Curlies or American Bashkir Curly, and
  • North American Curly Horses