June 03, 2012  •  30 Comments

Curly Horses


We have been very fortunate to find Curly Horses in the wild several times.  Most of you that have followed me for awhile know how very fascinated and enthralled I am with these horses.  How can I possibly resist a Curly blog?  I can't.  I will be using photos from both 2010 and 2012 but I don't think you'll mind that...



We did find Curlies this year, both new horses to us and Curlies that we saw and photographed in the fall of 2010.  All of these horses were in Wyoming, though I know there are Curlies in the wild in Nevada, as well.



Two years ago, we had absolutely no idea what a Curly was.  We had gone to the BLM office in Rock Springs and they told us with some enthusiasm there were Curlies "out there."  We smiled and said, "Oh, cool."



You might be as ignorant of Curlies as we were, though if you've hung around my Facebook page for very long, you've likely had a little education here and there.  So, now is a good time to give you some background on the Curly horse.  I am going to use several references, not being an expert myself.  I will list them and their websites at the end of the blog, if you'd like to further explore.



History of the Curly Horse in North America

The exact origin of the Curly horse is not known and is likely still hotly debated.  There are a couple of theories though.


It was once thought that these curly coated horses were ancestors of the Russian Bashkir of Bashkortostan.  That has recently been disproven.  This information came after the horses were dubbed "American Bashkir Curly", a title that has been more recently changed to the "American Curly Horse", based on the belief they are truly an American breed.  You may hear them called American Bashkir Curly, American Curly horse, North American Curly horse or just Curly Horse.




This is one of my favorite Curly photos- clearly showing the curly coat of one black stallion as compared to the smooth coat of the other.



I have heard those tight curls are called "crushed velvet."  They are certainly look like it!  I was lucky enough to feel a Curly's crushed velvet coat this spring at the Albany, Oregon Horse Expo and they are just about as soft as crushed velvet too!



Since the time of year makes a huge difference in their coat, I will tell you the time of year the photos were taken.


This is the fall of 2010 (September).

Most of the Curlies will have lost their curls by summer.











Back to theories...


According to ICHO (International Curly Horse Organization),

"The name isn't the only mystery surrounding this breed. Various theories have been proposed to explain the presence of the Curly horse in North America. Some have suggested that they came across the Bering Strait land bridge during the last ice age, but no fossil evidence has been found to support that. Others suggest that curly coated horses were imported while the Russians occupied parts of the West Coast of North America. However, Thomas' research shows there was no mention of the importation of horses into North America by Russian settlers in their ship logs. Horses were used on a limited basis during the Russian experimentation with farming during the late 1700s and early 1800s in present day Alaska. Stock breeding was not very successful with most settlements only able to keep a small number of cattle, sheep, pigs and perhaps chickens. In 1817 there were only sixteen horses in Russian America and they were more than likely the hardy Yakut and not the Bashkir or Lokai breeds. It is very unlikely that even this breed of horse could have made the treacherous journey from Alaska to Nevada.

Another theory is that a man by the name of Tom Dixon imported curly horses from northern India to Nevada around 1880. Although this theory cannot be fully proved or disproved the Curly horse was already present in America by that time. Evidence shows that Sioux Indians had Curly horses as early as 1801-02 and in his 1848 autobiography circus master, P. T. Barnum, writes of obtaining and exhibiting a curly horse .

As early as the late 1700s, sightings of curly horses were reported in South America. It seems possible, but cannot be concluded, that the Spanish conquistadors may have brought curly horses, or the curly gene, to South America, as there are several European breeds with curly hair. Another suggestion is that Norse or Celtic explorers brought curly horses to North America prior to 1492 but this theory has yet to be fully investigated. With all of these possibilities as to the origin of this unique breed no definitive answers have yet to be agreed upon.



In separate research, the CS Fund has done blood typing of 200 curly horse in the Serology Lab at UC-Davis. Although one can not definitively identify a horse's breed by it blood type characteristics there are characteristics common to an individual breed. This testing was seen as a method to determine if the Bashkir Curly did in fact display the blood characteristics of a distinct breed. The findings, however, were that the modern curly horse is not a genetically distinct breed, but has been crossed with many other breeds, particularly Quarter Horses and Morgans. The rare and unusual variants that did emerge from this testing are found only in feral horses or those breed based on feral herds. No single blood marker was found to be common in all curly horses."



Recent history of the Curlies began in Nevada, with rancher John Damele, who immigrated from Italy to Eureka, Nevada in 1879.  Years later, while checking cattle on his cattle ranch, John and his sons saw horses with curly hair running with the mustang wild-horse herds.  (Western Horseman, 2004)


According to the BLM, wild horses originated from many sources; primarily animals that were released by or escaped from Spanish explorers, ranchers, miners, the US Cavalry, and American Indians.  Ranchers actually "managed" their horses by releasing domestic breeds into the wild herds and then later collecting foals to build their herds.  Horses that were released depended on what the rancher or miner needed to do his work, including draft, Morgan, Thoroughbred, Arabian and others.


in a very interesting article in Western Horseman (on the ICHO website), in about 1931, the Dameles caught a Curly Horse from a mustang herd, broke the horse to ride, and later sold it.   According to Damele family history, this was their first experience with handling and training Curly Horses.  After a very brutal winter in 1932 the only horses the Damele family could find alive were Curly horses.  All of the straight-haired horses had perished.  They quickly realized that if  the Curlies could be broke to ride and turned into cow horses, they would be likely to stay alive when other horses would not survive the harsh central-Nevada winters.  The same thing happened in the winter of 1951-52 and the Dameles began seriously breeding Curlies that spring.



Curly mustangs are still found in Nevada, in the Eureka and Ely areas and in the Rock Springs, Wyoming area.  Perhaps, there are others.


Well, I can tell you.  Curlies are more than a little cool!

We knew immediately when we saw our first one, just what it was.  We reacted with more than a little enthusiasm!  LOL



It was the fall of 2010, our first trip to Wyoming.  We came upon our first group quite suddenly; three bay Curly stallions.  They were just about as mellow as you could possibly imagine- hardly blinking at our enthusiasm.  I was much more impressed by them that they were by me, I can tell you that!




This stallion had a very short mane, like many of the Curlies that we have seen, do.  There are tight curls along his mane and somewhat down his neck.  The other two were very similar to him.




Of course, the coats are what most distinguish a Curly horse and what sets it apart from other breeds of horses.  While we have only seen the coats of the mustangs in spring and fall, we did see a couple of domestic Curlies in their winter coat.    In winter, the hair coat has long curls, although most of the long, curly hair often is shed in the summer.   Mane and tail hair can also be curly, regardless of the coat.


There has been a great deal of variance in the horses we have seen.  In fact, from one extreme to the other.  We've seen horses in the fall with almost no mane and tail and very short hair to almost smooth coated Curlies, with just a few curls along their manes but with long dreadlocks for manes and tails and everything in between.  This spring we saw one with the tightest coat imaginable.



I have heard and read that the Curly Horse is hypoallergenic.  Their coat is much like a poodle's and they are also known to be hypoallergenic.   It is reported that people allergic to horses are more tolerant of Curlies.


Curlies also smell different- almost like lanolin on a sheep smells (I am attributing it to the lanolin, having some experience with sheepskins and spinning wool).  It's hard to explain, but it is definitely different.  Laugh at me, but I kept smelling my hand after I thoroughly rubbed a Curly down early this spring.



We would have been thrilled if those were the only Curlies we found were the three bay stallions, but they weren't.  What an array of color and curls we saw!




We quickly saw that Curlies can come in just about any color.  They also vary from almost smooth coat to "crushed velvet" and from long dreadlocks, like this stallion, to nearly no mane (and tail) at all.


This photo is from the fall of 2010.  We saw him again this spring.  Later, on that...


Let's just look at some photos now, okay?  I thought you might say that!



A close-up of the black stallion shown earlier.  I am told this is called "crushed velvet."



Fall, 2010












Fall, 2010



















It seems like the more we looked, the more Curlies we saw...




Fall 2010

One of the most unusual Curlies we saw, I am told she is an "extreme."  This is her summer coat.  She would have curls like all other Curlies in the winter, but loses her mane and tail in the summer.  I felt sorry for her- no tail to swish the flies off!



Fall 2010

I didn't even realize I had this photo until I was going through photos this winter.  I am totally intrigued by it.  I have never seen mustang twins in the wild but these two look so much alike.  What adorable youngsters!



Fall 2010

The "extreme" Curly mare is behind the black Curly.  You can see the black's sturdy build.  Do you suppose the stallion behind him is using those curls to rub his nose on?   It looks like a great idea to me!




Fall 2010

Another view of those dreadlocks






Fall 2010


A very interesting looking black Curly stallion.  He had almost a completely smooth coat, but his forelock and mane were a dead giveaway- we were looking at a Curly!






















Spring 2012


Well, we did see Curlies this year.  In fact, we saw more this year than in the fall of 2010.  There was a gather shortly after we were there.  I know many of the Curlies were released, both into the area they came from and into other HMAs around Rock Springs.  I also have it on good authority that all of the Curlies that were gathered were adopted and for higher than normal fees.  In other words- they are sought after horses!



The first one we saw was this gorgeous sorrel stallion with a flaxen mane and tail.  He is the same stallion with the dreadlocks from above.  This year he is with a lovely cremello mare, a sorrel mare and a couple of yearlings- one who is clearly a Curly (shown).





Will you take a look at that mane and tail and the curls on his legs?!! What a stunning stallion!!


























This black stallion was cruisin'!  He was all over the place, obviously looking for a mare.  As of the time we left, he was still alone and still harrassing the other stallions.  We last saw him around the edges of a Curly band.  A Curly band, you say?  UH HUH.



I am fairly confident this is the same black stallion that is featured above.  He has a lot more curls around his feet but this is his spring coat and the other photos are from fall.  What do you think?  The same guy?


He was hanging out with a interesting colored Curly (seal brown?) and the war bonnet that we saw in the fall of 2010.  What a trio they made!


























This was a fun shot to take.  Take a look at the feet and under his chin, not to speak of his mane, along his mane and his side.  OK.  All of him!!

























His buddy in the bachelor band.  I loved the color of this stallion!






























Fun, huh?



We thought we were in Curly heaven.  And then we saw a family band of 8 horses.  Six were clearly Curlies and maybe even a seventh.  I can't quite decide.  The one "anomaly" was a gray smooth coated mare who was very pregnant.  Suppose she is pregnant with a Curly foal?


Now, we've seen a lot of curls, but take a look at the yearling in the middle.  He has the tightest, thickest curls we've seen- even the domestic Curly we saw this winter!





He has so many curls, his head reminds me of a sheep!  Would I love to feel that coat!
























The stallion for the Curly band, returning from running off that pesky black Curly. 



One last thing before I show you the Curly video.   A word about their temperament.  I can tell you, from observing them in the wild, they seem like steady, pretty much unflappable horses.  Of course, they act like other wild horses, but they seem calm and relaxed in comparison.



Temperament and Physical Characteristics

According to ICHO, as well as many Curly owners that I have talked to, Curly Horses are intelligent, calm natured, and, when handled correctly, easily trained.  The horses share many physical characteristics with primitive horses, including wide-set eyes and strong cannon bones, and Curly Horses have particularly tough hooves, almost perfectly round in shape, which makes them good in rocky country. Some owners compare Curlies to mules because the Curly Horses think things through rather than panic when faced with unexpected situations.



Sources for More Information

I am grateful to the International Curly Horse Organization for generously letting me use information from their website.  If you would like to learn more about Curly horses, visit this wonderful website:


Other sources:

Curly Ranch

American Bashkir Curly Association

Wikipedia lists more links to Curly information


You can also find a page on Facebook for Curly lovers




Let's Tie It Up

On to the video.  Of course, it's the Curly band!  ;-)





Well, with all that, I hope I have tantalized you,  intrigued you and maybe educated you about these wonderful horses.

If I ever saw a blue roan Curly with two blue eyes, I'd be lookin' for some properrrrrteeeeeee.....




Other Important Stuff...  

If you liked this blog, you will likely like our DVD on wild horses; Wild Horses: Understanding the Natural Lives of Horses by Mary Ann Simonds, Marty and I.  If you love wild horses, this is not to be missed!  Photos and text are accompanied by the beautiful Native American style music by Grammy nominated musician, Diane Arkenstone.  You can view a trailer and purchase the DVD ($14.95) at


Proceeds from this DVD help us to stay on the road, studying, documenting and photographing our country's beautiful wild horses.  We thank you for your support.


I would like to give special recognition and thanks to Mary Ann.  Through the years, she has been an invaluable resource for understanding wild horse behavior.  Without her knowledge, expertise and willingness to teach, we would only be guessing at much of what we see.  Thank you Mary Ann!


If you would like to learn more about horse behavior, both wild and domestic, visit her website at


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See you next week!


Kathy Moore(non-registered)
I bought a curly at a mustang sale in Tahlequah Oklahoma in July 2021. She is less than a year old.
E Pyer(non-registered)
Oh these are lovely :)
Thank you for the information and for sharing the amazing photos.
Victoria Smith(non-registered)
Pls leave our beautiful and iconic wild horse and burros free as they were meant to b
M. Miller(non-registered)
I have a cremello curly golden eyed here in Florida I will add a picture if it will allow me.
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