Frequently Asked Questions
about the Curly Horse
- Where do Curlies come from? How were they developed?
Curlies were first discovered by white men in America in the wild herds of mustangs in Eastern Nevada, at the turn of the 20th Century. The Sioux and Crow Indians had Curly horses as early as 1800, though whether these two kinds of Curly horses were related we don't know. There is also written and pictorial evidence of curly haired horses found at various times in various places around the world - Charles Darwin writes of curly horses in South America, for instance. Again, whether these horses are at all related to the North American dominant gene Curly horses is unknown at this time. Hopefully future research will shed some light on these matters. The Damele's, a Nevada ranching family, were the first to gather and use the Curlies on their ranch, in the 1930s. They interbred the tough, intelligent range Curlies with their ranch horses, and with an Arabian stallion, Nevada Red, and later a Morgan stallion, Ruby Red King. They found the Curly coat often came through on the cross-bred foals, showing that the Curly gene was dominant in these range Curlies. They also frequently got the other Curly characteristics which they prized - strong bone and hooves; calm, intelligent, easily trainable temperament; friendly personality; tough constitutions and stamina, etc.
- Why are Curly horses curly? Are they really a breed?
The ICHO is undertaking serious research on the Curly gene, to try to discover more about it and it's various expressions. There will be pedigree tracking, surveys on traits, etc, to begin learning as much as possible about these mysterious, curly coated, hypoallergenic horses.
By current scientific breed recognition guidelines, the North American Curly Horse is not a true breed, but rather a coat type. However, the goal of many Curly Horse breeders is to develop real breeds of horses that are curly coated. Many Curly breeders are also just as dedicated to the preservation of the old bloodlines of North American Curly Horses, that still exist. ICHO goals are supportive of all these type breeding programs.
- What do Curlies look like?
Curlies come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and all colors. The winter curls on different individuals can range from crushed velvet looking, to marcelle waves, to tight ringlets, to "french knot" microcurls. Manes and forelocks can be corkscrewed, ringletted, or dreadlocked. Tails may have some wave or curl. The hair in their ears is curly, the whiskers, eyelashes, and fetlocks are often curly or wavy. These curls are considered a hallmark of the breed, and most owners would never trim or clip them off.
In summer, Curlies typically shed out to a slick coat, sometimes still appearing slightly wavy. Some Curlies keep strongly curled hair all year round, though not as thick or long, in the summer.
- What are Curlies used for? What disciplines are they suited for?
The original Curlies were used by white men for ranch work, and Native Americans for buffalo hunting. Today, Curlies are used as sporthorses (Dressage, jumping, combined driving, etc.), western and ranch horses, pleasure horses, trail horses, endurance horses, and exotic looking pasture ornaments! Perhaps more than anything else the variety & versatility of the North American Curly Horse underlies its fast-growing popularity and makes it particularly appealing as a horse with which the whole family can become involved.
There has been some gaited blood mixed into some Curlies, and about 10% of Curlies will do either a foxtrot or running walk or stepping pace (aka Curly shuffle). This is a natural low stepping smooth gait.
Curlies are unsuitable for racing, and for any mechanically induced gaits in such performance areas as high stepping Park horses, "big lick" gaited horses, or the ultra slow Western Pleasure horse.
- Where can I go to see a Curly Horse?
Check out the members webpage for Curly Horse owners or breeders close to you that you can go visit. Always call or email first to set up an appointment.
- Are Curlies really hypoallergenic? Is it really true most people who are allergic to horses are not allergic to curlies?
For whatever reason, apparently so, yes. Most people who are allergic to horses can tolerate Curlies with reduced or no allergic reaction - a dream come true for many!
The prefix "hypo-" means, by definition, below or significantly less than normal.
We claim that Curly Horses are HYPOallergenic.
We do not, and can not claim that Curly Horses are NONallergenic.
If you are considering purchasing a Curly Horse that you will not be allergic to, we recommend testing your reaction to any given horse you might be considering, and consult with your allergist for the best and safest way to do this. Hair samples can be sent as a preliminary test. For people who are dangerously allergic to horses, we highly recommend doing any testing in the presence of your allergist, with emergency drugs immediately available. Though they may very well not be needed!
For people who are allergic to horses, they also do have to determine that it is only the horses themselves that they are allergic to, and not hay, straw, pollen, dust, manure, barn cats, etc.- in these latter cases, the breed of horse wouldn't matter.
ICHO breeders supplied special quarantined Curly Horse hair samples for a world University study conducted in Europe, on the hypoallergenic properties of various horse breeds. The findings of this study, will be published in a highly regarded international allergy medical journal.
- Is the offspring of a curly to straight horse mating, less likely to be hypoallergenic, or not as hypoallergenic, than the offspring of a curly to curly mating?
By all accounts gathered so far, there appears to be no significant difference, if they are both curly coated. Any horse with a curly coat, is very likely to be hypoallergenic. There are some accounts of smooth coated Curly Horses, also being hypoallergenic. It seems that the hypoallergenic SC's ARE usually the product of curly to curly matings. We need more research results, to verify this, and to explain why Curly Horses are hypoallergenic.
- I've heard Curlies need almost no care. Is that really true?
This is an unfortunate misconception that has sadly landed some Curlies in neglect situations. Curlies do not need pampering, but they do need good basic care. Since they are a horse that developed in the wild, they tend to be easy keepers, with tough hooves and hardy constitutions. They tend to be winter hardy. This does not excuse lack of care, though. Good food in the right amounts, adequate shelter, regular veterinary care, worming, hoof trimming and shoeing as needed, dental care, etc., all should be provided just as they would be for any other horse.
- What kind of care does the Curly's coat take?
Normal grooming is satisfactory for most Curly coats. Combing out the ringletted or corkscrew or dreadlocked manes can cause them to lose their curly look. Some people choose to trim the manes occasionally instead to keep them neat. Tails can be brushed and combed in the normal manner. Care must be taken during shedding season, not to pull out too much mane and tail, during grooming.
In springtime, the ICHO Fiber Guild collects, bags, & cleans the shedding out coat from as many Curly Horses as possible, to use themselves for spinning and weaving, or to sell to others who do this. The profits got to ICHO Curly Research efforts. If you can collect the hair shed from your Curly Horse in spring, and would be willing to donate it to the cause, please visit the Fiber Guild Affiliation page for more information.
- What do Curlies normally cost?
Prices vary, of course, but Curlies in general are a very good value. They are comparable in price to other breeds of pleasure horses.
- What should I look for when considering a Curly to purchase?
This of course is very individualized, depending on what you are looking for in a Curly horse. They should have the conformation, gaits, and temperament, to do what it is you hope to do with them. We recommend having a pre-purchase veterinary exam before agreeing to buy a horse. You may also want to have a trainer or other professional evaluate the horse to see if it is suitable to your needs and skills. The seller should be forthright in his or her representation of the horse, and should have clearly taken good physical and emotional care of the horse. Any specific agreements or guarantees are up to the seller and prospective buyer to determine. We recommend you get any agreements or guarantees in writing.
- Is it true that Curly Horses really have a quieter temperament than most other breeds of horses?
Yes it really seems to be true. In the livestock world, there are usually more differences between individuals within breeds, than between average individuals of different breeds... however in the case of the Curly Horse, most are very intelligent, and most are very calm natured compared to other breeds of horses. Many Curly Horses enjoy their humans as much or more than other horses. They tend to figure things out, very quickly. Some owners compare Curly Horses to mules or asses, in their higher intelligence, and the fact that they think rather than just panic. When given the choice between fight or flight, they often amaze people by resorting to a third choice: reasoning. Handled properly, they are typically not flighty, very reliable, train very quickly, and have a wonderful work ethic.
It also bears mentioning here that Curlies (being very intelligent) who are mishandled and allowed to disrespect humans, or taught to distrust humans, can become terrors very quickly. A Curly like that would not be suitable for beginners. Of course that is true of any breed, but with a highly intelligent horse, the undesirable results can develop very quickly.
In general, Curly Horses are highly intelligent, quite calm natured, and are often a thinking horse rather than a reactive horse.
- Is it true that Curly Horses mature slower? What age is it safe to begin training them?
According to Deb Bennett, all breeds of horses do mature at the same rate, even the ones that by their appearance seem to mature slower or faster than others.
"NO matter what the horse looks like or how thick the bones feel, there is a closure order that does not change, regardless of breed. We look for the front of the knee to close by 2 years of age. The horse's back is the last to close at 6 years of age. The hocks are also relatively slow to close. Damage done is not reversible, although sometimes repair mechanisms lead to reasonable function. Horses ought to be sound for decades. Waiting the extra couple of years in the beginning will lead to a better long term future. However ground work, taken from the various natural horsemanship programs available today, is great for developing the mind and manners. Small riders can de-sensitize to weight and movement on the back - as long as the horse is not asked to do much. Circles, as in lunging, at trot and canter can do serious damage especially to hocks. ICHO will not be supporting show classes that encourage young horses to do more than one would reasonably expect bones of that age to handle without damage. Young wild horses do some pretty heavy short periods of non weight bearing galloping in straight lines. They also do some fancy foot work to get out of tight places, but they do not do it repetitively and have the muscles to support the bone from being out all day. The thing that does seem to vary is the age when the horse's attention span becomes capable of focusing on a lesson, but then it becomes very tempting to overface a young, honest horse." ~Andrea Schaap, DVM, Jondra Acres, Ontario
"Unfortunately, some breeders in the USA are still condoning starting their young horses early. Of course, the earlier a youngster is started and showing, the faster that breeder can turn over the next batch. That means lower overhead and faster profit. But it isn't good horsemanship. There is a lot you can do with 2 year olds to get their minds ready without stressing their sometimes large, but always immature bodies." ~Lisa Wytiaz, Bashcurl Farms, GA
"I think the first ones who need training, are usually the owners, then later come the horses! Yes, waiting is best, my kids have taken lessons on horses who look great at 30+. Preparing the mind and gaining the trust, creating a partner. Their entire quality of life depends on what we do with them in their first years of life: They are essentially just like our own children and should be given the love and patience we would give our own youngsters." ~Linda Stermer, Curly Coat Junction, MI
So, inform yourself, ask questions, and treat them with care and knowledge.
- I've seen Curlies with no mane or tail hair. What's going on there?
Some Curlies will shed out their manes and tails along with their winter coats each spring, and grow them back in the fall and winter. A few Curlies have very thin or scanty manes and tails year round - why some Curly Horse are more extreme in these traits is uncertain, and research is planned in this area.