What to Know About the Curly Horse

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 08, 2023

The American Bashkir Curly horse is a rare breed known for its unique curly coat. These horses were first discovered roaming wild in the American West, but the true Curly horse origin story remains shrouded in mystery. Today, the Bashkir Curly is a hardy and versatile breed that is widely believed to be the only hypoallergenic horse. 

The Bashkir Curly horse has distinctive characteristics that can make it an ideal companion for many horse lovers. Read on for essential Bashkir Curly horse facts, including common traits and health issues.

What Are Bashkir Curly Horse Characteristics? 

The American Bashkir Curly Registry (ABCR) established the first breed standard in the early 1970s. According to these guidelines, the Bashkir Curly horse should have dense leg bones, a medium-length neck that deepens at the base, a short back, and a flat croup that gently slopes to the tail base.  

During the winter, curls cover the Bashkir Curly horse’s entire body. These ringlets can grow up to several inches long and have several curl patterns, such as a crushed velvet texture, deep waves, or small ringlets. The mane and tail hair is curly or wavy, and so is the hair inside the horse’s ears. Even the eyelashes curl upward. 

Frequent shedding is one of the breed’s most unique traits. Every summer, the Bashkir Curly sheds its body curls, mane hair, and occasionally tail hair. The remaining hair is slightly wavy or straight. In the winter, the Bashkir Curly regrows its curly coat and hair. 

The Bashkir Curly’s coat helps the horse survive harsh winter conditions. The breed can have any common coat color and pattern, such as Appaloosa, bay, chestnut, pinto, and roan. Around half of all Bashkir Curly offspring inherit the curly trait.

Does the Bashkir Curly Horse Have a Good Temperament? 

The Bashkir Curly horse has a calm and docile temperament. Horses captured in the wild tend to be gentle even without training and enjoy human companionship. 

This breed is also known for its athleticism, intelligence, and resilience. These traits allow the Bashkir Curly horse to excel in various disciplines.

Is the Bashkir Curly Horse Hypoallergenic? 

Research suggests that between 3% and 10% of people may have a horse allergy. When affected individuals encounter horse allergens, they may develop asthma and allergic rhinitis

Bashkir Curly enthusiasts often promote the breed as a hypoallergenic horse. A 2017 study found that an allergic patient developed clinical tolerance to all horses after regularly riding and grooming a Curly horse. 

However, a 2018 study reported that Curly horses had significantly higher allergen levels in their hair than other breeds, and they didn't produce lower levels of airborne allergens. More research is needed to determine why people with horse allergies tend to report fewer symptoms when exposed to the Bashkir Curly.

Where Do Bashkir Curly Horses Originate? 

American Bashkir Curly horse information remains limited because of the breed’s rarity and mysterious origins. The breed was first discovered in 1898 by Peter Damele and his father. The two men encountered three wild horses covered in curly ringlets in the remote Peter Hanson mountain range in central Nevada. 

How did the Bashkir Curly appear in the American wilderness? Some people believe that the breed descended from the Russian Bashkir, the namesake of the American Bashkir Curly. But experts have not found evidence that the Bashkir region had curly horses, making this theory unlikely. 

Other people speculate that ancestors of the American Bashkir Curly may have traveled to the Americas over the land bridge during the Ice Age. However, no fossil evidence supports this theory. 

Finally, the University of California, Davis, conducted blood tests on Bashkir Curly horses, but the researchers didn’t detect genetic markers for any common ancestors. The origins of the breed remain unknown. 

In 1971, Bashkir Curly horse enthusiasts founded the ABCR. This organization has registered over 4,100 purebred, 750 straight, and 750 part-bred Bashkir Curly horses. The breed is still very rare.

Today, many Bashkir Curly horses roam the U.S. wilderness in North and South Dakota and other Western regions. A large portion of the existing population can be traced back to the herd discovered by Damele.

What Is the Bashkir Curly Horse Used For?

The athletic and trainable Bashkir Curly horse can perform well in many sports. For example, some equestrians use this breed for dressage, which showcases the horse’s obedience and precision. 

Other areas where the Bashkir Curly horse can excel include: 

  • Driving
  • Endurance trail riding 
  • English equitation 
  • Gymkhana
  • Pleasure riding 
  • Ranch work 
  • Reining 
  • Roping 
  • Show jumping 

If you’re looking for a versatile horse that will help you stand out from the crowd, a Bashkir Curly could be a great choice.

What Health Issues Impact the Bashkir Curly Horse?

Overall, the Bashkir Curly horse is resilient and low-maintenance. However, this breed can develop several genetic health disorders, such as:

  • Cerebellar abiotrophy (CA): Bashkir Curly horses that descend from Arabian horses may inherit this neurological disease. Symptoms typically develop within the first six months following a foal’s birth. Common signs include a head tremor, an exaggerated gait, a lack of balance, and the inability to stand up after reclining. Horses with CA frequently fall over, making them more prone to injury and unsafe to ride. CA has no treatment, and many affected horses are euthanized or kept strictly as pasture pets. Bashkir Curly breeders can test their horses before breeding to ensure that the foals won’t inherit CA.
  • Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM): The Bashkir Curly horse can also inherit PSSM. This disease causes the muscles to accumulate too much glycogen, leading to painful muscle stiffness. Symptoms of PSSM vary in severity and include lameness, muscle tremors, soreness, sweating, and reluctance to move forward when ridden. A low nonstructural carbohydrate diet can help manage this disease. 

You can help keep your Bashkir Curly healthy by providing regular veterinary care, a quality diet with feed supplements, and farrier work as necessary.

Curly Horses as Pets 

The Bashkir Curly is a visually striking horse that can make an excellent companion for many people. The breed’s curious and gentle nature can make it a good horse for beginners. Experienced equestrians will also enjoy the horse’s adaptability and athleticism. And people with horse allergies may be able to tolerate the Bashkir Curly more than other breeds.

However, the Bashkir Curly’s rarity can make it challenging to locate a suitable horse to add to your family. The Curly horse may also cost more than more common breeds, especially if you have to transport it over a long distance. But if you have the resources and time, the Bashkir Curly can make a great pet and sport horse.

Show Sources

American Bashkir Curly Horse Registry:  "About," “Breed Standards," "Curly Horse FAQs," “Curly Horse Info.”
International Museum of the Horse: “American Bashkir Curly.”
Oklahoma State University: “Breeds of Livestock - Bashkir Curly Horse.”
PLOS One: “Lower allergen levels in hypoallergenic Curly Horses? A comparison among breeds by measurements of horse allergens in hair and air samples.”
Pneumologie: “Tolerance Induction of Horse Allergy by Horse Contact with Curly Horses.”
UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: “Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA)," “Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM).”
Your Dressage: “The Many Faces of Dressage: A Curly’s Perspective.”

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