27 June 2002

CURLYSTEEDS

USAHERITAGE

Horses come with coats of many colours but the hair is

usually straight. However, on a farm in Scotland there are

four purebred animals with naturally curly coats.

Heidi Sands found out more about these buffalo horses

RITA McLeod and Leslie Dingwall are a Banffshire couple with a difference, for nestled on their farm at Glenlivet, among Aberdeen-Angus cattle and a flock of breeding ewes are four of the rarest horses on earth.

The American Bashkir Curly horses of the Shenval stud are unique in Britain, but if Rita and Leslie have their way, the stunning scenery of Glenlivet could well be set for a further influx of this wonderful breed.

At present the four purebred Curlys, Gringo the grey stallion, Aurora dam of Shenval Progression the purebred buckskin yearling, and Velvet the bay filly share their Highland home with two part-bred Curlies, both sired by Gringo. But the part breds will be sold to make way for the mares and fillies that Rita and Leslie hope to import from Canada later this year.

Following on from their initial visit to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta in 2000, after which the first of the American Bashkir Curlys arrived in Britain, Rita and Leslie plan to visit the area again later this year to view some of the 4000 members of the breed, and to choose suitable breeding stock for expansion of their venture.

&#42 Purebred

It is Ritas aim to breed only purebred Curlys in the future, but Gringo will stand at stud to other mares for anyone who wishes to produce part-bred foals. Both pure and part-breds are eligible for registration, and up to 50% of all part-bred foals will inherit the Curly coat.

Along with the most amazing of temperaments, the breed has another interesting facet. The coat which ranges from a winter one of thick dense curls or waves, to a summer coat, which can be straight as in a normal horse or as crushed velvet or wavy, is hypo-allergenic. This means it is possible for someone usually allergic to horsehair to be around a Curly horse without any ill effects. Leslie and Rita have had this theory tested for them by horse enthusiasts with such allergies, with amazing results.

The cast winter hair can be used for spinning and weaving and although Rita does not have any provision for this, American Curly enthusiasts in the US have formed a group whose aim is to collect and process the castings into clothing.

&#42 Curls all over

Curls on the coat are not the only physical attraction of the breed, for the curls extend right down the legs, and on certain individuals curls are to be found inside the ears and include the eyelashes. Manes and tails are thickly curled, too, and some of the horses actually cast their manes and tails in the spring only to have them regrow with the winter coat.

The wonderful temperament of the American Bashkir Curly horse makes them an easy breed to work with. In fact, as Rita is keen to point out, they are human friendly, actively seeking out human contact.

In their native America they are consistently in the ribbons both in the show ring and in competitions. They can turn their skills to all forms of horsemanship and although Ritas own horses at the Shenval are purely breeding stock, the grey stallion, Gringo, has been ridden bareback by Ritas daughter in the round pen, without any preparation other than having a roller on for 10 minutes. In fact when he was presented to Kelly Marks as a possible subject for her to use for demonstration purposes in her clinic, he was rejected as he "joined up" with Kelly much too quickly.

The breed was first documented by the native American Sioux Indians of Dakota, who, it is supposed, took these Curly horses from the Crow tribe. So prized were these "buffalo horses" that only the highest in the tribe were permitted to ride them. In the late 1880s the first white man to realise the Curlys worth, Peter Damele, noticed how resilient the breed was after some members survived a particularly severe winter. He took these horses as the foundation of a breeding programme, one which was carried on by his family and is the basis of the breed lines seen within the Curly horses of today.

These extraordinary horses are capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -40 in their homeland. At Glenlivet the winter drop to -20 must seem positively warm. They live out all year round on little more than a maintenance ration, often leaving their hay to dig down through the snow to eat heather and rushes in preference. Their tough native hardiness extends to their feet which require little or no intervention from Leslie, who is a farrier by trade.

The American Bashkir horse stands 14hh-15.2hh making him an ideal family mount. He has enough bone to be a weight carrier, but is by no means cobby and his easy laid back temperament is sure to endear him to the British equestrian public.

Keen to promote the Curly horse within Britain, Rita and Leslie have set up a breed society to help educate and inform. They welcome visitors to their home in Glenlivet, where buzzards soar overhead on the thermals and roe deer graze unconcernedly in roadside fields. They can offer accommodation to visitors and have facilities to take horses for those wishing to explore the splendour of the setting on horseback.

Inquiries: Tel 01807-590212.

Rita McLeod

with Curly filly Velvet.