Category Archives: Horse Stories

My Hair is Stick Straight so Of Course I’m Drawn to the Curlies…

I have a donkey named Norma.  She is very special for many reasons, but one reason in particular is her very curly winter coat.  Actually, I had no idea her coat was special until several people commented on her unusually curly coat.  At first, upon hearing this about Norma, I didn’t take heed since most visitors here have never really seen a donkey up close.   I figured that maybe they just hadn’t seen a donkey before.  But then, I had to look at my own logic.  How many donkeys have I seen up close?  Not many.  And when I started to take note of neighboring donkeys, I did have to agree that they all looked very dissimilar to Norma.

Finally, a very close friend of mine commented on Norma’s ringlets.  “Does she have Cushings?”  This was a good question because Norma is rather stout.  In fact, my farrier calls her “Enorma”.  Anyway, she doesn’t have Cushings.  So I asked, “Why?” My friend, who raises mules and has several donkeys said, “Never in all of my years with donkeys have I ever seen a curly coat.”  I looked at Norma with her very long and curly lashes and tried to cover her largess ears.  I told her that she was very special not only because she was the only donkey on the premises, but now because she was the only donkey with a curly coat…  Great.  I don’t think she was impressed.  Poor girl.  She does feel singled out.

So, I went on a quest to find any other curly coated donkeys so I could show Norma that she isn’t alone. Maybe we could go to some group sessions or singalongs or something…  As I was on the internet searching for salvation, I didn’t find a single other curly coated donkey.  Amazing!  But, I did come upon a Bonanza in the North American Curly Horse, formally known as (and still known as) the Bashkir Curly.

Now, I have told myself that this blog would not delve into breeds.  As we all know, our particular breed is the best… or at least generally, we all have spoken or unspoken preferences.  And, because I know this, I don’t even want to get into it with all of you.  I figure it would be like bringing up religion, sex, politics or Junior’s lack of a job at Christmas dinner.  You know what I mean…

But, now that we are talking about it, in my humble opinion, there have to be many equine breeds to fit with the diversity of horse people.  “Like Owner, Like Horse” they say.  As long as every breed association sticks within their groups, we’ll all get along.  OK, well, I don’t really mean that but I do feel that certain breeds of people ride certain breeds of horses… OOOOPS, I just did it again!  I don’t really mean it that way because I have several breeds and I ride with lots of different people who have several breeds.  To me, all horses are individuals so it isn’t the breed (except in the case of Zorses…).  Sorry, see, I did it again!  That is exactly why I don’t talk about particular breeds.

So, today, in honor or Norma, I’d like to talk about a particular breed.  :)


American Curlies.  Or, North American Curly Horses  or American Bashkir Curly Horses or American Curly Horses or Curly Horses… I love that they are just as conflicted in their relatively new registry as the rest of us!  But, that isn’t why I’m interested in them.  I’m interested in them because of their unique HAIRcoat.  Did you know they were hypoallergenic?

First off, let’s discuss how the American Curly Horse came to be.  Sounds easy but it isn’t.  No one knows for sure and they admit it.  I love that!  One theory was since there had been recorded curly horses in Africa and Spain, they could have come from there.  But there was no proof.  In fact, there is no firm root system or Moses Tablets to confirm or deny any genesis of the American Curly.  Originally, it was thought that these horses were descendants of the Russian Bashkir horse.  That couldn’t be confirmed but the name stuck.  After much discussion among Curly historians, all that is known is that curly coats were reported in wild mustang herds in Nevada in the late 1800’s and Native Americans also caught and trained them.  So, let’s just start there, shall we?

(Olde Tyme Photos:  First is a photo of US Army on a curly in 1906, Second is famous curly stud, Dixie D, next is Benny Damele, last is famous foundations stud, Copper D.)

On the range in Nevada, an Italian rancher (obviously another reason I was drawn to this story since I’m basically an Italian rancherini) named Giovanni Damele set up business in Eureka, Nevada.  Eureka Nevada is described as the loneliest town on the loneliest road in America (I sure hope the land was cheap…).  Funny, that road, Hwy 50 is not far from where I live.  Anyway, “John” noticed the curly coated horses out with the mustang herds in this rocky, desolate and forgotten part of Nevada.

After a particularly nasty winter, John was again very astute to notice that most of the wild herd had died except the curly coated individuals.  Hmmmmm.  This happened the next winter as well — which seems obvious since supposedly there weren’t any sleek coats left from the previous winter.   Being an astute rancher, ol’ John decided to round him up some of them curlia coateda horsesa.  (I can speak Italang since my father was from Sicily off the boat.)  And, gather some of them he did!

You can probably guess what happened from here.  The lore is that John’s horses were the strongest and most sure footed in the valley.  People came from far and wide to buy the offspring.  So, generally, the Damele ranch and especially John and his son Benny are known as the founders of the breed.  From the original few, John out crossed them with a few studs he admired.  One was a Morgan (I love this, of course) named, Ruby Red King.  He also used an Arab stud named, Nevada Red and another stud of unknown breeding named, Copper D.  (All of these studs have color reference names.  I wonder if they were all sorrels?)

So, that is how the American breed came to be.  In fact, the Damele family still has a ranch in Nevada and still raises these horses.  I have the address if you are interested in visitingJust ask me and I will send it to you.  Isn’t it cool that we are still close enough in time that we can actually speak to the family who is widely known as the creator of the breed?!  I would love to speak to Justin Morgan.  Anyway, that is the story.  For you readers who have peaked curiousity about this breed, here are two links.  The first is to a  very informative Curly website.  And sadly but thankfully, here is a link to the Curly rescue group.  Sigh.  As with all breeds of horses these days, the rare Curly horse is also being sent off to slaughter.  (This link has a charming story about a baby Curly just saved from slaughter who needs a forever home.  Is it yours?  Take a look.)

OK, now back to the curly part.  It is known that these horses have a curly coat in the winter. It sheds in the summer.  However, the mane and tail are the clinchers.  Most of the Curlies shed their mane and tail either every spring or every couple of years.  I think ol’ Mother Nature was trying to figure out a way to get rid of those itchy dreds so she just decided to let it all fall out.  Heck, it will grow back.  This is why in some photos, Curlies show either no mane or hardly any mane and often times a short tail.  I also read many articles on tress management.  It is suggested that you trim the mane and tail, if it doesn’t fall out, to keep it from knotting.

Curlies are also supposed to be smaller (14 – 15.1) with wide set ears. They are described as a durable, sturdy, horse with a short back, straight bone, and thick, healthy hooves. In stories written about John Damele’s Curlies, they were often called “very strong”, willing, loving towards people and not cowardly. Curly Horses may have other primitive horse traits like smaller chestnuts or missing ergots (Aren’t ergots and chestnuts the same thing?  I’m feeling igner’t right now).

Here is where it gets interesting…  It seems that Curlies, who are basically a mixed breed, had to form a few registries.  Why?  Well, and this is the plain yet mind boggling part, the purists wanted to keep from outcrossing them.  ??  I totally understand why they wanted this, but, it is perplexing because that is how they came to be in the first place…  But, in 1990, the American Bashkir Curly Registry closed its books to outcrossing.  So, the ICHO (International Curly Horse Organization) began.  They outcross.  Then came the CSI (Curly Sporthorse International) that develop, you guessed it, the Sporting Curly.  Oh, and we cannot leave out the BLM Curly, which are the remnants of the original Curlies from the range (I’m happy to report that there is a group trying to help the Mustangs by valuing the Curlies left on the range.  They are working with the BLM to save them.  Here is a link.)

Gathering photos for this missive was rather interesting.  I could find very few beautiful curly coated photos.  It seems that although this breed is known for its coat, since the coat appears in winter, all bets are off… Or, the owners just wait for that coat to go away so grooming is easier?  I don’t know.  But, I’ll tell you, I couldn’t find one Winter/Summer comparison shot for any of the internet featured Curly horses.  That’s what I wanted.  I wanted to see the Before/After pics like the drama of a major Makeover show!  Couldn’t find one.  Not one!  So, I think the curly part must wear a bit hard on owners.  I’m not sure.  But, there are a lot more pics of the horses shed out than not shed out.

Now that I am a new found Curly expert having delved into this for an entire day… I would have to agree with the purists of the ABCR.  When I look at the breed standard, such that there is a breed standard, it seems that John Damele wanted a strong ranch horse.  That’s it.  Strong.  Ranch.  Horse.  OKOK, don’t get all squinty eyed. I can see why all the other folks want to take this sweet, strong ranch horse and cross it with other stuff to hopefully get the strong, curly and sweet part into whatever else they have in their particular woodpile.  I’m just sayin’…

So in conclusion, for me, Curly blood is kinda like salt or garlic or butter.  It is the stuff that goes into most tasty recipes.  You have the Curly Fresian cross, the Curly Paint cross, the Curly TB cross, the Curly Pony cross… it is endless.  Are they diluting the breed or merely making it better?  Dunno and don’t really want to argue that.  After all, hybrid vigor is a glorious thing.  I know that I always describe the look of my purebred Australian Kelpie, Dexter, as 5 different dogs put together.  You see, a purebred Australian Kelpie is indeed a mix of all the dogs they have there in Australia plus a dash of Dingo thrown in for good measure.  Yup, he’s a purebred Kelpie made up of everything under the sun.  Still, in my opinion, Dex is sound, brilliant and just about the most vigorous dog I’ve ever met.
I think the purebred Curly is like my Dexter.   I think they are probably a very healthy hybrid that has become a purebred.  I like it.  I like it just like I love my purebred, Dex, and my purebred donkey Norma with the remarkable curly hair.  So if you were to give me a choice of what kind of Curly would work for me…

Well, I’d go with Damele’s original idea of a strong, little, willing, moppy-headed wild thing.  Like owner, like horse —  or so the story goes…

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

Have You Ever Heard the Expression, “Well, Horses in the Wild Don’t Need (fill in the blank)… So My Horse Shouldn’t Either. Hmmmmm.

Ok, well, I know I have been very editorial instead of informational this week.  I promise, next week will be more newsy.  However, today, I woke up with this on my mind…

I hear that disclaimer too often.   “Well, horses in the wild don’t need ______(fill in the blank).  For example: “Well, horses in the wild don’t need shoes” or “Well, horses in the wild don’t need supplements” and “Well, horses in the wild don’t have a dentist…”.  You get my drift.

Now, this blog isn’t here to point a finger at anyone or call anyone out.  I’m merely wishing to put forth my point of view on the subject.  Who knows, maybe it will stick somewhere…


So here is my basic point.  Horses in the wild are not similar to domestic horses when it comes to fortitude and emotion.  Sure, they can breed together and sure they look alike, but if you ponder closely (inside and out), these two groups are worlds apart.  Simply, if these groups were similar, there wouldn’t be thousands of mustangs in BLM holding pens going unadopted.  Now, I’m not saying that wild horses are bad.  On the contrary, I have two.  What I am saying is that they are a very different animal than the domestic horse. (Paint horse photo: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)

So, when I hear people start a sentence with, “Well, horses in the wild…”, I shudder a bit because although I understand that most people think wild horses and domestic horses are the same animal just different situations, if they ever tried to make friends with a wild horse, they would know what I mean.  And, the misunderstanding that a wild horse is just a “location challenged” domestic horse is what keeps the mustangs in holding pens, allows some owners of domesticated horses to make poor choices and ultimately makes me sad all around.


I guess it boils down to this.  Survival of the Fittest vs. Humans Breeding Horses.  You see, somewhere in there when the human took over the natural selection of horses by breeding them himself, the concept of survival of the fittest got lost for the equine.  Actually, this totally makes sense since we, as humans, have fought against it  for generations.  Heck, survival of the fittest only applies to football games and marathons for us.  It certainly doesn’t apply to our species anymore or our domesticated horses.   So, it appears that we have forgotten that it still quite applies to wild horses.  This is a big point so I will pause here.

In a nutshell:  Domesticated horses are not genetically as sound as wild horses because we bred that out of them.  Domestic horses may share some equine behaviors cross culturally with their wild brothers but their equine physicality and emotionality is very different.

What I’m getting at here is the domestic hoof is not like the wild hoof.  The domestic skeleton and teeth are not generally as strong as the wild horse variety.  The domestic horse is more susceptible to disease, immune disorders, metabolic disorders, food allergies, skin allergies, etc.  You can see where I’m going here.  What the domestic horse has gained in the skills of human interaction and diplomacy, it has lost in genetic fortitude.

I think this concept has been lost or is slipping from our conscious mind.  Often I will hear people say that their horse should be able to do a number of different things that the wild horse can do. After all, a horse is a horse.   Sigh.


If man hadn’t have stepped in, there would be no domestic horses.  We created them.  But, when we were creating them, or taking over their natural breeding process, we weren’t really concerned about what Mother Nature had in mind.  Sure, we wanted robust and hearty horses, but we didn’t do a genetic test for all gene carrying diseases or think about the hoof, let’s say…  When we are breeding, most of us look for what sells or what is popular or what works for us humans.  You know what I mean: color, performance, gait, way of going, conformation, size or temperament…  But, you don’t read ads about “internal fortitude” or “solid teeth”  Herein lies the problem…  Mother Nature might allow a bad breeding, but someone will probably die because of it.  Harsh but true.  Wild horses die if they get a blundered coupla bummer genes.  Bad teeth you die.  Bad feet, you die.  Bad innerds, you die.  The good news is that you don’t pass on any wild horse bad genes to future generations.   But alas, the same is not true with our horses.  In fact, sometimes we breed a disease or anomaly INTO our horses (HYPP, DSLD, HENDA…).  “Maybe it will skip this generation…”  or  “It only happens 40% of the time”…   I know you have heard this from breeders and so have I.

So, my point is that we cannot treat our domestic horses as if they have the constitution of a wild horse.  We cannot forgo the dentistry, farrier care, medical care, feed programs …  because “they don’t have dentists/farriers/meds/supplements…  in the wild.”

We humans bred the collective ability for domestic horses to care for themselves OUT of the domestic horse.  Booya!  As a former breeder, I totally get wanting to breed this to that to get the “perfect” horse.  And, the desire to breed for this and that has welded the blinders onto the human.


OK, I’m going to stick my neck out here and follow down some thought processes in regards to domestic vs wild.


When I hear this comparison, the response in my head is to ask if that particular horse
was bred for a strong hoof like the wild horse.  I don’t know about you, but it isn’t often I hear a breeder promote “Six generations of solid hoof wall” in their sales pitches even though we all know the saying, No hoof, no horse.

But, let’s go a step further back, shall we.  Yes, it is true that wild horses have better feet because they would die otherwise, but going barefoot isn’t always great for the wild horse either.  Succumbing to hoof issues is one way they die.  If a wild horse gets a stone bruise and cannot continue, he gets eaten.  So, a wild hoof may be a lot stronger than a domestic hoof, but it isn’t impervious.  No hoof is…  And speaking of the wild horse hoof, let us not forget that wild horses learn from a very early age to pick their route over the countryside.  Not our horses.  Most of them are in paddocks or soft pastures for their early lives and then are shod once training begins.  These young horses barely look where they walk let alone look for sharp things or slippery things.  If we are not training our horses to learn how to navigate the landscape in bare feet AND we don’t breed for hoof strength, we need to be doubly careful when asking them to carry us barefoot.

So that concept brings me to the bare foot domestic riding horse.  I am not against it.  I have two riding horses that do not wear shoes.  What I am against is forcing a horse to ride barefoot without very carefully dissecting that particular horse’s hoof anatomy.  As we have already discussed, we’ve bred hoof integrity out of our horses.  Or, let’s just say that we don’t breed for it.  For example, if you want to ride your domestic horse barefoot, you need to make sure what that horse can tolerate structurally.   Just because a domestic horse is a horse does not mean that its foot wall construction or frog can withstand barefoot riding.  And, to be honest, if we want our domestic horses to emulate the wild horses foot trimming scenario, we would really have to allow that hoof to chip naturally or file them naturally, not all four at once — which would never happen in the wild.  We humans tend to trim all the feet at the same time which is unnatural for the wild horse. Then we let him sit for a week while he grows back some hoof wall.  Or, we get upset if after a few miles, the horse starts stepping ouchy.  Hey, I’m not pointing a finger because I do the same thing… I’m just saying, it isn’t “natural” to trim all four and ride.  What makes more sense to me for natural hooves is to understand that the wild horses move many miles per day and that is part of the process.  This constant motion tends to bring circulation to the hoof and makes the walls and frogs grow faster and stronger.  Again, our horses live artificially, mostly, and we should understand what creates a healthy hoof when we make decisions for our domestic horses.  Like the famous German farrier, Gunnar Schillig says, “One major part in “natural” care for horses is correct hoof trimming and diet as well as many miles of movement every day. ”

Now, I’m not suggesting that we shoe all of our horses; I’m merely saying to look at the individual hoof carefully and mindfully.  Our horses are not born with wild hooves.  Neither are we…  After all, there is a reason we humans invented shoes.  Somewhere along the way, we thought it was easier/better/more comfortable to cover our feet.  So, I guess I’m saying that proper fitted footwear (boots or shoes) may help the compromised feet of certain domestic horses.

I also wonder, if we could get inside a horse’s mind, if he would like proper fitting hoof covering versus going barefoot.  It would be interesting to hear.  I wonder if a wild horse would kinda like the relief once and a while.  Dunno.


Well, kinda there is…  Dr. Mother Nature.  Wild horses graze all day (when possible) and eat very differently than domestic horses which contributes to their healthy teeth structure.  Those with bad teeth and bone don’t last long.  Neither do the sad few who cut up their cheeks and cannot eat.  The same fate goes for the few who get an infection or have spaces in their teeth so something can get caught in there or who don’t shed a cap properly.  Survival of the fittest.  Those imperfections in the wild horse teeth get bred out of them.  The same is not true for domestic horses.  Our horses don’t graze all day.  They don’t have their choice of what to eat and they don’t work their teeth constantly.
And, don’t get me started on wolf teeth.  Horses in the wild have wolf teeth, too, yes.  But, they don’t wear bits.  So, Dr. Mother Nature isn’t too concerned about wolf teeth extraction.  But, we should be.  And, since Dr. MN isn’t around to help our domestic horses with genetics, it is our duty as breeder and caretakers to take a look under the hood.  I cannot tell you how many “rank” horses have been relieved of their pain and settled after a simple float or wolf teeth extraction.

I’m not saying anyone has to go crazy with the dentist, just have your horses checked fairly regularly and if they wear bits, have them checked for sure.  It is only fair since I’m guessing none of us purchased/bred our horses based on dentition.  Imagine if your human friends never saw the dentist.  Ouch and Ugh.


Lastly, I want to touch lightly on feed.  Wild horses don’t just eat alfalfa twice a day.  In fact, they never eat alfalfa.  All I will say here is for us humans to try to be feedwise and mindful in mixing it up.  Horses need a variety to be healthy, just like we do.  I know different supplements or different hays or feeds can be expensive.  But, maybe, just get two types of hay that are good compliments to each other and alternate.  Or, do a little equine nutrition research on the internet or talk to an equine nutritionist like Gabrielle Sutton.  There are cost effective, simple solutions.  After all, we are what we eat and so are our horses.


(The following photos via: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)

We’ve been chatting about how domestic horses are not wild horses.  But, that highway goes both ways.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.

It breaks my heart to see our wild horses rounded up in droves.  But, what is even harder  to see is them sitting in jammed holding pens because they are “tough cookies”, “hard to handle” and “unbreakable”.  What they really are is misunderstood.  Apples and Oranges.  Or maybe more clearly, Apples and Pears.  They kinda look the same and kinda smell the same and kinda taste the same, but they are vastly different.

Wild horses are born to distrust in order to stay alive.  They don’t look to us for food and have no predecessors that have had a relationship with humans.  Wild horses don’t understand our body language and need a reason to bond with us.  More to the point, wild horses have to find a reason to want to bond with us. 

And what do we do?  We treat them like rank domestic horses that just need to be broken.

But truly, the wild horses are just trying to survive and a human is an unknown threat.  Since Mother Nature has had her hand in the creation of wild horses, what we have here are the best of the best in procuring wild horse safety.  Yup, our wild horses aren’t going to give in without a fight because that is how they’ve survived.  They know from their very being that flight and running is the best way out of any mess.  Circle the Wagons and kick the bejessus out of the attacker!

Sadly, it is a rare human who has the understanding, compassion or patience to acknowledge the wonderful perfection of the genetic traits that create a successful wild horse.  Who has the time, right?  So, it is a vicious cycle.

A Wild horse sees no reason to befriend a human who is not befriending the wild horse.

Sadly, this is why there are so many of them that go unadopted.  Wait, let me back up… I’m not sure they should be taken off the range to begin with for us to adopt… but that is another story.  What I’m saying is that poor unsuspecting people adopt these wild horses and are met with real and serious challenges.  Hence, hardly any wild horses are adopted older than weanling/yearlings because it just is too much work for most people.  So sad.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.


This brings me full circle to a very sad and disturbing photo I saw earlier this week.  Here it is.  All the poor mustangs stuck in very unnatural pens, removed from their bands and looking at a fate worse than they ever deserved.  To me, if this is the best solution their guardians (us) can come up with, something huge needs to be done.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.    So, why are we treating them like domestic horses?  Put a wild thing in a cage and it loses its heart.  Give your heart to a wild thing and you are both uncaged.

If you feel a desire to help the wild horses please look at theses three links.  One is for Elyse Gardner, humane observer for the BLM.  The next is a website devoted to all the actions you can take (financially or just moral support) for the wild  horse and the third is Madeleine Pickens.

As far as helping the Mustang rescue facilities, if you feel moved, these folks are deserving.  Some lovely person took the time with my Mustang and I am forever grateful.  I have listed here a link to Strawberry Mountain Mustangs who can steer you in the right direction if you’d like to help them or a Mustang rescue near your home.   A bale of hay, a tube of wormer or just a kind word goes a long way in the arduous but ultimately gushingly rewarding challenge of befriending the Mustang.  You could not rip from me the two I have here.  They are truly amazing.

I promise to get more newsy next time… So, until we meet again, bless the wild ones.

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!