The Bashkir Curly Horse is a rare American breed with a unique coat texture and mysterious history. Also known as North American Curlies, the debate continues over the breed’s origins and its connection to curly horse populations globally.

Indigenous tribes on the Great Plains rode Curly horses more than two centuries ago, and feral Curlies still roam alongside Mustangs in the American West. However, not all curly horse breeds share a common ancestry, and multiple genetic mutations can result in the curly hair phenotype.

Though curly coats in some breeds are linked to specific health issues, the Curly horse breed is relatively healthy. Many owners claim these horses are also hypoallergenic, but allergen studies in the breed yield conflicting results.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the American Bashkir Curly breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for these unique horses.

American Bashkir Curly Horse History

Despite their name hinting at Russian ancestry, North American Bashkir Curly Horses possess a curly hair gene mutation that is distinct from Curly horses found internationally. Their exact origins remain a mystery, but their history in modern America is well documented.


Evidence suggests that horses with curly coats have existed throughout the evolution of the equine species. Thick, curly coats were a favourable adaptation for horses in cold climates.

Ancient Chinese art from 161 AD depicts curly horses, and populations of these horses spread across various regions of Asia and Europe over time. [1] Curlies were also reported in South America in the 1700’s, and records from 1801 describe Curly Horses owned by Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. [1]

Many American Curlies descend from feral horses captured in the Great Basin, including the first members of the breed developed by the Damele family in the early 1900s. The Damele breeding program significantly influenced the modern American Bashkir Curly.

The Bashkir name derives from a picture of a curly-coated Bashkir horse from Russia published by Nature Magazine in 1938 and reproduced in a print cartoon by John Hix. However, a 1990 identification project determined that the Bashkir horse is not a direct ancestor of the American Curlies. [1]

Recent research has identified two distinct genetic mutations responsible for curly coats in horses from different equine populations. This indicates that curly coats can emerge in various breeds, and the presence of curly hair doesn’t necessarily signify a close genetic connection. These results suggest curly coats originated in different breeds, and not all horses with curly hair are genetically related. [3]

Researchers found that North American horses with the dominant-type curly coat share a common mutation, which justifies the American Curly’s classification as a distinct breed. However, modern Curly Horses are also heavily influenced by other breeds. [1]

DNA studies in American Curlies found genetic links to Quarter Horses, Morgans, Saddlebreds, and Standardbreds. These horses crossed with lines descending from the Great Basin feral horses in the 20th century to develop the modern breed. [2]

Historic Use

While Curly Horses are still commonly seen roaming free with feral Mustang bands in the American West, domesticated Curlies have served several purposes for humans in American history.

Indigenous people in North America domesticated feral horses around 300 years ago. These horses, which included Curlies, became integral to these cultures for transportation, hunting, war, and trade. [4]

The Dameles and other Ranchers in the Great Basin admired the hardiness of feral Curlies during harsh winters. These breeders used the Curlies to improve their breeding stock and produce cow horses suited to working long days in difficult conditions. [1]

American Bashkir Curly Horses became an official breed in the late 20th century. Although Curlies are a relatively rare breed today, they have distinguished themselves as versatile pleasure and competition horses.

Breed Registry

Founded in 1971, the American Bashkir Curly Horse Registry (ABCR) is the oldest breed registry for Curly horses in North America. ABCR maintains a closed studbook for Curlies with DNA verification and an open studbook for Curly crosses.