In a Palomino Valley corral, some wild stallions and mares have curly manes, corkscrew tails and winter coats that make the mustangs look like tall, skinny brown sheep.
These are curly horses, whose origin in North America remains an enigma and whose coats, like those of poodles, are said to be hypoallergenic.
The horses are the focus of an online Bureau of Land Management auction this week and the objects of affection by groups of horse-lovers worldwide.
“These are something different, something unique,” BLM spokeswoman Heather Emmons said. “They stand out from the herd. In some horses, the (curly) trait is very apparent, and with others, you have to get fairly close up to see the curls.”
Curly horses are like an equine mystery wrapped in a permanent wave.
“No one is really sure how they came to this continent,” Emmons said. “There are curly horses in Russia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. Some people wonder if they came over Bering Strait, or if like the rest of the wild herds, they are descendants of strays.”
North American horses became extinct about 11,000 years ago, and the fossil record doesn’t support any horse population after that until the Spanish conquistadores brought herds to the New World. Around the time of the American Revolution, curly horses were found in South America and were reported in Alaska in the early 1800s.
Others speculate the breed might have been brought over by Vikings before 1492, but there’s no evidence of that, either.
Today, curly mustangs are found in wild horse herds in eastern Nevada. Those animals might be descendants of animals bred around the Three Bar Ranch near Eureka, according to a story in Western Horseman magazine. The story said members of the Damele family first caught a wild curly horse in the 1890s and used it as a saddle horse.
In later years, the family discovered that curly horses in wild herds survived harsh winters that killed other mustangs. Wranglers captured and bred the curlies for use as ranch horses.
“I’ve heard from people that these horses have more cow (herding abilities) bred into them,” said John Neill, manager of the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Center at Palomino Valley. “It’s said they have a better instinct to herd, but that’s just hearsay.” Rest of the story >>