For some, the prospect of owning a horse is thwarted by allergies. Case studies show, children allergic to horses can have acute reactions of respiratory distress and skin rash or hives when even exposed to clothing worn by a rider, hours or days earlier. For equine enthusiasts and their families, a
For some, the prospect of owning a horse is thwarted by allergies. Case studies show, children allergic to horses can have acute reactions of respiratory distress and skin rash or hives when even exposed to clothing worn by a rider, hours or days earlier. For equine enthusiasts and their families, allergies to horses can be a devastating diagnosis. While much is written about antihistamine and steroidal treatments of symptoms for those suffering from an allergy to horses, little is known about the Curly Horse, which has proven to be hypoallergenic.
“There’ve been many tears of joy shed here when by the end of the day people with a diagnosed allergy to horses, who showed up with their epi pens in the morning, have their face buried in the neck of a Curly,” says Deanna Johnson, past president of the Canadian Curly Horse Association. “We’ve changed the life of many people.”
Deanna, operating out of Sunnybrook Stables about 45 minutes southwest of Edmonton, AB, is part of a small network of breeders of the Curly Horse, about which little is known. Though some friendly controversy abounds about whether the Curly Horse is a registerable equine species in its own right, or whether the particular characteristics of its curly hair, sweat, saliva and dander are simply equine attributes that can be favoured and bred into any horse, what remains undisputable is that Curly Horses are gaining a clear reputation as a hypoallergenic breed.
Shelly White, operating Curly Standard Place out of Summerland, BC, says, “They even smell different. It was the first thing I noticed about them. Most horses, when they sweat, smell quite salty, but Curlies when they sweat smell quite sweet… they smell more like a goat than a horse.”
Still, “If they have a curly coat they are a Curly Horse, but even if they don’t have a curly coat and come from curly parents they are hypoallergenic and less likely to cause a reaction in most people who have experienced diagnosable allergic reactions to other horses,” she explains.
The problem, (and “problem” might be overstating it) with understanding the Curly Horse is that, compared to other equine species whose populations can number in the millions worldwide, the Curly Horse population is very small — some 3,000 to 4,000 worldwide. Research dollars aimed at identifying the particular DNA strand responsible for the hypoallergenic quality of the Curly Horse are hard to come by.
“Most evidence about the hypoallergenic nature of the Curly Horse is anecdotal, and yet proven out time and time again,” explains Shelly.
The Curly Horse is sometimes known as the Bashkir Curly Horse because, early in its rise to recognition, a photograph of a Curly Horse and rider emerged from Russia, leading some early observers to conclude its origins were from the Bashkir region in Russia. However, today it is commonly understood the Curly Horse actually originated from wild mustang herds in Nevada and the Dakotas.
One of the earliest known breeders of the Curly Horse was Peter Damele, in Nevada. It is said that early one fall, a trio of wild horses were spotted among the Damele herd, bearing the distinguishing characteristic of tight curly ringlets over their entire body. Record breaking snowfall was devastating to the herd, and the only surviving animals that spring turned out to be the phantom Curlies. Many of the Curly Horses alive today can be traced back to Peter Damele’s range dating back to 1898.
Curly Horses can appear in all colours, including appaloosa and pinto. Their coats can range in texture from tight, poodle type curls, to coats that are indistinguishable as curly. Typically their mane and tail have curl, and sometimes, (though often not) their mane and tail can be sparsely haired. Beautiful curly eyelashes and the characteristic curl inside their short, broad ears are emblematic on every Curly. They can range in size from 13 hands to 16 2. They have unusually tough, round black hooves.
Beyond their physical appearance and hypoallergenic natures, the Curly Horse is known as a distinctly calm breed.
Shelly tells a story of noticing one of her Curlies lying down by a fence. On closer inspection, Shelly saw she was completely entangled up in fencing wire.
“I went and got some wire cutters. She could have easily panicked, slashed or cut herself with the wire, or spooked when I was cutting her free. But she didn’t. I had to actually encourage her to get up when I had her loose, and when she did, she was gentle and calm and walked easily aside. This is the type of behaviour we expect from the Curlies. “You often see them thinking things out before they do it,” Shelly adds.
For more information on the Curly Horse, visit the International Curly Horse Association at www.curlyhorses.org. Another excellent site with a wealth of information is www.curlyhorsecountry.com. For local breeders, visit www.curlys.ca to reach Deanna Johnson at Sunnybrook Stables, and www.curlystandardplace.com to reach Shelly White.