The North American Curly Mustang

The curly horse is a mystery. Their origins are shrouded in the mists of times long past. They have been intertwined in our legends for over 200 years, being spotted in historical documentation since the early days of our country. No one knows how long they have been a part of the wild horse legacy, but we do know they were known to the Native Americans and have been said to have carried the status as mounts for chiefs and medicine men.

Curly horses in North America were first documented on the Northern plains by the Lakota nation. Winter Counts document Lakota getting Curly horses from the Crow sometime between 1801-1804. The winter of 1801-1802 was
called the year the Sioux stole Curly horses from the Crow. The next documented evidence of curly horses is from the 1828 estate inventory of Martin Hite. Martin Hite lived in Pleasant Township, Fairfield County, Ohio. HIs estate included fourteen horses, listed separately and described by sex, age, and color. There were two exceptions to these equine descriptions: a “Bald Colt” and “The Wooly Mare”.

There is solid evidence that there was significant horse trading with the Native Americans in this area, so it is plausible that the curly horses found in Ohio and Indiana had their roots in the wild mustang herds of the time. Since then, they appear sporadically in history. P.T. Barnum, in The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855, discussed his discovery and exhibition of Col. Fremont’s Woolly Horse. The horse was foaled in Indiana and purchased by P.T.Barnum in 1848. Barnum described the horse as of rather small size, with no mane nor tail and was covered with a thick coat of wool. The curly horse was eventually retired after touring as a most extraordinary nondescript, which somewhat resembled a horse, but which had no mane nor tail, and was covered with a thick coat of wool. Charles Darwin wrote of documented curly horses in South America at the beginning of the 19th century, too. It seems there have been curly horses in the America’s for at least two centuries.


While we do not know how or where the curly horses developed, we do know that the North American Curly Horses trace back to the curly horses found in the wild mustang herds. Several curly horse breeders have started with the wild curly mustangs and selectively bred them to develop lines that met their individual needs. The Skjonsberg and Cypress Hills lines in Alberta were developed from the wild curly horses found in Wyoming and North Dakota; the same area that the first documented winter count curly horses came from. The Berndt/Bad Warrior curly lines also had their foundation in this area, as did the Colorado Fredell line of curly horse. The Damele curly line was founded on curly horses captured in the Roberts Mountain area of Nevada. Joe Mead combined the Nevada Damele line and attempted to recreate a unique line of curly horses called Aishike that he remembered from his youth in Alaska. CHJ will be publishing an article about this in the future.

The Rock Springs Wyoming curly horses are said to trace back to one curly stallion, the Laramie Stud. He was bought from a horse trader in Laramie, Wyoming, and is the foundation of the curly horses who live in the Checkerboard area of Wyoming and NW Colorado.

These wild curly mustangs, found primarily in the Rock Springs WY and Roberts Mountain NV areas, are separate herds that have developed differently through the years. It is not known if they come from the same source, or are genetically separate, and further research will be needed to determine this. Occassionaly, a few of these curly horses are captured during the BLM mustang gathers, and are offered to the public for adoption during the Internet Adoptions, or by direct adoptions from the various BLM pens. This past October, 2017, there was a major gather of BLM mustangs in the Divide Basin, Adobe Town, and Salt Wells Creek Herd Management areas of Wyoming. Of the 1968 mustangs captured, approximately 30 curly mustang mares and weanlings, and an unknown number of curly stallions were captured.There are established population limits in the varous HMA’s, and these gathers are conducted to keep the number of mustangs within the numbers that can be supported on the ranges.

These mustangs were gathered using contractor helicopters into temporary holding pens, where they were separted by gender, and put into transport trucks for delivery to the permanent holding pens where they will eventually be identified by the area they were gathered, vet checked, coggins pulled, branded, and gelded (if male), and the foals weaned from the mares if they are old enough. Any injuries were assessed and treatment given, or the horse euthanized if the injury was too severe. The decisions made about which holding pens the horses will be moved to are based on many factors, including available room and location, among others. With this 2017 gather, most of the mares and foals were kept at the Rock Springs WY holding pens. The stallions were moved to the privately contracted Axtell UT holding pens based on available space. All stallions will be gelded before being offered for adoption. The geldings will be selected and transported to facilities who are holding the various adoption events around the country. Other mares were sent to a private contracted facility at Bruneau, Idaho. These facilities were selected based on available space for these horses. During the evaluation process at each facility, the determination is made by a team of wild horse specialists, veternarians, and facility staff about the future of each horse. Based upon the evaluation of each mustang, they are temporarily left in the holding pens for in-person adoptions, offered on internet adoptions, sent to satellite adoption facilities or sent to long term holding.

These long term private holding facilites consist of 350,000 acres of pasture located on 33 private ranches and 3 ecosanctuaries in Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas. These private off range pastures are awarded by contract, and are designed to sustain and maintain the mustangs, separated by gender, in good condition in their familiar free roaming environment on an annual basis. The approximate cost per horse varies, but is around $2 a day. The horses are provided with supplemental feed for approximately four months a year, depending on the climate and where the pastures are located. The horses who are sent to these facilities are the older individuals, and those who have been offered for adoption three times and not adopted (3 strikes). All the horses being send to these facilities are sent with their health records, and are re-vaccinated and wormed, then given two weeks to acclimate to the area before they are released into the pastures. There is an approximate 3% yearly morality rate in these pastures due to the higher population of older horses. Every year, one of the off-range pastures is opened for a tour. You can call 866-468-7826 or check on the BLM Facebook page for the location and date. The three eco-sanctuaries in Wyoming and Oklahoma are open to the public for education, tours and other events. As of October, 2017, there are 32,805 horses in off-range pastures and 624 in eco-sanctuaries, with 11,064 hores in off-range corrals (BLM holding pens). Some of the mares and fillies at the Rock Springs WY holding pens will be offered for in-person adoption on the 5th and 6th of January, 2018. Each horse is evaluated on an individual basis as to their availability for adoption by their physical condition and advancement stage of pregnancy, before they will be allowed to be adopted. Included below are pictures of some of the curly mustang mares being offered at this first in-person adoption event.

The stallions from the 2017 gather were sent directly from the temporay holding pens on the range to the private Axtell holding pens in Utah. Once they arrive, they were sorted into pens and allowed to settle into their new home. They have been vaccinated, coggins pulled, and freeze branded. Prior to being offered for adoption, all will be gelded. Two of the more notable curly stallions that were gathered include Golaith, a massive black curly stallion who is approximately 18 years old, and Maestro, a minium curly pinto. Both are currently house at the Axtell UT facility. The bands of Fergus, Cheveyo, and Ike are in the Rock Springs holdling pens (female and youngsters), and the stallions are at the Axtell Utah holding pens. All will be offered for adoption over the next months. The curly stallions, Fergus, Cheveyo, and Ike, along with two black curly mares and one non-curly mustang stallion were released back into another location in the Salt Well Horse Management Area. This release was done to equal the number of horses to be gathered.

Every curly mustang (and every curly horse) can be registered in either the International Curly Horse Organization or in the American Bashkir Curly Registry. Please look these registrys up on the internet and register your curly mustangs!

By | 2018-02-15T01:32:03+00:00 February 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Leave A Comment