History of the Curly Horse
By Sandy Hengstler
Curly coated horses are most certainly an ancient breed. They have been depicted in Chinese art and statuary as far back as 161AD. They are believed to descend from the Lokai horse, bred in the Tadjik region of Russia between and Afghanistan, in the area of the Khyber Pass.
When and how the first Curly horse came to be on the North American Continent remains a mystery, although there are many theories.
One theory has them coming across the landbridge with ancient man. Another has them coming with early Russian settlers, although no record of horses being brought by the Russian settlers has ever been found in the Russian ship logs.
However they came to be here, we do know that they have been recorded as being on the North American Continent for at least 200 years.
The Curly horse is depicted as early as 1801-02 in a Sioux Indian "winter Count", which was known as the winter the Sioux stole Curly horses from the Crow. This particular "Winter Count" was kept by a Sioux artist/historian named Swift Dog, whose tribe has been placed on the Standing Rocky/Cheyenne River Reservation of South Dakota. A large a majority of the Curly horses today can trace their roots to the Dakota's.
B.T.Barnum, in his biography, makes reference to having acquired a "curly coated horse" in Cincinnati in 1848.
In 1880 John Comaila was known to have captured some Curlies from the wild herds in Nevada. The locals referred to them as the "wholly ones" or "Buffalo horses".
Drawings made by Chief Red Cloud in 1881, describing the battle of the Little Bighorn, depict Curly horses as being at the battle.
One of the most important breeders of Curly horses in this century, has been the Damele family of Nevada. The Damele's purchased a ranch in Eureka in 1899. Soon after they moved to the ranch they began seeing Curly horses in the wild horse herds.
In 1931, two of the sons caught a sorrel Curly, broke him to ride and sold him.
1932 was one of the worst winters that Nevada has ever faced. In the spring, when the Damele's were rounding up what little stock they had left, among their horses were a few Curlies, worn out but alive. This became the base stock of the Damele's ranch horses.
Benny Damele was one of the founding members of the American Bashkir Curly Horse Registry in Ely, Nevada.
When the first Curlies came to Canada is not documented. We do know that they were in Alberta at the turn of the century. Ole Skjonsberg's father and uncle brought them from South Dakota when they moved here in the early 1900's. This was the base of the Skjonsberg family's stock. The Skjonsberg family, who still live in the Bentley area of Alberta are still raising these amazing horses.
Curlies were also seen in the wild herds of the Alberta foothills as far back as the 1920's.
Curlies are also known to have been in Manitoba in the 1920's and it is believed this stock came from Montana or Nevada, possibly from rustled stock.