Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Curly Haired Horses: indigenous to America?

Yesterday's post dealt with horses and mentioned the peculiar gait of some of them, specially the Latin American ones. Today's post looks into curly haired horses.

They are interesting because they have been reported in Asia and in America, but not in Europe. If the mutation that causes it survived in America and did not reach the New World carried by Spanish or European horses, then it means that it survived here in indigenous American horses.

In Paraguay 1800 AD

Felix Manuel de Azara (1742 - 1821) was a Spanish military officer who was stationed in Southern South America from 1771 to 1801. During this period he studied the local natural history and later wrote several books. In onte of them (The Natural History of the Quadrupeds of Paraguay and the River La Plata, Volume 1 pp 42 he described a curly haired horse found in Paraguay, South America:

"I have seen many crisp-haired horses, called in Paraguay Pichaí; their hair is curly, like that of the Negros of Guinea and their hoof as narrow as that of Spanish mules, in which they differ from the common run of horses. I have seen them in various colors, but not piebald nor white".

Note: Piebald are horses whose coat has large black and white patches, and the native Guaraní word "Pichaí" means "curly".

Curly haired horses are not very common and Azara wrote that " they are very ugly, attempts have been made to exterminate them by castration, and even by killing the mares", so it isn't surprising that there were not many records of curly haired horses in historic records.

I have not been able to find refrences about them in Spanish or Latin American chronicles during this period, and the only historic reference comes from China, 1,200 years before Azara saw these horses in Paraguay.

In China 600 AD

Li Shimin was the second Emperor of the Tang dynasty, and ruled China as Emperor Taizong of Tang from 626 to 649 AD. He was very fond of his war horses and had his tomb (the Zhaoling Mausoleum) decorated with stone reliefs of them. One of these steeds was Quanmaogua, which is Chinese for "Curly hair horse".

It had a wavy saffron-yellow coat, the relief shows him with nine arrows sticking out of his body, yet he has an arrogant and wound defying attitude. Can you make out the curls in the stone sculpture?

Quanmaogua curly horse China 600 AD.

Asian and North American curly hair horses

Darwin wrote about these horses in 1860, and mentioned three distinct locations where they could be found (Paraguay, mentioning Azara's text), Russia ("A Russian breed of horses is said to have curled hair" and the US ("Dr. Canfield informs me that a breed with curly hair was formed by selection at Los Angeles in North America.")

Let's look into both geographical locations:


The curly haired horse from Russia (actually, from Tajikistan) is known as Lokai. The International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, by Bonnie L. Hendricks, mentions the Lokai horse as follows:

"This breed was developed by the Uzbek Lokai tribe in the sixteenth century... the surface hairs of the coat are characteristically curly", but it does not seem to have always been so, the breed is recent, but based on wild ponies:

"in the Lokai breed the foundation sire of the curly-coated strain was a golden sorrel named Farfor, found in 1959 in the Kolchoz Lamanov in the Parchar Region... curly fromt the ears to the hooves, with tight curls like a Karakul lamb."

These horses even exhibit Appaloosa color markings according to James Blakely (Horses and Horse Sense: The Practical Science of Horse Husbandry)


The American curly haired horse could be related to these Lokai horses: Eduard De Steiguer in Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs is categoric: "Mustangs in Nevada's Fish Creek HMA wear the unusual wavy-haired coat of the Lokai Curly, a breed brought from Russia and released on the range by an American horse fancier in 1874". There is no source quoted for this statement. But we do know (Darwin) that someone had bred the curly hair horses in Los Angeles in the 1850s-60s.

However there is an older date mentioning curly haired horses in North America, and this comes from the Lakota people. Pictographs of the North American Indians, by Garrick Mallery mentions the Lakota winter counts. Their year spanned the period between two winters and they drew images on hides as a record of each year: one image per year, recording the most memorable event. The story behind it was then passed on by oral tradition.

The 1803-04 winter count was known as the one where "Blackfeet steals many curly horses from the Assinaboines..." or, according to another native, White-Cow-Killer: "Plenty-wooly-horses winter."

The Lakota were also known as the Teton Sioux, and they lived in the upper Mississippi Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas) and later moved by war into the Great Plains. We have depictions of these horses drawn in 1880-81 (Spirit Beings and Sun Dancers Black Hawk's Vision of the Lakota World, Indian Pictures drawn by Black Hawk Chief Medicine Man of the Sioux, by Janet Catherine Berlo:

There is an interesting written document (The Aboriginal North American Horse, Statement of Claire Henderson, History Dept. Batiment de Koninck, Laval University, Quebec, Canada. Feb. 1991), which I will quote below:

"Dakota⁄Lakota people have an extensive "horse vocabulary," and they distinguish between their "own" horses, which among other names they call "sunkdudan," the small legged horse, and the European imported horse which they call the long-legged horse, orthe American Horse.
this writer [C. Henderson] used LaVerendrie's maps and diaries, as well as other documentation and interviewed numerous Elders and old ranchers. Eventually the site was located in Wyoming, and all of the people he met and traveled with were found to be Lakotas. But these interviews also lead to a wealth of information about the Indian pony.
According to Elders, the aboriginal pony had the following characteristics: It was small, about 13 hands, it had a "strait" back necessitating a different saddle from that used on European horses, wider nostrils, larger lungs so that its endurance was proverbial. One breed had a long mane, and shaggy (curly) hair, while another had a "singed mane."

So here we have it, one of the Lakota's local (not European) horse breeds had curly hair.

Does this mean that these were indigenous horses? Horses that did not become extinct in America?

Recent horse remains found in the Americas

There is extensive evidence of Prehistoric horses, but most of these remains date back to the end of the last Ice Age, and then American horses seem to have disappeared. Their Eurasian counterparts survived, American ones died out. But is this the case?

A paper published in 2016 (Difusion temprana del caballo en territorio de la Actual Republica Oriental del Uruguay, Bracco D, Bracco R, Fariña R. Temas Americanistas No. 37, p 67-87 Dec. 2016) tells of a domestic horse dated to 1465 - 1635 and 1350 - 1630 AD by C14 and OSL methods. Which is on the fringe of the arrival of Spaniards to the region (after 1516, and with horses after 1536).

More horse remains have been discovered in Carlsbad California, US, where a ritual burial "took place sometime between 1625 and 1705. So these horses died at least 50 years before San Diego Mission de Alcala, the first of the California missions, was founded in 1769.", of course these could have been stray beasts that ran away from the Spanish settlements in New Mexico or even Mexico, colonized after 1520.

American horses would be indistinguishable from European ones and their mtDNA (image is from Cheek tooth morphology and ancient mitochondrial DNA of late Pleistocene horses from the western interior of North America: Implications for the taxonomy of North American Late Pleistocene Equus, Barrón-Ortiz CI, Rodrigues AT, Theodor JM, Kooyman BP, Yang DY, Speller CF (2017) . PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183045. show how Prehispanic Argentine horses -blue arrows- mix with those from the Urals and modern domesticated horses from Europe:

What causes curly hair?

There are two mutations that cause wavy hair in horses (An epistatic effect of KRT25 on SP6 is involved in curly coat in horses, Annika Thomer, Maren Gottschalk, Anna Christmann, Fanny Naccache, Klaus Jung, Marion Hewicker-Trautwein, Ottmar Distl & Julia Metzger Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 6374 (2018) Published: 23 April 2018):

"we identified two missense variants in KRT25 and SP6 acting independently on the development of a curly coat... Hair fibers from both mutant SP6 or mutant KRT25 horses showed typical curly hair characteristics like a polymorphic shape, restricted medulla and rotated shafts with depressions. These findings, which were also identified in human, rat, mice and cattle curl types, were postulated to be essential properties of curly hair"

And these were found only in American horses, another paper The Genetics of Curly coated horses by Wilkinson M., says: "Two SNP mutations located within the 11th equine chromosome, KRT25 and SP6, have shown to be the causative mutations in two types of North American curly coated horses. The two mutations were not found as causative mutations in equine populations in Asia, South America, and some additional equine populations in North America. This suggests that there are many more causative mutations yet to be isolated."

If this is true, then the story of the Russian horses introduced into Nevada in 1874 would not be possible because they'd have the Asian mutation and not the one found in America.


An online article states that "There are curly coated horses in Argentina. In the wild horse herds of Patagonia, a percentage of the horses have curly coats. Hair samples have been obtained from several of these horses and they do not have the KRT25 mutation. Whether they have one of the undiscovered mutations mentioned in North American curly coated horses will be determined after isolation of other curly genes"

It ads that "In 2013, Andrea and Gerardo Rodriquez contacted Angie Gaines through the Curly Mustang Association Facebook page. The couple stated that they were raising curly coated horses that had been captured from the wild horse herds of Patagonia, Argentina. Their ranch was close to a remote village named Maquinchao" (in Rio Negro province, in the Patagonian steppe) "Hair follicle samples were sent from Argentina to Gus Cothran's lab in Texas. The samples proved not to have the KRT25 mutation". This ranch is the "Yeguada Rodriguez" ranch, but I have found more information on Yeguada Rodriguez which states in Spanish the following (translated by me to English): "Yeguada Rodríguez is the only breeder of Curly American Bashkir in South America... Currently there are just over 4000 bashkir in the world, mainly in the US, and the only one in South America with registered DNA is in Maquinchao." The picture below is from their website:

If they are American Curly Bashkir then they can't be "wild horse herds of Patagonia".

I have tried to find references about curly "bagual" (feral horses in Patagonia) a word derived from the native Mapuche word "Cahual" which in turn comes from the Spanish word for horse (Caballo).

Nobody seems to have written about curly Patagonia bagual horses. But I did find a refrence (Los aborigenes del pais de cuyo, Cap. I PP Cabrera). It describes several people who having been captured by the natives managed to escape and reach the Spanish settlements in Southern Cuyo region in what is now Argentina (Mendoza province), just north of Patagonia.

These events took place in 1658. One of these men remembered a "Corregidor" or Mayor appointed by the King, from Chillán in Chile, who had a "curly horse" (caballo crespo), though he couldn't remember the man's name.

Nowadays there are long-tangled haired ponies in Chiloe (see this photo of a Chilote horse, which in the comments is called a "Chascón", word used in Peru and Chile to name a "curly horse"). This Chilote horse is (source) located on the same branch of the phylogenetic tree that holds all of the gaited Latin American horses mentioned in our previous post).

The curly horse was not unknown in the Pampas region of Argentina: It is mentioned by Ricardo Hogg ( Sobre vacas ñatas y otros temas camperos in La Prensa No.26.176 Nov 9, 1941 Secc. 2, 4e):

"... the curly haired horse, variety almost extinct nowadays".

I will try to find out more on Curly Haired horses in Patagonia.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting information on this breed. Do find out more information in curly haired horses, want to know more. View my link on world of horses.


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