Russia’s Bashkir horse breed is not to be confused with the American Curly Horse, once known as the American Bashkir Curly. Back in the 1800s when the latter horse breed was discovered running wild in the American west, it was erroneously thought that the Bashkir had curly coats. They don’t. It was another Russian horse breed, the Lokai that had the curly coats.
Meanwhile, back in the Ural Mountains of Russia, the native peoples known as the Bashkiri needed an all-purpose horse breed – one for riding, draft work, milking and for meat. The milk is the most important, as it is used in making koumiss, an intoxicating beverage, although recently it has been touted as a “health drink” in the former Soviet Union. The result was the Bashkir, also called the Bashkirskaya.
The Bashkir is a light draft horse in build (another difference from the American Curly Horse, which is sleek.) They have thick bodies, thick bull necks, huge heads, deep chests, short legs and a very rounded belly. The skeleton is sturdy and thick to support the muscular frame. The mane and tail grow very thick and the coat can become quite shaggy. The most usual colors are bay, dun, chestnut, mouse grey and roan. Some of the duns show “primitive markings” such as zebra-striped legs and a black dorsal stripe.
Although considered a horse, they are small, like many horses of Asia are. In fact, many are pony-sized at 13.1 – 14 hands high. Even though they are considered small by today’s standards, they are still strong enough for farm work and carrying a full grown man many miles in a day. Still, some bloodstock from other breeds has been added over the decades in the hopes of breeding a taller, meatier animal that is still as strong and hardy as the original Bashkir. According to “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), the other breeds added include Russian Heavy Draught, Don, Thoroughbred, Kazakh, Yakut and unknown trotting breeds.
The Bashkir had to be tough in order to survive. The Bashkir are still raised in conditions that would kill most other breeds. They are left outside in herds all year long and not fed supplemental grain or hay. Foals are usually tied up to eighteen hours a day and are not given much chance to nurse so that their dams can be milked for koumiss production.
The Bashkir was a well established breed all throughout Russia by the 1700s. They, Dons and Bashkir-Don crosses were the preferred mount of many cavalry units. Bashkirs and Dons in 1812 marched all the way to France to battle Napoleon and then marched all the way back to Russia. It is also reported that Bashkirs of that time could travel up to ninety miles a day.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
Horse Show Central. “Bashkir Horse.” http://www.horseshowcentral.com/horse_breeds/bashkir_horse/460/1
Russian horse website of breeds including the Bashkir. http://www.liveinternet.ru/community/black-horse/post52049820/