Bold Bays with Curly Manes

*Imagination at 22 months sporting her first-place ribbon after winning the in-hand cowboy challenge course

The cool Curly Sporthorse! We are celebrating them as our June Breed of the Month on YourDressage

Dressage riders who choose Curly Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Curly Sporthorse International is a participating organization.

Here, a lifelong equestrian in Region 2 shares how she never expected to become involved with this rare breed, but now cannot imagine life without these brave and impressive horses.

By Michelle Stiegart Fobert

Like a lot of equestrians, I started off my journey with horses on the back of a thirty-plus-year-old grayed gelding being led by his doting owner, who in this case was my beloved aunt. Years followed with innumerous lessons on a number of gentle horses of all different breeds and backgrounds. Yet, when I would sit in the back of my parents ’99 Caravan during a long road trip, I would imagine my dream horse–always a palomino tobiano–running alongside the long grasses of the highway. Little did I know that a majority of my dream horses would be striking bays with the most unusual curly manes and brave demeanors. 

When I was 16 years old, my parents upheld their promise and gifted me my first horse. She was a very green six-year-old breeding stock paint horse registered as Trouble with Scotch. Trouble taught me everything, and her grit and sensitivity allowed me to look at training from a new perspective. Furthermore, it was her forward and beautiful movement that introduced us both to our love of dressage. 

The lessons I took from Trouble are invaluable, especially after meeting my current show horse, Erik the Red. Erik came into my life in a less conventional way than my now retired Trouble. My aunt, Cheryl Locke, called me one day in 2014 explaining that there was a horse that needed to be rehomed. I remember being perplexed when she mentioned his breeding: a Curly x Polish Arabian cross. The impressive 16 hand red bay was twelve years old, but his undersaddle training was not consistent.  He was known for being problematic and explosive when pushed with traditional training. His current owner, a dressage working student, felt he would be better suited as a trail or companion horse, and she unfortunately could not bring him along to her next barn. My aunt asked me if I knew anyone who was looking for a horse like him. My answer was obviously no. But Erik’s time was running out, and to my surprise, my aunt and uncle went to go look at him. A few days later, I received a text alongside a photo that read: “Michelle, the most beautiful horse is in my pasture.” 

I went to see the free horse shortly after and was equally impressed by his presence. His movement matched his Arabian lineage with his lofty gaits and natural suspension, but he also expressed a kind eye and remarkable bone coming from his Curly heritage. Erik the Red’s sire is the late Skookum Buck, a solid built and influential stallion for modern day Curly Sporthorses. Erik inherited many traits from his special crossing, including being highly intelligent and gentle. However, the quiet, soft gelding devolved when I first sat on his back. His obvious sourness to undersaddle work was apparent. He was tense, angry, and acted out by kicking and popping up. Yet, there were moments of incredible brilliance during that first ride when he would move out beautifully and happily. I was hooked. 

Days followed with several vet appointments. His teeth were in terrible shape and his chiropractic work showed that his body was out of whack as well. I’m forever thankful to my vet, Dr. Brian Biggers of Equine Veterinary Services of Lakeville, Indiana, for his thorough work on my Curly treasure. His specialty in dentistry and chiropractic gave me my horse. From there, I had to take a new approach to his training. Erik is an incredibly confident horse, and this is a known breed trait of the Curly. He neither spooks nor does he rely on other horses. This makes him an excellent mount for work outside the arena. I used this to our advantage with the encouragement of my trainer, Lori Cooley. Our first training sessions were done in my aunt and uncle’s vast hay fields and trails. We practiced our 20-meter circles in the snow, worked on our extended trot uphill, and did our free walk down the back roads. Slowly, I had those brilliant moments from our first ride more and more consistently, and I could ask for more. We began our show season in 2015 and even found success at some recognized shows at Training Level. 

Since 2014, Erik the Red has happily carried me through so many dreams. As a confident horse, he brought back my joy of showing. I never have to worry about how he’s going to handle challenges; it’s always with an extensive amount of grace and forethought. He has shown his talents in flooded show rings, carried me through thousands of spectators at the Midwest Horse Fair in breed demonstrations, dressage clinics, and their grand march, brought innumerous year-end awards through our local GMO, Michiana Dressage Club, and has carried young riders through their first rides and shows. His resume is truly endless, and all from the misfit horse that wasn’t suited for this sort of life. Now at twenty-one years of age, he shows no sign of slowing down. He’s still showing at First Level, and has even taken on new side gigs like team sorting. However, his newest role is being a babysitter and mentor for my new dressage prospect: *Imagination. 

*Imagination (Emmie) a few hours old—the first photo Michelle saw of her

The one downside of meeting a spectacular horse like Erik the Red is the sad reality that he won’t be here forever. Being a gelding, my options are very limited. Curly Horses are pretty rare, although they’re gaining in popularity. They’re finally getting their due recognition of what gritty, athletic, intelligent horses they’ve always been. I started looking at horses with Erik’s Curly lines and considered leasing a broodmare to make my own dressage prospect. 

However, one image on Facebook changed my fears about the future. A little bay Curly filly with a big white blaze stared at me from the screen; I was glued. Shelly White of Standard Curly Place, an influential breeder of Curly Sporthorses in British Columbia, posted the picture of her new filly out of her Crabbet bred Arabian mare, Dawn Cherry Red, and by her former Curly Sporthorse stallion, BCF Icon. In the nine years of owning Erik, I’ve only known of a few Curly x Arabian crosses, each one enamored by their owner. Here was this little filly that checked off all the boxes apart from being 32 hours away. After some talking with Shelly White, she agreed to sell *Imagination, known as Em or Emmie, to me after her weaning. Without much thinking, I hastily sent her a check to hold the filly, and in early November of 2021, she made her long journey to Indiana with the support of my husband, parents, and my aunt and uncle. 

The Canadian bred filly truly is everything I’ve ever wanted. She is the great-granddaughter of the late influential dressage Curly stallion, Spartacus, and the granddaughter of the renowned FV Aulfarwa. Along with her promising lines include her exceptional demeanor, impressive gaits, and solid conformation. Similar to Erik, she is unfazed by whatever life throws at her. Quickly earning the nickname of “Brave Little Toaster,” Emmie has partaken on solo trail rides, been ponied off of multiple horses, competed in several in-hand classes, and most recently found an abundance of success at a cowboy challenge obstacle course weekend. I keep introducing her to the world, so she’ll be ready to take the reins down centerline from her brave babysitter in a few years. Although she just turned two in early June, Emmie is unfaltering and kind–traits well-known with this cross. 

Now as I stare out into the pasture of tall grasses, I see my reality: my pair of bold bays representing the present and the future. This rare breed was never something I thought I would own, but now I cannot imagine my life without a Curly. I feel truly blessed to hold the leads of the one-of-a-kind Erik the Red and the promising *Imagination.

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