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Ann Bailey, Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, Published September 20 2009

Curly and burly: Couple seek to preserve horse breed

MAYVILLE, N.D. – Lars and Leslie Helgeson’s horses have permanent permanents.

Wavy locks flowing down their necks, around their ankles and between their ears, the horses look like they just stepped out of a beauty salon.

But it isn’t the looks of the American Bashkir Curly horses that attracted the Helgesons’ attention.

“We got into these to preserve the breed,” Lars said.

Lars, a professor in the University of North Dakota Department of Teaching and Learning, and, Leslie, a graduate student at UND, have owned horses for many years and enjoy raising and riding them.

“We had thoroughbreds when we moved here,” Lars said.

The Helgesons moved to North Dakota from California in 1993 when Lars accepted a teaching position at Mayville State University. They owned a couple of thoroughbred horses when they lived in California and had them shipped to the farm they bought near Mayville.

In 1995, the couple decided to sell the thoroughbreds and buy an American Bashkir Curly stallion. Leslie had read about the breed in a horse magazine and thought the temperament and confirmation was more suited than the thoroughbreds to the kind of riding she wanted to do.

“I wasn’t doing competitive jumping anymore,” Leslie said. “I was really looking for western pleasure saddle horses.”

From what the Helgesons read, the Curlies would be ideal for trail riding around their Mayville farm.

“Their gentle behavior, the fact that they’re a solid horse that does well in cold weather. That’s why I’ve stuck with them, is their temperament and their ability to withstand cold temperatures in North Dakota,” Leslie said.

The origin of the American Bashkir Curly horses isn’t known. In China, art of the horses dates back to 161 A.D., according to the American Bashkir Curly Registry Web site.

Some people believe the horses originated in the Bashkir region of Russia, but the theory has never been proven – nor have people figured out how the initial Curlies got to the United States. Historians do know the horses were with American Indians during the winter of 1801-1802, the Web site says.

The modern-day history of the Bashkir Curly begins in 1898, when a rancher named Peter Damele saw three horses with curly coats when he was riding the Peter Hanson Mountain range near Austin, Nev., according to the Web site. There have been horses in the Damele range since then. The American Bashkir Curly Registry was established in 1971.

The United States has about 4,000 registered American Bashkir Curly horses, the American Bashkir Curly Registry Web site said. The horses are found in all common horse colors, including dun, bay and sorrel. Their coats also can have Appaloosa and pinto patterns.

The Helgesons’ stallion, Mahogany’s Dakota Sunrise, has a bay-colored coat and a kinky black mane that looks like it is in dreadlocks.

The stallion is a son of the couple’s foundation stallion, Mead’s Mahogany Bay, which they bought in 1996 from the late Joe Mead, a Tolna man who had a large herd of Curly horses. Mead had moved to North Dakota from Alaska, where he used the horses for guiding hunting trips in the wilderness.

American Bashkir Curly horses are versatile and they can be used for a variety of riding types and for driving, the Helgesons said.

“They typically will be trained to do about anything you want them to do,” Lars said.

During the years since they purchased Mead’s Mahogany Bay, the Helgesons have added seven other horses to their Curly herd. Four of their eight horses were foals born on their Curly-Doodle farm.

“I’ve enjoyed having them and breeding them and raising them since babies,” Leslie said. She also has found it rewarding to teach people about the Curly breed.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.