The Caspian horse is one of the oldest and rarest horse breeds. They are also called Khazar horse. In ancient Persia, the Caspian horse was called by various names like Pumpelli, Lyudian, Pouseki and Moulecki.
This horse breed belongs to the mountains of Northern Iran. The oldest known specimen of the Caspian horse was discovered in a cemetery dating back to 3400 B.C.E. Depictions of Caspian horses have been noticed in ancient art. They are shown as pulling chariots. Records in 600 CE make a mention of Caspian horses. Skeletons with a bone structure resembling these horses were found at Hamadan.
The Persian Empire greatly valued these tiny horses. It is believed that the these horses were used as pets by the Royal families of Persia. Their value can be judged by the fact that they were engraved on the Royal seal of the King in 550 B.C.
After 700 AD these horses almost disappeared from history due to Islamic invasion. Modern scholars thought that these horses had become extinct.
But they were rediscovered in 1965 by an American born breeder of Iranian horses, Louise Firouz. Firouz began a breeding program in Norouzabad. The horses were given the name “Caspian” based on the area where she found them. She established the Iranian studbook in the year 1966.
The first Caspian was exported from Iran to the United States in April 1966. Iran exported a stallion to Venezuela in 1975. Prince Philip showed an interest in rare breeds of horses. He imported three Caspians from Iran in 1971. They found a place at his stable in the Royal Palace of England.
The Caspian horses flourished under the love and care of their English owners.
A herd consisting of three stallions and twenty mares were attacked repeatedly by wolfs leading to some fatalities. This resulted in the urgent evacuation of a stallion and six mares to the Caspian Stud UK in 1976. The Royal Horse Society of Iran took over the rest of the horses. They got scattered during the Iranian revolution. Only one could be traced.
There was a 10-year ban on keeping more than a single horse in Iran. This ban was due to the misplaced belief that horses were toys for the rich. This led to the end of the breeding programme. The breeding programme restarted in 1986 when Firouz bought a stallion and three mares. Seven of Firouz’s Caspians were sent to England in 1994. The Caspian has the status of Iran’s Living National Treasure.
The Caspian horses have a curious and affectionate temperament. They are extremely loyal. They love the company of humans and get along well with children. This horse breed is tough yet kind. They are alert and friendly. Caspian horses adapt well to different environments.
They enjoy human touch, words and attention. They are intelligent enough to understand their names. They will respond to your calls. Caspian horses can form strong bonds with certain individuals. The curious nature of Caspian horses makes them investigate their surroundings carefully.
Caspians have distinct hemoglobin in their blood. The parietal bone structure in their vaulted forehead is different from other horse breeds. They have an extra molar tooth instead of the ‘wolf’ teeth. Caspians foals are recognizable at birth due to their bulging, uniquely shaped foreheads.
This breed of horse has survived in the mountains of Iran. This gives them the endurance to survive difficult environments. They require little food. They can manage with little or no grain supplement. They must be given only a minimum amount of supplement which are high in sugar and carbohydrates. Caspian horses are low maintenance horses.
Breeding And Uses
The Caspian horses are used as cart ponies in the towns of Northern Iran. They are useful in carrying heavy loads through the congested streets and markets. Prince Philip of England was gifted a stallion and a mare in 1972 by the Shah of Iran.
These horses have successfully taken part in cross-country obstacle driving and national scurry competitions.
The Caspian Horse Society of the Americas (CHSA) was established in 1994. This society aims to preserve and promote the Caspian horse in the United States and nearby countries. The CHSA is associated to the International Caspian Horse Society. To be included in CHSA the Caspian horse requires permanent identification. This is done through AVID Microchip implantation. The parentage of the horses is substantiated through the DNA of the horses mentioned in both the Purebred and Partbred CHSA Stud Books.
The Livestock Conservancy protects the this horse by giving it the distinction of Critical Rare Breed. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust of the United Kingdom has placed the Caspian horses in the category of Endangered Species List.
The Caspian Horse Society of the United Kingdom was set up in 1975. The first International Caspian Stud Book was printed in the year 1978. This book has all the information about Iranian and British born Caspian horses. The Caspian Horse Society of the UK is the founder member of the International Caspian Society.
There are societies for Caspian horses in Norway, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. The Caspian Preservations Society of Western Australia was set up in 1981.
Caspians are small horses. They grow up to 10 to 12 hands. They weigh around 1050 pounds (0.48 t).
When Caspian horses are crossed with Arabs or Thoroughbreds they produce foals with more height. Better living conditions outside Iran has resulted in the birth of foals that grow taller than their Iranian parents.
The Caspian reach their full height within six months of their birth. After six months there is minimal increase in their height. After six months their width increases and they develop secondary sexual characteristics.
What Breeds Make Up The Caspian Horse?
These horses are believed to have descended from Mesopotamian equines. Caspian horses are among the oldest horse breeds. Genetic studies indicate that the Caspian horse could be the ancestor of the Arabian horse. This means that the Caspian is the ancestor of the oriental and most modern horse breeds.
The Caspian horses can be seen in colors like dun, black, bay, gray and chestnut. Some may have white marks on the head and legs.
You won’t find these horses in piebald or skewbald patterns.
What Do They Look Like?
This breed of horse has the looks of a well-bred elegant horse. Their head is short. They have a well-developed forehead. Their eyes and nostrils are huge. The ears are small. They have good withers and sloping shoulders. Their neck is arched and long.
The long thick tail is high set. Their oval-shaped hooves are sturdy. The hindquarters are proportionate and muscular. Their coat is fine, thin and supple.
What Are They Used For?
They are used in the show ring for their jumping ability. They are good for riding by children.
They also have the following uses:
- Mounted athletics
- Pleasure riding
- Harness racing
- Scurry driving
- Show horses
Where Do They Live?
Caspians now live in the North of Iran in an area between the Caspian Sea and Elburz Mountains. Caspians live in Britain and a few have been exported to the United States, New Zealand and Australia. There are about 2,000 registered Caspian horses in the world. In the US there are around 500 Caspian horses.
Breeders across the world have made efforts to promote this rare breed. Due to these efforts, the breed can be found in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.
How Long Do They Live?
These warm-blooded animals have a life expectancy of around 25 years.
They are usually healthy. They may suffer from laminitis. This happens due to overfeeding and less exercise. This breed requires regular exercise to maintain its health.
How Fast Are They?
The Caspian horses have good speed. They are fantastic at jumping. This breed is naturally agile and light.
How Much Do They Cost?
They are expensive in the United States. Capsian horses are rare and this increases their price.
Are They Good For Beginners?
Caspian horses can be trained easily. They are perfect for beginners. They are easy to maintain. Caspians are small, but they do not have the clumsiness associated with ponies. They are perfect for children.
They can be easily handled by children. Its peaceful and confident nature empowers young riders. They are fast learners and can be trained easily.
This rare breed of horse has a fascinating history. Its owners will tell you fantastic stories about these horses. But sadly the Caspian horses are a dwindling breed. Their breeding is also affected due to the mares’ tendency to not ovulate for a year after foaling. This makes continuous Caspian breeding programs difficult to sustain.
The recession has also affected their breeding programs. The breeding has slowed down in many countries. Some countries have put breeding programs on hold. This has resulted in the Caspian horses slipping back into the endangered territory.
The Caspian horses could do with more recognition and support from horse lovers across the world. The breeding programs need new sponsors, patrons and breeders. The Caspians have a lot of cross-breeding potential which has remained unrecognized.