The Caspian Horse
by Marilyn Kotnik
Research and Information supplied by Pat Holden and Mandy Pascoe
Photos by Julie Wilson
These unique ponies, or miniature horses are believed to be the oldest living breed in the world. There is evidence that they date back to 3000 years BC. They are thought to be the direct descendants of the pre historic species of horse that occupied the Kerman-shah area, where the present time Caspian area is today.
There is an amazing similarity between the Caspian’s and horses pulling the chariot of King Darius on a bas-relief at Persepolis. (In Persia, now the present day Iran.) The rediscovery of this species of miniatures has so fired the imagination and curiosity of Iran and many other countries that take an active interest in both archaeology and research, that from a mere handful of these horses dwelling in the hinterland near the Caspian sea there have been studs established in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway, as well as in their natural habitat, Iran.
With the establishment of these studs, their future now looks assured and they have become another breed that has royal patronage in the UK.
His royal highness Prince Phillip was given a pair of Caspian Horses, which, during their long quarantine produced a filly foal.
Credit for all the research and rediscovery of this very ancient breed goes to Louise Firouz, a Washington graduate of Cornell University where she studied animal husbandry among other disciplines. She married Narcy Firouz, an Iranian and is now occupied in farming and breeding horses. In 1965 Louise Firouz began searching for a pony that her children could ride. She 'discovered' the stallion Ostad* pulling a heavy cart in Amol. Louise purchased him. Ostad was the first Caspian to be re-discovered. Two more, Aseman* (another stallion) and Alamara* (a mare) joined Ostad*at Louise's farm.
She found them excellent mounts for her children, and this began her ongoing search for more Caspian’s.
They were often found to be in very bad condition, with lice, fleas, ill, covered in sores and working under very heavy loads. Their recovery was slow but they improved under her care. Eventually the breeding programme began. More Caspian’s were located in the Alborz Mountains and on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Louise Firouz researched the origins of the Caspian horse. She recalled seeing them in the reliefs at the ancient palace of King Darius the Great at Persepolis. There was no doubt that they were one and the same. The Caspian was prized for the trilingual seal of King Darius, Persian Ruler from 522bc. to 586bc, this depicts small horses of the same type pulling the King's chariot on a lion hunt. Louise found a number of artefacts resembling these horses now declared to be the National Living Treasure of Iran.
Chronology of the Caspian horse in Australia
3000bc. Evidence of the existence of Caspian type horses
500bc Horses of Caspian type on King Darius the Great's seal
1965 Caspian Stallion Ostad* found in Amol, Iran
1971 Stallion and mare presented to HRH. Prince Philip. UK.
1974 Caspian Stallion Ruba 11 won Supreme Champion Pony at the third Salon de Cheval in Paris, France.
1975 First shipment to Australia went to Victoria and was used for breeding part breds Ruba11 (Stallion). Alouchen (Mare) Gulpar (Mare) Susiana (Mare) and laterAmu Daria (Stallion)
1980 Iran-Iraq war. 10-year ban on people keeping over one horse.
1990 Research began by Gus Cothran, Kentucky University
1994/95 Sale of stock from Australia to USA
1996 Death of Iranian mare Gulpar (Australia)
1998/99 Sale of stock from Australia to the USA
1999 1st international gathering of Caspian owners held in Brenham, Texas USA.
In 1965 the rediscovery of a species of unique miniature horse thought to have lived in 3000bc fired the imagination and curiosity of Iran. Only some thirty-five or so animals were found, all concentrated in a remote region of Northern Iran, around the Caspian Sea. These 'ponies' (so named because of their small size) were removed to the safety of a stud near Teheran and laboratory studies of their blood, skin and bones began. Detailed analysis showed that in spite of their small size they had the skeleton of a horse, and in all probability are the forerunners of most of the hot-blooded breeds of horse known today, including the Arabian, itself considered to be one of the oldest breeds.
The Caspian Horse is different.
1. They have a bulging of the parietal bones known as a vaulted forehead when born.
2. They have an extra molar in place where the wolf teeth might appear in other breeds
3. Their shoulder blade is narrow at the top and wide at the base
4. The cannon bones are longer and slimmer
5. The first six vertebrae are longer than usual which gives the appearance of high withers and a flat back
6. Caspian hooves are narrow and oval in shape, hard and rarely need shoes except in instances of continual hard work. Caspian hooves are oval in shape
7. The frog is less prominent in Caspian’s than in other horse breeds
8. Differences found in the haemoglobin of the Caspian Horse are 'quite unique'
Within the breed, there is a natural graduation from a larger, stronger type of Caspian to a smaller, daintier type. This variety in type is considered to be a sign of strength, not a weakness. The Caspian Horse is not a pony. It is a horse in miniature, growing to between 9 hands and 12.2 hands high.
These horses are extremely intelligent, gentle, friendly, quite easily trained, narrow for children to ride comfortably and willing workers. They are also versatile in harness.
The Caspian is also an expert jumper with extraordinary ability to jump four feet from a standing start. This is rarely seen in the horse world.
The Caspian temperament is gentle and even. Although technically regarded at 'hot bloods' they are generally very well behaved. They are good saddle horses for children, and when outgrown can be used as an excellent harness horse for older children or adults. They are good pony club mounts In Iran, the Caspian is used for riding, working in carts, hauling very heavy loads, working in the rice paddies and in races where they excel, because they are speedy and agile.
Caspian’s can keep up with larger horses at all paces, except at the gallop.
Breed type and Standard
General: The Caspian is a horse, not a pony, and therefore should be viewed in the same manner as judging a thoroughbred. The limbs, body and head should all be in proportion to each other. For shortened limbs or a head out of proportion are faults. The overall impression should be of a well-bred elegant horse in miniature.
Eyes Almond shape, large, dark, set low and often prominent
Nostrils Large, low set, finely chiselled, capable of considerable dilation during action
Ears Short, wide apart, alert, finely drawn, often noticeable in-pricked at the tips
Head Wide, vaulted forehead in most cases the parietal bones do not form a crest, but remain open to the occipal crest) Frontal bones should blend into nasal bone in a pleasing slope. The Caspian has very deep prominent cheekbones and good width between them where they join at the throat.
Head tapers to a fine, firm muzzle.
Neck long, supple neck with a finely modelled throat latch.
Withers Long, sloping well modelled with good wither.
Body Characteristically slim with deep girth. Chest width in proportion to width of body. It is a fault to have 'both legs out of the same hole'. Close coupled body, with well defined hindquarters and Good saddle space.
Quarters Long and sloping from hip to point of buttocks. Great length from stifle to hock.
Hocks Owing to their mountain origin, Caspian’s may have more angled hocks than lowland breeds.
Limbs characteristically slender with dense, flat bone and flat knees. Good slope to pasterns, neither upright nor over-sloping
Hooves Both front and back are oval and neat with immensely strong wall and sole and very little frog
& hair Skin thin, fine and supple, dark except under white markings. Coat silky and flat, often with an iridescent sheen in summer. Thick winter coat. Mane and tail abundant but fine and silky. Mane usually lies flat (as in thoroughbreds) but can grow to great lengths. Tail carried gaily in action. Limbs generally clean with little or no feathering at the fetlock.
Colours all colours, except piebald or skewbald (pinto). Greys will go through many shades of roan before fading to near white at maturity.
Height Varies with feeding, care and climate. Recorded specimens have ranged from under 10 hands to 13 hands. Growth rate in the young is extremely rapid with the young Caspian making most of its height in the first 18 months, filling out with maturity.
Action/Performance Natural floating action at all gaits. Long, low swinging trot with spectacular use of the Shoulder. Smooth, rocking canter, rapid flat gallop. Naturally light and agile paces with exceptional jumping ability.
Temperment.Highly intelligent and alert, but very kind and willing.
The Australian Caspian Society holds classes at four horse shows in South Australia each year.
Ø Royal Adelaide Show
Ø Northern Hack'n Halter Show
Ø Southern Equestrian Show
Ø All Breeds State Challenge Show.
The classes are: -
Ø Filly under 4 years.
Ø Mare over 4 years with/without foal.
Ø Part-bred mare, filly or gelding, purebred gelding
Ø Ridden Caspian (pure-bred or gelding)
The Caspian horse was promoted by Don Burke (Burkes Backyard) on the 10th September 1999. They also take part in parades of rare and exotic breeds of horses, have the occasional picture in the paper and article and generally, whatever publicity they can muster from time to time. This helps to make people more aware of these lovely horses.
Astara Stud. In Mount Pleasant, is owned by Shauna and Gerard Swart. Est., in 1992. Standing Stallion 'Marida Farmudan'.
Castle Ranch Stud. Victor Harbour is owned by Mrs. R.H. Chrichton, Standing Stallion 'Marida Balsaghar'
Marida Stud. Birdwood, est. in 1976 by Ida Graham and Marshall Steer run by Mandy Pascoe. Standing Stallions 'Marida Hushang' & 'Cheleken Avval Pesar'.
Markazi Stud. Clarenza, NSW near Grafton, owned by Maureen and Rob Byrne, est. in 1995, Standing Stallions 'Tandara Daric', Telopea Tousan', and 'Chippendale Salaman'.
The Australasian Caspian Society Incorporated was established on the 6th January 1976 in order to maintain the breeding records of Marida Stud, being the only Stud in South Australia. Eventually, as others have commenced breeding programmes, more extensive record keeping has been undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the International Caspian Society and Studbook, UK. There are Societies overseas in Iran, UK, New Zealand, USA and Norway. The Caspians are spreading a little further having reached Belgium, Holland and recently Japan.
If not for the hard work by a small band of dedicated horse breeders, the Caspian horse would surely be extinct. There are only 500-550 (approx.) Caspian’s worldwide and about 300 breeding.
Thanks to Louise Firouz, for giving the world the Caspian Horse, for exporting some to the UK, and for caring about them. She was their saving grace in an ever-increasing hostile world.
Caspian Horses have been declared the National Living Treasure of Iran
Australian Caspian Society Incorporated.
Phone (08) 85682919 for any enquiries.
Ø ACSI officers…
Ø President - Gerard Swart
Ø Vice President - Mandy Pascoe
Ø Secretary - Shauna Mills-Stuart
Ø Registrar - Pat Holden
Ø Stock Inspectors - M. Pascoe & M. Steer
Ø Newsletter-Editor - Mandy Pascoe
Ø Patron - Marshall Steer Esq.