Caspian Horse Origin and Characteristics
The Caspian horse is one of the world’s oldest breeds. Its uniqueness comes partially from the fact that it was believed to have been extinct for more than 1,000 years. Rediscovered in 1965, it has been brought back from the edge of true extinction to be a thriving member of the equine family.
The Caspian is also called the Khazar Horse, which is one of the native names for the Caspian Sea in Iran.
Caspian horses have a distinctive growth pattern. Once the breed was rediscovered and a breeding program was initiated, foals were discovered to grow quickly and achieve most of their adult height in their first 6 months of life. Most adult growth involves width and strength.
Mares also tend to wait for a year or more to ovulate after foaling, which makes it difficult for formal breeding programs to establish themselves.
The History of the Caspian Horse
The Caspian horse originates from Northern Iran. Although its size would typically classify the breed as a “pony,” it is still called a horse because it has more in common with the gait, character, and conformation of a standard horse instead of a standard pony. It is believed to be one of the oldest breeds in the world today.
Louise Firouz is credited with the rediscovery of this horse breed in 1965. Iranian breeders were focusing on preserving this breed and she was part of those efforts. No records for the Caspian exist before 1965 because of this, but remains of a horse that were found at Gohar Tappeh in Iran are quite like the modern Caspian.
The remains were dated to 3400 BC, which is why the Caspian is often described as one of the world’s oldest breeds.
Although the Romans were famous for the roads and infrastructure they built throughout their Empire, it was the Persians who were the first real road builders. They created dirt roads that were long and straight, making it possible for couriers on horseback to quickly move from community to community. They had a man and a horse in place for each day, much like the Pony Express that was famously used for a brief period in the United States.
Persians bred horses specifically for transportation purposes. They needed a breed that would be strong and fast, but with a good stamina at the same time. This is where the Caspian horse is believed to have originated.
After the 8th century, the Persian Empire was virtually eliminated from history, with warfare tearing the continents apart. With no records and no evidence outside of Northern Iran that these horses existed, global equine scholars believed that the breed had gone extinct.
Today, these horses now thrive between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea.
Although Firouz passed away in 2008, she was able to see her work take over the equine world. In 1972, a Caspian stallion and mare were given to Prince Philip by the Shah of Iran, who would then assist in importing more Caspians to establish a breeding program in the UK. The Caspian Horse Society of the UK would be formed in 1975, with an international stud book being established in 1978.
The Caspian Horse Society of the Americas would form in 1994 to handle breed registries on the other side of the world. This is Firouz’s legacy.
Characteristics Found in the Caspian Horse
Caspian horses are relatively small compared to other breeds. They have characteristics that are like miniature breeds, but have the length and proportions that are comparable to taller horses. Most horses are shorter than 11 hands, with some being smaller than 10 hands. A few stallions within the breed can sometimes exceed 12 hands high.
Based on the growth patterns of foals within this breed, some believe that the true height of the Caspian was historically around 9 hands high. It is believed that as the modern Caspian is bred to emphasize its natural conformation, it may begin returning to this smaller size.
Most Caspian horses are either black, bay, or grey. Dun and chestnut coats are also possible. White markings are somewhat common, especially along the legs and the head.
Horses that are bred outside of Iran tend to be a little taller than those inside its native nation. This is believed to be due to better feeding conditions that exist outside the borders of Iran. Although global Caspians may be a little taller, all horses from this breed have a fine head that is shorter, but with a pronounced forehead, and short ears. Their eyes seem larger in proportion to their head than other horse breeds.
The nostrils of the Caspian are large, but the muzzle is somewhat small. They have shoulders that slope, strong withers, and a tail that is set relatively high. They are horses that are intelligent, willing, and extremely kind. They are also very loyal and perform well when working with children.
Even stallions can be ridden by children. It is a spirited breed, but that spirit is controlled and displayed appropriately.
What stands out the most about the Caspian horse is the strength of its legs and hooves. The hooves of this breed are so strong that most never need to be shoed. They prefer ground that isn’t stony and prefer a consistent working schedule. This combination creates a breed that has an incredible ability to jump.
There are some additional anomalies that seem to be unique to this specific breed. An extra tooth on each side of the upper molar tends to be present and the first 6 thoracic vertebrae tend to be comparatively longer for their size compared to other breeds. Their frog is less pronounced and the hoof has more of a narrow, oval shape to it.
At this current time, the Caspian horse is not believed to be in danger of extinction. The status of the breed is still quite rare outside of Iran, however, with only a few exports making their way to the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand. Political turmoil within the region may still threaten a majority of this breed’s population, but with its establishment as a global breed in the last 20 years, there seems to be nothing that can hold this horse back any more.