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From a time millennia past, when a kingdom’s strength was often measured by its ability to master the art of horsemanship, comes a small horse of legend. A legend that reached forward into the later part of the 20th Century and gripped the heart of an American woman named Louise Firouz. A legend that she spent much of her life defending, sometimes at the risk of her own. 

Louise Firouz 

After studying at Cornell University, Louise married an Iranian aristocrat, Narcy Firouz and, upon their return to Iran, they established an equestrian centre. Sparked by rumours of the existence of a small, fine type of pony in the remote Alborz Mountains, Louise and her Bermudan friend, Joan Taplin, set off on a journey of discovery. After failing for many days and about to abandon their search, they chanced upon an exquisite small bay stallion near the Amol Bazaar on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Covered with lice and hitched to a heavily laden cart, his fine conformation and elegance still took their breath away.

Louise purchased the stallion, later named Ostad, along with another stallion, Aseman, and a mare, Alamara. Upon their return to the riding school, the horses soon became mounts for even the youngest children. “Standing 11 hands high, Ostad was narrow, fast, intelligent and spirited, but manageable and amenable, with incredible jumping ability,” Brenda Dalton recalls in her book ‘The Caspian Horse’.

Over the next two years, Louise continued her search. “We are still searching for Caspian Ponies… Arab-looking creatures with bold eyes, prominent jaws and high-set tails, which so distinguish their larger cousins,” Louise wrote in PONY (1968). “It has been a losing battle as the already pitifully small numbers are further decimated each year by famine, disease and lack of care. Until now, we must accept the sad fact that the survivors must number no more than 30.”

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Darius the Great’s trilingual seal, which now resides in the British Museum, tells of his esteem for these small horses in choosing them to pull his chariot whilst lion hunting. Louise was determined to research the origins of the Caspian. The stone reliefs at Persepolis, the ancient palace of King Darius the Great (522-586 BC), depicted many breeds that she could recognise, including the Nisean, Thracian, Armenian, Cappadocian, Scythian, Chorasmian and a small horse possessing fine limbs, small ears and a slightly bulging forehead, which she now knew to be unmistakably Caspian. However, she found no evidence of the Arabian horse among them. Could it be, she wondered, that the Caspian predated the Arab? 

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Prior to Louise’s discovery of living Caspians, they were only known to villagers in the remote mountains of Northern Iran. The small horses depicted on reliefs in the ancient palace were thought to have been extinct for 1,000 years and ancient horse bones that were unearthed from time to time were mistakenly attributed to a form of ass.

Genetic research into the Caspian 

Historians now agree the discovery of the Caspian is as fundamental to the study of equine evolution as that of the Asiatic Wild Horse and the Tarpan. Among the many experts that carried out research programs was zoologist Sandor Bokonyi of Hungary who studied bones found at Hamadan and Shahir-e-Kumnis. Sandor concluded, “Three separate breeds were present at the same place, suggesting the Persians were [possibly] the first people to breed ‘consciously’ at the beginning of the first millennium BC.”

The Caspian fits the original Horse Type 4 as outlined by Anthony Dent in ‘The Horse Through Fifty Centuries of Civilisation’. Horse Type 4 played a part in the development of the Turkoman and Akhal-Teke breeds. 

In 1990, genetic studies began. Blood samples from 94 Caspians were collected, plus those from several other breeds. Findings from the phylogenetic reconstruction of the Oriental horse group concluded: “Therefore, we are able to state without a doubt that a tiny form of horse existed in ancient Persia [and] that this horse is the same as the modern Caspian and is ancestral to all forms of Oriental horse.”

The characteristic vaulted development of the forehead, the dense fine bone, narrow hard hooves and high-set tail not present in other Indo-European imports to the Middle East in 2,000 BC has led to the proposal that the Caspian horse was the wild stock from which the Arabian horse was bred. (Brenda Dalton, The Caspian Horse)

Their struggle for survival 

From 1965-1974, Louise acquired 27 Caspians, mostly from peasant farmers. From these, a further 32 more were bred. H.R.H. Prince Philip became involved in 1971 when he was invited to Iran by the Shah to celebrate the anniversary of the Peacock Throne. Being interested in the preservation of rare breeds, Prince Philip expressed his concern at their low numbers and singular location. Soon after, he was given a mare, Khorshid Kola, and stallion, Rostam. It took another two years for them to reach England after quarantine in Hungary.

The first Caspian exports were one stallion to the United States (1966) and two in-foal mares to Joan Taplin in Bermuda (1970). In 1972, Joan’s horses and those belonging to Prince Philip formed the basis of the first Caspian stud in England, the Hopstone Stud. 

By 1973, Louise had sold five Caspians to private Iranian owners and three to the School of Veterinary Medicine at Pahlavi University. In 1974, a second stallion was sold to the United States and a mare to Venezuela. That same year, a Caspian stallion named Ruba II won the Supreme Pony Championship at Salon du Cheval in Paris. Prince Caspian, a black stallion, was also sold and trained as one of Iran’s dancing horses – usually reserved for choice Arabian stallions. In 1977, he performed with the Sadlers Wells Ballet in ‘La Fille Mal Gardee’.

Also in 1973, the Crown Prince H.I.H. Prince Reza Pahlavi set up The Royal Horse Society to help preserve native horses. Shortly after, he purchased Louise’s herd of 23 Caspians with the agreement she would continue to care for them. However, the next year, Louise was forced to sell her equestrian centre to the Society due to financial hardship. The society’s support for the Caspian soon waned and they began to neglect the expenses for their care.

In October 1974, Louise and Narcy were abruptly forced to leave the centre. They were able to take their horses, except the 23 originally purchased.

A very difficult year followed, worsened by the grip of Winter and the threat of wolf attacks. When all seemed lost, they were able to purchase 15 hectares at Ghara Tepe Sheikh on the Turkoman Steppes. In 1976, their herd suffered two wolf attacks, killing a foal, two mares and one of Louise’s riding horses. This prompted Louise to ask Hopstone Stud to take in as many horses as possible. She later accompanied seven mares and a stallion to England.

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Louise returned to a hostile situation in Iran as The Royal Horse Society was furious over the poor publicity they had received in England. They seized Louise’s Caspians and moved them to the Royal Stables at Gonbad-e-Ghabus, where they were severely neglected. After the Shah was forced to leave in 1979 due to the rise of the revolution, the surviving Caspians were sold off for such low prices that the majority were probably eaten by the nomadic tribe who purchased them.

Believing that horses were ‘playthings of the rich’ an almost 10-year ban was placed on keeping more than one horse. Consequently, not a single Caspian was bred during this time, which was simply devastating to the preservation of the breed.

While Louise managed to keep one stallion, Zeeland, during this time, the majority of her precious bloodlines, so meticulously gathered and bred, were lost except for those exported to England, and from there to Australia and New Zealand. During the revolution, both Louise and Narcy would also spend time in prison.

In 1989, Louise started to breed again with a small stock of eight mares and three stallions. However, ill-health sent her to England for several months and, with Narcy’s unexpected death in 1994, the horses risked being sold as part of the estate. Thankfully, the Ministry of Jehad stepped in and purchased 37 Caspians and their foals at full market price. This being most of the known Caspian stock left in Iran.

Due to Louise’s untiring efforts, Iran officially declared the breed a national treasure. Sadly, Louise died on 25th May 2008. Today in Iran, a team of dedicated people, aided by Louise’s daughter Ateshe Firouz-Larsson, have started surveying and registering the stock that is being bred by new and established breeders. They have the full support of the Equestrian Federation of Iran.

2015 marks the 50th Anniversary of the re-discovery of this extremely important horse breed, which the Federation hopes to commemorate with a conference in Iran in September.

A horse, not a pony 

Though small in stature, the Caspian is a horse, not a pony. The height range is generally from 10.2-12.2 hh. The foals grow very rapidly, almost reaching an adult height in the first 18 months. They come in solid colours only, including bay, chestnut, grey, black, brown and various duns. Being a horse, not a pony, a Caspian should give the overall impression of a well-bred elegant horse in miniature.

Over the years, there have been numerous discussions regarding the different ‘types’ within the breed. “Within the breed, there is a natural gradation from a larger stronger type to a dainty fairy-like type,” says E. Alderson in the International Caspian Stud Book. “This variety is a strength, not a weakness.” Louise felt that by breeding Caspian type to Caspian type breeders would eventually come back to the original Caspian in type and size, which is the smaller animal.

Temperament 

On the whole, if treated well, Caspians are kind natured and affectionate, visibly enjoying pats, attention and kind words. They readily learn their names and will usually come when called. They like to be with the people they trust and can form strong attachments to certain individuals. Being naturally curious, you will often find a Caspian looking over your shoulder and you need to be careful where you leave new objects if you don’t want them investigated.

Like all breeds, every Caspian is an individual and good owners will allow for this and learn how to relate to each horse in order to bring the best out in them. Caspians are generally sensitive horses and do not cope well with harsh treatment. Coupled with their sensitivity is also a good dose of sensibility. If something startles a Caspian they may jump or take a few steps, but then they will tend to stop and analyse the situation, rather than overreact. Their intelligence, coupled with their kind nature, makes Caspians highly trainable and generally fast learners. Comments such as “He never put a foot wrong” or “Never have I had a horse so easy to train” are not uncommon. 

Communication is also one of their strong points and Caspians will often neigh or perform a physical action in order to convey a message to you. I personally know of two herds of Australian Caspians who deliberately sought out human help and then led the way to a fellow horse in need of help. To read heart-warming Caspian stories like these visit the Horses and People website in March.

Scroll down to the end for an option to download this article as an illustrated pdf (ebook).

Uses 

The average Caspian nature, which combines affection, curiosity, spirit and kindness, makes them wonderful mounts for children. Compared to ponies of similar size, Caspians are more slender in the barrel, making it much easier for children to wrap their legs around them and their smooth gaits are easy to ride. In Australia, Caspians have been regular winners of pony trots and carriage driving classes. In Sweden, Caspians compete in pony racing, being able to keep up with larger horses in all gaits, except at the full gallop.

For their size, Caspians have an exceptional jumping ability. The Caspian’s speed and great agility make them highly desirable for gymkhanas and barrel racing. They also exhibit a long low action in the show ring and have smooth gaits for dressage. Their stamina also makes them suitable for endurance riding.

Peculiarities of the Caspian 

Owing to their mountain origin, Caspians have more angled hocks than lowland breeds and, from the beginning, breeders have taken steps to correct excessive cow hocks. Other than this, Caspians have no breed-specific faults. Caspians have a number of unique features compared to other breeds, including unique haemoglobin in their blood, a different parietal bone structure in the forehead, a shoulder blade which is narrow at the top and wider at the base, their first six vertebrae are longer, an extra molar tooth in the place of the ‘wolf teeth’, long slender cannon bones, and a generous length between their hip and hock which likely contributes to their jumping ability. Caspian foals also have very distinctive, bulging foreheads when born.

The Caspian in Australia 

In 1975, Margot Schabort convinced the Shah of Iran to allow her to export to Australia the stallion Ruba II, but sadly and despite paying a princely sum, she never bred from him. In 1981, the Caspian Preservation Society of Western Australia was established by Betty Giles and her husband Tony of Heroden Stud, Western Australia.

The first Caspian breed classes were held in Perth at the Royal Showground in 1982. The first two Heroden part-bred Caspians collected 44 rosettes at their first four shows as three-year-olds. The purebred stallions, Hopstone Kaftar and Hopstone Tochal, later became part of a celebrated Caspian demonstration team. Hopstone Kaftar won many driving classes and remained a much-loved edition to the Gyles family for his entire life, only dying in 2005. Sadly, the Heroden Stud only ever bred one purebred foal.

Tandara Stud was the second stud to be formed in Western Australia when Sue and Ray Eiffler saw the photograph of Hopstone Tochal that would begin their love affair with the breed. From 1981 until 1985, they acquired eight Caspians from the Marida (SA) and Cheleken (NZ) studs. Sadly, one of their first died from a snakebite within the first six weeks.

They also leased Ruba II for a time and ran him with a number of mares, but sadly no pregnancies resulted. Tandara Stud also exported seven mares to ProtoArabians and Texana Farms in the United States and a number of horses to New South Wales.

Though other studs were formed in Western Australia, sadly Tandara Stud is the only remaining one and has 15 Caspians in total. Due to age, Sue and Ray now only breed to order. Since it began, a total of 57 purebred and 59 part-bred Caspians have been registered with the Caspian Preservation Society of Western Australia.

Ida Graham of South Australia formed The Australasian Caspian Society (Inc), with the first meeting taking place in 1976. That same year she, together with Marshall Steer, created the Marida Stud when they purchased from England the stallion Amu Daria and three mares: Susiana, Gulpar and Aloucheh. In 1983, they purchased Cheleken Avval Pesar from New Zealand. They also bred two fillies from Ruba II. After Ida’s death, the trust fund she set up for the ongoing promotion of the Caspians imported Cheleken Grischa. Other studs soon formed in South Australia using the Marida progeny.

Ida had unfailing enthusiasm for the Caspian horse, she loved them all and would often say in fun “They are all my Caspians” no matter who they belonged to. She was an extremely persuasive lady and no one ever said no to her. Ida always attended the shows along with her butler/chauffeur who brought along a fabulous picnic basket to be shared amongst all the Caspian breeders.

Interestingly, in 1988, Mandy Pascoe instigated the first and only known Caspian embryo transfer with a two-year-old Clydesdale mare, Matilda, to be the surrogate mother. Marida Tarikh, the resulting filly, later placed first in the Royal Adelaide Show filly class.

Ida died in 1991 and later when Marshal moved properties, the Marida horses were transferred to Ningana Park, owned by Mandy Pascoe and her husband Scott. Mandy had been heavily involved with the Marida stud from her childhood and promised Ida the Marida would continue as long as she had a say in the matter. In 1999, local Caspian breeders and owners gathered at Ningana Park for the filming of the Burks Backyard segment and, when aired in September, it was remarkably well received. Mandy’s daughters promoted the Caspians in the pony trots, and Mandy’s skills in breeding and horse presentation resulted in many ribbons in the show ring.

Marshal Steer has always taken his custodianship of the Caspian Horse very seriously and although in his 80’s, he is still very supportive and interested in what is happening. When managing Marida, he held constantly to his goal of breeding good quality Caspians and would only keep a colt if he was an improvement on his sire.

In 1990, Shauna Mills-Swarts and her husband Gerard became the managers of Chippendale Stud, where they continued for five years. As purebred Caspian mares were very hard to come by, they purchased a 7/8th Caspian named Tori Park Neshatarave in 1991 and started their own Astara Stud. They intended to use her to breed up to purebreds. However, the rule allowing upgrading was soon overturned by the ICS and only purebreds could be used to breed purebreds.

Over the years, Shauna and Gerard have acquired and bred many purebred Caspians, and have been dedicated to showing and promoting the breed and helping others become involved. Sadly, although they still have 21 horses, the Astara stud has now stopped breeding due to age and Gerard’s ill health.

Three Studs were set up in New South Wales, all have since closed. Among them, Maureen Byrne of the Markazi Stud was responsible for updating the Constitution for the International Caspian Society. Two currently unregistered studs in Victoria own a number of purebred Caspians.

Fiona Morland of Zarin Stud emigrated to Australia in 2004 from England, bringing her beloved Caspians with her: the gelding Henden Balut, the yearling colt Zarin Taze Majara and the three mares Spark Zarrin Tara, Sirhowy Arziz and Spark Persia. This injection of new bloodlines in Australia was both vital and timely. Now owned by Jasenna Stud, the filly Zarin Shaphiyr was the last foal to be bred by Fiona before her retirement and is the only foal born in Australia to exclusively contain the bloodlines she imported.

Finally, Jasenna Stud was established in 2006 by Jenne and Andrew Timbs. It is the first and only registered Caspian stud in Queensland. Jasenna Stud is responsible for the Caspians’ presence at the Horse Breeds Expo display at Queensland Royal Show for the five years from 2009 to 2013. Being avid photographers, Jenne and Andrew have turned 17 of their photos into a series of posters with the hope of raising awareness of the breed in the younger generation. Jenne has done many public presentations, two radio interviews and continues to write articles to help promote the breed. Since the beginning, Jasenna Stud has faced many obstacles, including equine influenza, the loss of their first two foals and economic downturn. High feed prices and the ongoing drought/flood cycle continue to challenge their dedicated efforts to maintain their precious herd.

Scroll down to the end for an option to download this article as an illustrated pdf (ebook).

The Future of the Caspian 

Currently, breed societies exist in the United Kingdom, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Norway and Sweden. Sadly, the economic downturn has seen a fairly rapid decline in the number of Caspians worldwide. In many places, including Australia, breeding has drastically slowed or been put on hold. In Australia, there are only four registered studs left in operation, including Marida/Ningana Studs (SA), Astara Stud (SA) and Jasenna Stud (QLD) under The Australasian Caspian Society, and the Tandara Stud (WA) under the Caspian Preservation Society of Western Australia.

Membership and registration with either of the Australian Societies are open to pure and part-bred Caspians. Horse registration and transfer requirements are quite straightforward and all fees have been kept low to encourage breeding. Both societies pay a yearly subscription to the International Caspian Society (ICS), so all Caspians can be registered on the international register. ICS has a website and studbook available online.

A total of 2,040 Caspians are registered in the International Caspian Studbook. Of those, approximately 1,500 have been bred within the last 20 years. Brenda Dalton estimates there cannot be more than 1,000 in existence today. Of these, half will be geldings or not used for breeding, which leaves between 500 and 600 breeding Caspians worldwide. Though so influential in the early days, New Zealand has seen its Caspian herd dwindle to the point where, without the importation of new mares, no purebreds can now be bred.

The ongoing preservation of the Caspian in Australia is in desperate need of new breeders, sponsors and patrons. Both the societies and individual breeders are looking for volunteers in website design, promotion and marketing, as well as reliable and competent riders who are light enough to start young Caspians under saddle.

Though the early part-breds in both Western Australia and New Zealand were so successful in a number of disciplines, the cross-breeding potential of the Caspian has remained largely untapped.

Finally, as 2015 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Caspian’s re-discovery, the ICS intends to produce a commemorative calendar. Australian breeders are also considering producing a limited edition book on the Caspian in Australia. To find out more, contact Jenne Timbs of Jasenna Stud on (07) 5547 0224.

Further Stories

Though the history surrounding the Caspian is fascinating, it is the horses themselves that capture the hearts of many who come into contact with them. I have often been captivated by the personal stories people have shared with me and, as a breeder, I am steadily collecting my own.

Like all breeds, every Caspian is an individual and good owners will allow for this and learn how to relate to each horse in order to bring the best out in them. On the whole, if treated well, Caspians are kind natured and affectionate, visibly enjoying pats, attention and kind words. They readily learn their names and will usually come when called. In fact, I’m amazed at the number of times I can say something to my horses and they actually go and do it!

Caspians like to be with the people they trust and, if you want to muck out a yard or stable unimpeded, then you need to either turn them out or give them some food that they prefer more than your company.

These horses are also highly curious. If you are using a power tool to fix the fence in their paddock, don’t be surprised to find a head or two looking over your shoulder. I have on numerous occasions reminded vets to be careful where they put their equipment. Two years ago, Saraph, then a foal, had the vets’ attention as he was rummaging through the supplies in the back of their vehicle. “There’s not much he can hurt in there,” they chuckled. Just to be sure, I shooed him away and closed the door.

One night, when coming home on dusk, having left a mare and foal in the house yard, I was bringing groceries into the house when I heard little hoof falls on the hard floor behind me. I turned around to find the young filly, Shenayim, standing in the middle of the lounge room looking intently around. I made it back to the door just in time to stop her mother from coming in also. Sometime later, the same filly used to follow me into our hay container, which was often piled high with hay, leaving only enough room for me to squeeze down the centre aisle. She would unhesitatingly follow me in and then have to back out, and take the final step down a foot or so onto the ground. She never missed a beat. On the whole, our Caspians have few qualms about ‘squeeze situations’.

Shauna and Gerrard Swarts tell of a filly, Chippendale Keshvar, who used to demand that they take her out of her stable at the Royal Adelaide show so she could watch the fireworks.

This ancient breed can form special bonds with their carers and two long-term breeders, Brenda Dalton in England and Sue Eiffler in Western Australia, have commented to me that Caspians can be somewhat dog-like; in that, they can form a particular attachment to certain people.

We were given a mare that, though well treated, had a personality clash with her last owner. She used to be hard to catch and impossible to worm. We employed our usual calm persistence and she is now easy to catch, which we rarely need to do because she usually comes when called and leads well with just an arm over her neck. I now worm her without ever having to put a halter on. In fact, she is one of our favourites and has formed a special attachment to me, giving me both of her foals on my birthday exactly two years apart.

The first a colt was the first foal I had ever seen born from start to finish – the whole process taking just 7 minutes. Coming up to the second foal, I would rub Arziz’s tummy and say “Do you think you can wait til my birthday ZeeZee?” Much to the protest of my eight-year-old daughter who said it would not be fair for me to have two foals born on my birthday. Well, Zeez didn’t listen to her and, on the morning of my birthday, she had drops of milk on her udder. I had to dash out for an hour and I told her not to have the foal until I came back. When I got back home, I immediately called her name and she called back; she was still in one piece. Her little filly was born around 3 in the afternoon. We got to photograph and video the whole event and, soon after, I stroked her neck and welcomed her into the world. She and her Mum were tucked up in their stable before dark and I got to sleep the entire night in my bed – what a birthday present!

Caspians can also show a concern for others.  Betty Gyles told Liz Webster of a time when Kaftar was at the Albany Show and stabled beside a horse that was on a diet. During the show, Kaftar’s generosity and kindness were displayed when someone caught him passing mouthfuls of hay to the dieting horse through the rails that separated them.

Marshall Steer of Marida Stud, a partner in the first South Australian stud, tells of a herd of Caspians who kept running down to a man who was fencing in their paddock, they would circle him a few times and then run back up the hill. The horses repeated this until he decided he should follow them up to a large hole he had been digging for a strainer post. There, he found a small foal who had fallen into the hole. He promptly rescued the foal, who was thankfully no worse for wear.

Shauna Mills-Swart of South Australia recounted to me a time when Omar, one of her purebred geldings, kept running up to the house calling out and then running back over the hill into the back paddock. Strange behaviour for a horse that is extremely shy and does not readily seek out human company – unlike the average Caspian. After the third time, they thought they should follow him and did so in their ute. They found the entire Caspian herd of approximately 18 individuals had surrounded a Thoroughbred mare who had become entangled in the plain wire fence. They were packed around her so tightly that she had been unable to move and, therefore, had done no damage to herself.  Shauna and Gerard were amazed. They immediately got wire cutters out of the back of the ute and cut her free. There was not even a scratch on her.

In 2012, Jasenna Hadar, then a 10-month-old colt, decided when he was at Queensland Royal Show that our eight-year-old daughter was his special responsibility. It was his first time away from home and I think it gave him a new perspective on the world. When he returned home, he took to being her singular protector and, if when she was mucking out her part of the yards she got too close to the railing where one of the older colts was housed, he would dash in between her and the railing so he would be the target of any bites and not her. Of course, the other colt had most likely come over to pick a play fight with him and our daughter was in little danger, but Hadar didn’t know that.

Caspians, tend to be great communicators. One year, when we had Jasenna Meshek in the Horse Breeds Expo at the Queensland Royal Show, he came to his window that looked into our display booth and whinnied, he then picked up the corner of his hanging hay feeder and shook it at me and, just in case I hadn’t got the message, he pawed the stable wall once only. Needless to say, I rewarded his polite efforts to tell me that he had run out of hay with another biscuit.

Finally, Shauna Mills-Swart of South Australia tells of a mare who called her when she was about to foal and waited for her to make it down to the stable at 3:15 am on a freezing Spring night. Throughout the pregnancy, Shauna, who was also pregnant, had repeatedly rubbed the mare’s belly and whispered into her ear “Molly, call me when you have your baby” and she did! The resulting chocolate brown filly nicknamed ‘Koko’ (Chippendale Balkis) became Shauna’s little shadow and, when Shauna sat on the edge of her veranda, the filly would sit her rump down into Shauna’s lap. This continued up until the filly was sold to the USA at the age of two – and somewhat heavy to be sitting in a human lap, I think you’d agree. In 1999, Shauna went to the international conference in the US and was able to see Koko again at her new home at MCC farms.  Koko was in the mare’s paddock with approximately 100 companions. Shauna called her name and she immediately called back and walked over to Shauna and stayed with her for hours.

Their intelligence, coupled with their kind nature, makes Caspians highly trainable and, generally, fast learners. I, with little effort, have taught several of mine to smile (curl up their top lip) when asked. A click followed by a food reward – indicating when they had done what I was looking for. Shenayim will also voluntarily hold up each leg when asked and kick a ball, which is a great crowd-pleaser.

Trainers who have worked with two of our colts have made comments like:

  • “He hasn’t put a foot wrong.”
  • “Nothing seems to worry him.”
  • “He hasn’t got a mean bone in his body.”
  • “He hasn’t got a bit of dirt in him and he would make the perfect kid’s pony even though he is a stallion.”
  • “He hasn’t forgotten a thing since his last lesson. Usually, they drop back a little.”

When Shauna and Gerard met Dick Kearly from the US, he thanked them for doing such a great job training KoKo. When they asked him what he meant, he proceeded to tell them how great she was as both a ridden and driven pony. When they explained that she had been well handled, but had left Australia as an unbroken two-year-old, he was amazed because, from the beginning, she behaved as if she had been well trained in both of these disciplines.

Dick Kearly from DiMar Caspians in the US recalls a story…

“I love the Caspian [horses] because they are ‘sensitive but sensible’.

Thursday was the last chance to drive with my friend and trainer Bob Giles before he left for Maine for the Summer. Bob always likes excitement and challenges, so I tried to provide that for him for this special ride.

I chose to hitch the four-in-hand because that is Bob’s favourite hitch. I put Triumph back on the lead and he hadn’t been hitched for several months. The other leader was Onyx who always leaps, plunges and bounces around. On the wheel, I put Agatha who kicks a little if you touch her with the whip and, on the other side, Ava who kicks and throws a fit at the start of every drive. So, there was plenty of potential for excitement in the hitch!

We hitched in my new barn, which is full of stuff due to all the rain. We had to move all the carriages and other equipment into that barn just to get it out of the wet. This meant we were hitching some excited horses in close quarters. We got that done and spun out of the barn with Onyx and Ava jumping and plunging, but not kicking.

With Bob on the lines, we immediately drove across a flooded area and the ground gave way under the horses due to some excavation we had done a few weeks earlier. Plenty of excuses for them to go nuts, but they just buckled down and pulled through it. The excitement level was high coming out of there, so I was looking for safe routes so they could settle. Not Bob though. He turned them right into our big water hazard, which had 18 inches of water in it. He said, “Got to keep their minds busy.”

About 300 yards from our starting point, he stopped and handed me the lines. Off we went again through the narrow trails through the woods. The horses settled nicely and we jogged along chatting about this and that. After about 15 minutes, I decide to go into the 50 acres I had just finished fencing up. This wooded area has cows and eight other full-sized horses in it.

The free horses immediately ran over and started trouble with the horses in harness. I told the Caspians to step up and they pushed right through the big, aggressive horses. As we went down the trails, we had eight big horses following us like a parade then, when the trail widened, they charged past us. A perfect excuse for my team to try to run off with them, but it didn’t happen!

Then, the big horses stopped and again tried to start trouble with us. This time, Onyx got his bit ring tangled in Triumph’s rein and I couldn’t turn the team left. They went off trail into the bushes with the big Hanoverian mare trying to mess with Triumph. I called “Whoa” and all stopped. Bob popped the big mare with the whip and got her out of the way. Then, he untangled Onyx’s rein and I backed the four out of the bushes and we were off again.

Soon, we came to a small stream which Onyx and Triumph elected to jump rather than wade through. This jerked the leader bar up into the wheelers’ faces and the leader bar snap caught Ava’s bit ring. Now, we had a horse who is not crazy about driving anyway with her bit tied down, again I called “Whoa” and Bob got down and unsnapped her bit.  No muss, no fuss – and we were off to complete our drive and return safely to the barn.

We packed more potential disasters into a one hour drive than most drivers would be exposed to in a year. The Caspians never tried to run off, and they never lost their minds and tried to break out of the harness. Every time they stopped and stood quietly while we sorted it out. Sensible!”

Dick Kearly from DiMar Caspians in the US recalls another story…

“The stallion’s name is spelt ‘Kiyan’. I know I haven’t said much about him, but he illustrates much of the good things about Caspians. He is beautiful and athletic. He has been ridden a little by my daughter and driven a lot. He is probably her first choice to drive whenever she does drive because he is very easy, yet she takes a certain pride in saying “I drive the stallion.”  

He has a very playful personality, which has led me to use him in an act called ‘The Do It Yourself, Driver’. In this act, I play a drunken hick who is sure he can train a driving horse without professional assistance. The act consists of doing everything possible wrong – starting with the idea that you could use a stallion for your first driving pony. Kiyan is trained to pull back violently if he is led incorrectly, so the act begins with some difficulty in even getting him into the ring. I then proceed to put all sorts of junk harness on him – mostly backwards, inside out and upside down. While doing this, I drink beer steadily and become more stupid by the moment. Kiyan is also trained to pull my hat off and throw it away every time I kneel down to tighten his girth – the crowds love that. The act culminates with me putting him to the cart backwards, so he pushes it around. I ride backwards a few feet like that and then pull a lever that causes a wheel to fall off the cart. The end!

Kiyan puts up with all this stupid stuff with no problem. He is also trained to jump in and out of the bed of a full-size pick-up truck on command. I’m sure I could train him to ride around back there like a dog with only a little more work.”

Bruce Perrott from South Australia recalls a story…

“In the early 1990’s, my combined driving scores were suffering pretty badly as the dressage was the worst component of my harness driving, so I opted to have private dressage lessons as I considered dressage as a bit poofy – little did I realise this was the most important phase of horsemanship!

On one trip back from a class, we stopped for fuel at Truro, and a young girl came up to my wife Susie and ask about our pony in the float. While Sue was talking to the kid, her father approached and mentioned they had a pony at home that was a good match and they were interested in selling. As we had been in the market for another pony to drive as a pair, before we knew it we were following the guy out to his place to look at the pony.

As Casper appeared out of a ravine trotting up to us with a beautiful gait and look-at-me attitude, we were sold. We paid the guy $200 as he wanted, plus bought two old sulky’s that were lying in the creek for a six pack of beer and a cask of wine. We loaded up and headed off for home. Casper was put into a yard next to our harness pony, Louey, who was the calming influence in our stables.

That night, we went through our horse books looking for information on Caspians and didn’t find much at all. As the weeks went by, we thought we would geld him and start to break him into harness – as it turned out he was a bit smaller than the pony that we wanted to pair up with. At the farm, during the Winter months, we used to sit around the fire and hand sew our harness and also build our own carriages, so it was time to start on the gear for Casper.

About that time, we went to a Mount Crawford Harness Club meeting, after the dinner Gerard and Shauna were introduced as new members and it was mentioned that they breed Caspians. We introduced ourselves and told them about our little bloke. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to phone his brand number the next morning.  Shauna mentioned that a few ponies had been lost on the register and we left it at that.

The following day, we phoned through his brand number and thought that would be it. Much to our surprise, Shauna rang back several hours later with the news that Casper was breed from Prince Philip’s stallion, Rostrum. We were ecstatic! The thought of gelding the little bugger rapidly faded as he was part of a line that had ended. Shauna suggested that we load Casper in the float and bring him over to their place and we could chase up his papers.

On inspection, they were happy with Casper. However, the rot set in as we tried to obtain his papers. While the breeder who was happy to sell him for a miserable $60 in the pet meat market, they then wanted an extra $1,000 for his papers.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not get his papers and decided to geld him and break him into harness. All the trouble with horse registrations over the years has left me cold as a bit of paper and made no difference to a horse’s ability in competition.

By this stage, Casper’s harness and sulky were finished, so we put him in the round yard and started to put the mouthing tackle on him, the bit and bridle went on him. When the roller, crupper under his tail, side reins, driving reins – everything we did to him – never caused him to get upset. Instead, he gave us the impression that he had been mouthed before. On went the rest of the harness and then I started to drive him on the long reins. After about an hour, he handled everything as though he had been there and done that before.

We had not finished his breaking in cart but had finished his show vehicle, so the decision was made to put him in. Casper just stood as we harnessed him into the sulky and then stepped up. We gave him a bit of time, slowly we moved him off and he walked around the yard, getting used to the weight behind him. After about 20 minutes, I asked Sue to open the gate. He moved along gently as I drove through the eight kilometres of tracks on the property, then out onto the main highway for a few more kilometres and back home. Casper was driven every day for two months and never put a foot wrong. Never before had I broken a horse to harness so easily.

We phoned Tony White, the man we bought Casper from and asked if he had been broken into harness before and the answer was “No”, as they had bought him when he was 12 months old. In fact, they had rarely handled him, as they knew very little about horses and their only reason for having horses were they like to feed them. Sadly, he didn’t take up my offer to send over half our show team to be fed!

Never before in all the time that I spent with horses had one pony made such an impression on me. His calm, gentle and tractable nature made him a joy to work with.

Casper covered 16 mares in the time that we owned him – from an 11 hh Australian pony to a 14.3 hh part-bred Morgan. All of his progeny went on to be good harness horses; all with the same kind, warm nature. We sold him to a couple in Tasmania who put him over a few Warmblood mares. Sadly, we have never followed up on his progress.

The day Casper left the farm, there were tears and a very eerie quiet fell over our stable area.

To learn more visit the Caspian Conservation Society here and The International Caspian Society here.

Download the illustrated article as an e-Book (pdf) using the link below

Jenne Timbs and The Australasian Caspian Horse Society

Caspian Horse breed societies exist in the United Kingdom, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Norway and Sweden. Sadly, economic downturn has seen a fairly rapid decline in the number of Caspians worldwide. In many places, including Australia, breeding has drastically slowed or been put on hold. In Australia, there are only four registered studs left in operation, including Marida/Ningana Studs (SA), Astara Stud (SA) and Jasenna Stud (QLD) under The Australasian Caspian Society, and the Tandara Stud (WA) under the Caspian Preservation Society of Western Australia.

The ongoing preservation of the Caspian is in need of new breeders, sponsors and patrons. Both the societies and individual breeders are looking for volunteers in website design, promotion and marketing, as well as reliable and competent riders who are light enough to start young Caspians under saddle.

To learn more go to: https://caspianhorse.org/

And: https://www.caspianhorses.org/

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