I first heard about the Caspian Horse when I was working for Mr Joseph Allen the remarkable owner of the Horsemans’s Bookshop and a publishing business dedicated to horses. I was employed by him as his antiquarian equestrian book specialist and basically sold old books.
In my tiny office on the first floor with its typewriter and shuttered windows and rows of books on rickerty old bookcases I found a copy of ‘Equus Persilus’, a paper written by the now late Louise Firouz about the rediscovery of a very small horse she called the Caspian. I gather one had wandered into her stud in Ghara Tepe Sheik in Iran one day and recognizing an unusual phynotype of small horse obtained it and decided to breed from it. Louise had an exceptional knowledge of horse breeds, having spent her life in Iran around horses and some very unusual breeds. She knew this was a very special find.
The mare bred, but despite the sire being larger the foal was tiny, it was a perfect reprint. Louise was working with Dr Gus Cothran to establish the origin and descendant of the Turkoman horse and threw in the Caspian for good measure. What came out was a shock to everyone in the horse world, this little horse with its fine legs and neat trim conformation, not unlike a thoroughbred, was ancestral to most breeds of horse, including it turns out the Wilbur Cruce, from North America. I have spent many years tracking the Wilbur Cruce meeting them and learning about their qualities. Another story, but it turns out that they have DNA tracing back to these charming little creatures. But how?
I visited Naomi Thomas who has a herd of about 56 Caspians near Farnham, Surrey. A large herd of them was recently put down because no one wanted them. Louise would have been horrified.
It now turns out that Louise rediscovered a horse that is not only ancestral to a great many breeds, but is also exceptional. It lives on almost nothing, existing in the Kopek Dag both in Iran and Turkmenistan. We should now consider the distinct possibility that these were the horses used to pull the chariots of the Hittites and the Mitanni thousands of years ago. They are not wild horses at all they are feral. They can be trained for work in four days. On the first day you put a halter on them; on the second day you can long rein them, on the third day you put a saddle on their backs, and on the forth day you ride them.
These horses can be seen in the British Museum’s collection of early Central Asian artifacts, like the golden chariot from the Oxus Treasure. These are the horses you can see on the bas reliefs in Persepolis. These are the horses that Kikkuli wrote about in his treatise found in cuniform blocks (preserved after a fire in Nineveh), on the training of horses, presumably for war.
They are very different from our native breeds. Firstly their hooves are circular back and front. The modern Equus has feet shaped rounder in the front with the hind hooves being and longer more oval. The Caspian’s hooves are hard and grow slowly, they need to be trimmed once or twice a year whereas a normal horse must be trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks. Their coats have a metallic sheen to them and are very fine. Their legs are fine, like pins, but incredibly strong and they can carry a twelve stone person all day without fatigue. The canon bone is not circular, but oval in shape. Their best colours are bay and black with various dun or paler coat colours. To the best of my knowledge, there are no coloured Caspians.
Louise Firouz was able to find, barter for and rescue horses she knew to be phyotypes of importance, so she gathered, Gatman’s and Tekes, Yomuds and Turkoman horses and helped to set a stud up In Jagalan with Dr Jiadi.
Her efforts saved the little Caspian Horse for posterity, and now a few breeders in the UK still work hard to keep the breed as it was, not easy in today’s climate. Naomi Thomas is one of these breeders who needs support to continue her work.
At the Sirhowy Stud in Farnham the horses live in groups depending on sex and age. Naomi has a foundation stallion she acquired from Louise Firouz. These exceptional tiny perfect horses can be seen there and believe me they are worth a visit.
I have recently been working with the RSPCA on two Caspians from the same stud who found their way into their care. They are now working on the long reins and have found a new home. Fred and Barney have been great fun to work with. Both very different, beautiful to look at and with very different characters. We have got them both going along beautifully and they are ready to go into a new home with children who want to ride and drive them.