The Caspian Horse Society of the Americas (CHSA)
The CHSA was formed in 1994 to promote and protect the Caspian horse in the United States and surrounding countries. The CHSA maintains the Official Caspian Horse Breed Registry and Stud Book in the Western Hemisphere.
The CHSA is the only Caspian Horse Society in the World to be associated and approved by the International Caspian Horse Society that requires permanent identification (AVID Microchip implantation) and positive verification of parentage through DNA of the horses listed in both the Purebred and Partbred CHSA Stud Books.
The CHSA is also a member of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, in which the Caspian horse is protected under the distinction as a “Critical Rare Breed”. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy work to conserve heritage breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. The Caspian also is protected under the Rare Breeds Survival Trust of the United Kingdom, which has placed them on the Endangered Species List.
The Caspian Horse in America
The first Caspian to leave Iran was imported into the United States on April 15, 1966. Jehan* was a beautiful 12 hand liver chestnut stallion, found in 1965 by Louise Firouz in the mountain province of Mazanderan in Iran. This lively 2 year old stallion spent the first year with Louise at her farm near Teheran being trained to ride and drive. Jehan’s trip to the United States involved a very long flight that included stops in Lebanon, Cyprus, Italy, Switzerland and England, finally to New York for sixty days of quarantine. Displaying the typical Caspian temperament, he remained calm and curious throughout the entire ordeal. He then traveled to his new home in Great Falls, Virginia to meet his new lifelong owner and companion, Mrs. Kathleen McCormick. Jehan* participated in many exhibitions and shows throughout his long life. Although there were no purebred Caspian mares located in the United States for the continuation of his purebred line, he sired numerous part bred foals before his death at Sycamore Hill Farm, Lovettsville, Virginia in December of 1993.
Next to arrive in the United States was a yearling grey stallion, Mehregan, in 1973. Mehregan traveled from Iran to a farm for disadvantaged children in Connecticut. He spent his entire life devoted to the joy of the needy children who passed through this exceptional facility called the Green Chimney Farm. Unfortunately he passed away in the fall of 1994 before having the opportunity to sire any offspring.
The continuation of the Caspian survival saga occurred in May, 1994, when 2 stallions, Kineton Kalif and Runnymede Karamat and 5 mares, Mullacot Bathsheba, Mullacot Chestnut, Runnymede Beryl, Henden Shazee, and Shepton Terraneh were imported from the United Kingdom into the United States. This importation represents the first time that Caspian mares arrived in the United States to secure a purebred breeding program. Later that year stallions, Henden Hannibal, Darkhorse Siydeh and Darkhorse Siykander and mares, Mote Shalaby, Runnymede Camelia, Jandowae Shahsva, Darkhorse Tiram and Costessa Bellamira joined the new breeding program set up at the Monastery of St. Clare in Brenham, Texas. This exceptionally beautiful herd of Caspians represented the offspring of foundation lines imported from Iran to England in the early 1970’s. Under the care of Mr. John Garza, Sister Angela Chandler, Mrs. Patricia Love, and with the business guidance of Mr. Patrick Carmack the partnership of ProtoArabian Horses, L.L.C. began to promote sales of the Caspian horse to establish more individual breeders. Twelve of the original fifteen imported Caspians were sold to establish the Caspian breeding farms of Alpha & Omega Farms-Houston Texas, Genesis Farms-Pinellas Park Florida, Pohl Caspians-College Station Texas, Millennium Farms-Louisiana, Southwest Caspians and several other farms. In 1995 and 1996 ProtoArabian imported 23 more Caspians to further expand their breeding and sales program. Ten of these were sold to enhance the breeding programs of the existing Caspian breeders and establish new breeders.
In February 1995 the first shipment of 9 Caspians representing the foundation lines that had been exported from Iran to Australia and New Zealand in the 1970’s found their new home at MCC Farms in Brenham, Texas. Felix and Joyce Covington purchased 2 stallions, Chippendale Khastan and Marida Manzel and 6 mares, Chippendale Fauzia with colt foal Chippendale Bahram at foot, Chippendale Khaifah, Chippendale Balkis, Cheleken Zemestani, Cheleken Kizzy-Kola and Marida Jostan to start the important task of breeding to preserve and expand the valuable Caspian bloodlines throughout the world. Between 1995 to 1998 the Covingtons have imported 30 additional Caspians from Australia and England and continue to breed one of the most diverse selection of foundation lines available in the United States. Exciting news centered around their farm on October 7, 1995 when MCCs America’s Premier Laila was born, the first purebred Caspian foal born in the United States and again on September 15, 1998 when Laila foaled the first 2nd generation purebred foal, MCCs Bahrams American Sahar.
In 2008, the Caspian horse world-wide registered population still number only 1600, an estimated 220 of these are now deceased and many are still in Iran. Even though the United States can boast of having over 500 of these aristocratic equines they still may face the possibility of extinction as they will for years to come, though survival prospects have greatly improved. Thanks to the unremitting efforts of Louise Firouz and others, this royal horse is slowly but surely being restored to its former honored place among horse breeds.
Rediscovery of the Caspian Horse - 1965
Louise Firouz, the American who rediscovered them, wrote in 1968: "We are still searching for them: diminutive .... Arab looking creatures with big bold eves, prominent jaws and high-set tails which so distinguish their larger cousins. 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.”
Mrs. Firouz was writing of her concern that an ancient, pure breed of horse, the forerunner of most hot bloods, until then thought to be extinct, was in fact, on the very brink of extinction. Through neglect, ignorance, and the vicissitudes of the 13 centuries returned to the wild, this ancient breed's honored place in history had been almost irretrievably lost. Only at the last minute and by pure chance, were the existence, beauty, and rarity of this regal horse rediscovered.
In 1957, Louise Laylin, an American born Cornell graduate, married fellow student Narcy Firouz, an aristocrat linked to the former Shah of Iran. She returned with him to his native country of Iran. Subsequently, she and her husband established the Norouzabad Equestrian Center for children of families living in the country's capital of Tehran. One of the difficulties she faced, that of providing appropriate mounts for some of the smaller riders, proved a catalyst for her pursuit of what were rumored to be very small horses in the remote villages above the Caspian Sea. Because hot-blooded stallions were the only mounts available for Tehran's young riders, Mrs. Firouz wanted to provide smaller, more even-tempered equines. Her work would soon result in the rediscovery and preservation of an ancient breed.
In 1965, with a small expedition of female companions, Louise discovered small horses in the mountainous regions south of the Caspian Sea, centered near the town of Amol. At first glance, they appeared somewhat rough from lack of nourishment, and were covered with ticks and parasites. However, upon closer inspection, these horses showed distinctive characteristics similar to the Arabian horse such as large protruding eyes, a prominent jaw, large nostrils, a dished head and a high set tail. This first trip rescued 3 horses, which were dubbed Caspians, for the vicinity in which they were found. The former owners of these often misused and over-worked horses had no idea of the breeds near extinction.
Between July 1965 and August 1968, Mrs. Firouz conducted a careful survey to determine the approximate number and range of the surviving Caspian horses. On the basis of this survey, it was estimated that there were approximately 50 small horses with definite Caspian characteristics along the entire southern coast of the Caspian Sea. The major concentration of these horses (approximately 30) occupied a 2,000 square mile triangle between Amol, Babol and Kiakola in the Elburz Mountains. The remaining 20 horses were so scattered it was impossible for the survey to consider them as completely pure.
Of the horses found, 7 mares, and 6 stallions were purchased to form the foundation stock for a breeding center established by Mrs. Firouz in Norouzabad, Iran. As a purely private venture, this first breeding center was financially difficult to maintain. In 1970, the Royal Horse Society (RHS) was formed under the patronage of the Crown Prince, HIH Prince Reza Pahlavi. The primary aim of the RHS was to preserve and improve Iran's native breeds. The RHS purchased the foundation Caspians, by then numbering 23, but allowed them to be maintained in Norouzabad until 1974, at which time the RHS took over complete management of the herd.
Between 1971 and 1976, Mrs. Firouz exported 9 stallions and 17 mares representing 19 different Caspian bloodlines from Iran to Europe. These 26 horses constitute the European Foundation Herd. Her efforts to save the Caspian horses from starvation, slaughter and other hardships proved to be a wise decision ensuring the survival of the Caspian horse outside of Iran.
With Iran's many recent political upheavals, the overthrow of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution, bombing during the protracted Iran-Iraq War and the ever-present threat of famine, together with the Caspian's close association with royalty, the Caspian's survival there remains precarious.
Louise Firouz' discovery was ever in the balance between political honoraria as a national treasure, and the threat of political seizure. After Mrs. Firouz' breeding successes in the 1960's and early '70's, the Iran-Iraq War placed a heavy burden on her and her endeavors. Due to the pressing military situation caused by the Iran-Iraq War in 1979, Narcy and Louise Firouz were arrested and detained., Mrs. Firouz was imprisoned while suffering from a broken left ankle. In protest during this incarceration she went on a hunger strike, which was successful, but she left prison weak and emaciated
The Royal Horse Society of Iran completely took over the Norouzbad herd in 1974. A second private herd was started in 1975, consisting of 20 mares and 3 stallions from feral stock found along the Caspian coast. The breeding center was established by Mrs. Firouz; this time, in northeastern Iran at Gara Tepe Sheikh.
In 1977, this second private breeding center was ordered to close its doors as the RHS declared a ban on all Caspian exports. The RHS collected all Caspians remaining in Iran to breed selectively in a "national stud" to conform to a specific standard of the breed. Forced by the government to surrender all but one Caspian horse, Mrs. Firouz' founding stock was effectively wiped out. Due to the complex political climate, most of the RHS horses were lost, primarily through auction sales of the nationalized horses to Turkoman and Kazakh tribes who used the purchases as pack animals and for meat!
After the war was over, Mrs. Firouz once again completely redeveloped a third breeding center to save the Caspian from extinction in Iran. The 1992 International Caspian Stud Book listed 38 registered Iranian Caspians. Mrs. Firouz obtained most of these horses through either expeditions to the Caspian seacoast to capture more feral horses; purchases from Revolutionary Guards repatriating stolen or seized horses after the Iran-Iraq War, or through breeding.
Undaunted, by political pressure, Mrs. Firouz was able to ship 3 stallions and 4 mares to Europe via the Azeri-American war zone where bandits attacked and robbed the convoy, on across Russia to Belarus, and then to the United Kingdom. These horses which left Iran in July of 1993, reached the United Kingdom in February of 1994. This shipment will sustain and enhance the gene pool and healthy breeding of the Caspian horse established in Europe and the United States. By 1992, there were still only 112 breeding mares and 30 stallions in Europe. Fortunately, according to the studies completed by Dr. Gus Cothran, the measure of genetic variation among the world-wide Caspian horse population was near the average for U.S. domestic breeds.
Mr. Nancy Firouz passed away in May 1994. Due to estate settlement, and the financial losses Mrs. Firouz incurred in the shipment of the last 7 Caspians out of Iran into England she was unable to continue her breeding program in Iran. The remainder of Mrs. Firouz’s Caspian horses was sold to the Ministry of Jehad. The fate of the Caspian remaining in Iran was once again in jeopardy.
More recently, in 1999, aided by the visits into Iran and support of concerned individuals from Canada and the United States, Louise Firouz, at the age of 65, has started yet another Caspian breeding program on her remote farm at Gara Tepe Sheikh on the Turkoman Steppes next to the Turkmenistan border. During these recent treks in the spring of 1999, two foundation Caspian stallions and eight Caspian foundation mares were gathered to once again be rescued by Mrs. Firouz’ nurturing care. Courageously overlooking her past, seemingly overwhelming losses, she is experiencing the renewed joy of watching the newborn Caspian foals thrive under her ever watchful eye.
An Ancient Lineage
Research into the history and origin of this elegant horse proved the ancient lineage of the Caspian. It was identified, as a royal breed previously thought long extinct.
Through examination and research of ancient Persian archaeological remains, along with blood type, bone structure and genetic testing, the Caspian was found to be the forerunner of Persia's native wild horses. It was used to develop the ancient Arabian by the Mesopotamians in the 3rd millennium BC. Identification of the Caspian was aided by several of its unique features such as its blood hemoglobin composition and its skeletal structure.
The rediscovery of the Caspian and the archaeological and scientific research it inspired have offered solid and convincing proof of the origin of the hot blooded, Near Eastern horse. As Louise Firouz states, "Iran's position at the crossroads of the earliest human in migrations with the lush pastures of the Elburz and Zabros mountains and plentiful water, put her in the unique position of having all the natural elements for being the first to selectively breed horses for different uses and specific characteristics. " With findings from cave diggings made in Iran in 1949, Carleton Coon discovered remains, which proved that the horse was in Iran in the Mesolithic period. This finding refuted the previously held belief that horses were not native to Iran, but was introduced by Indo-Europeans in the 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC.
Small wild horses roamed the district of Persia around Kermanshah, now known as Bakhatran, in west central Iran. The most common theory of the horse's presence around Kermanshah is that many species were swept southward before glaciers, retreating to warmer climates. After the glaciers melted, many species returned to their former northern habitats, but some remained within fixed geographical areas forming isolated breeding groups with distinctive genetic characteristics. This would account for the very early isolated pocket of Caspians in ancient Persia in the Zabras near Kermanshah.
Timotheas of Gaza, writing in the 6th century AD, stated that a small breed of horse was then being raised in the area of Kermanshah: "The horses of the Medes are of moderate size with small ears and heads unlike those of a horse.” The typical, ancient large horse to which he would have compared this breed was substantially smaller than an average sized modem horse, and was Roman-nosed. This horse of moderate size would have been a small horse with a head unlike the Roman-nosed Nisaean horse, in other words, a small, dish-headed horse, the Caspian.
The Caspian can no longer be found in the Kermanshah region, only in the Elburz Mountains south of the Caspian Sea. A probable explanation of the Caspians presence in the Elburz Mountains is suggested by the wanderings and settlement of a native Iranian tribe. Noel, in 1921 Geographic journal writes: "The natives of the Kaler Dasht are a tribe that originally brought over from Kermnanshah and they breed ponies." It is noteworthy that no true "ponies" have been located in the Kaler Dasht, a foothills region of the Elburz Mountains, only small horses, the Caspian.
So the Caspian found refuge in the Elburz Mountains at the southern Caspian seashore. The preservation and purity of the breed was due to this fortunate circumstance. In the intervening centuries, the small Caspian horse ran wild or was captured and bred as a workhorse in this remote mountainous region. Local villagers referred to these horses as "Mouleki" or "Pouseki".
Upon her discovery and survey of the Caspians in the region, Louise Firouz commented: "That they are so distinctively peculiar to one small region leads one to believe that they were systematically bred for a purpose at one time. Their remarkable characteristics come through so clearly that they are probably throw-backs to a strongly dominant breed." Archaeology can help understand the purpose for which the Caspian was systematically bred as a pureblood breed.
Research has demonstrated that the Caspian is depicted in ancient Persian statuettes, friezes and writings going back to 3000 BC. The most famous artifacts are the stone frieze on the eastern staircase of the Palace of Persepolis (the "Lydian Horses"); the trilingual seal of King Darius the Great (possessed by the British Museum); and the Gold Oxus Treasure of Darabgird, which depicts four tiny horses pulling a ceremonial chariot, dating back to the sixth or fifth century BC.
King Darius I, of the Achaemenid dynasty established in Persia by Cyrus the Great of biblical fame, came to power in 550 BC. The seal of King Darius the Great is of particular interest. The small horses pictured have several of the physical characteristics of the Caspian - slim legs, concave faces and small ears. As a public ritual demonstration of their fitness to rule, Persian Kings killed captured lions, which were brought into amphitheaters and released. At this event, which the seal of King Darius portrays, the small size of the horses pulling the chariot is worthy of note. The idea horses were purposely down sized for special considerations on the seal, or for stylized artistic interpretation, has been refuted. The horses necessarily were small for fast maneuvering at high speeds in a confined space. For this particular ceremony, Caspians would have been the premier choice due to their acceleration, small size and agility. Such characteristics were highly prized by King Darius and his royal successors.
The later, Sasanid dynasty, maintained the Old Zoroastrian order with its ancient royal investiture ceremonies. The rock relieve at Naqsh-e-Rostam in Iran, which depicts the 224 AD investiture of Ardashir 1, the first Sasanid king, shows the king on a small horse with slim legs and small ears. Though he is mounted, the king's feet are almost touching the ground.
The last king of the Sasanid dynasty was Yazdegerd III. He was defeated by the followers in Islam at the battle of al-Qadisiyah on the Euphrates River in 637 AD. This was not long after Timotheus of Gaza, quoted above. This Arab invasion made a break with the Persian Zoroastrian past and traditions, which had included a prominent place for the Caspian horse. The new Islamic rulers had no use for the royal investiture ceremonies. Their authority was derived from the Caliph, rather than from a dynasty that had ritually to prove its prowess in chariots drawn by Caspians.
So from 3,000 BC to 637 AD, there is a historical continuity for the small, refined preArchamaenian horse. After that there were doubtless some records or inventories made of the horses in Persia, but the great libraries succumbed to repeated raids and invasions by the Moslems and the Mongols over the centuries. In this way the fate of the royal horse became a mystery for over 1300 years.
Description of the Caspian Horse
According to archaeological study, there are 3 principal, primitive types of horse which developed according to the dictates of environment and form the foundation for all the world's breeds as we know them today: the Asiatic Wild Horse, the Tarpan or Ukranian Steppe horse; and the Equus silracticus, just prior to domestication of these 3 types, 4 subspecies had evolved - two pony types and two horse types. Horse subspecies 4 is the forerunner of all hot bloods (e.g. Arabian, Anglo-Arabiall, and Thoroughbred). It is smaller and much more refined than the others, with a concave profile and high-set tail. This horse, subspecies 4, differs from western Asia and its only present equivalent is the Caspian horse. The Caspian is probably the most ancient domestic breed of horse in existence.
Through a DNA fingerprinting and blood-typing of over 250 Caspians, Dr. Gus Cothran conclusively proved a blood content unique to the Caspian as well as a distinct link with the Arab horse. The research on Caspian blood samples indicates that the Caspian is ancestral to all forms of the Oriental horse. It is postulated to be the forerunner to all “hot-blooded horses” and found to have the highest genetic similarly to the Arabian.
Conformation of the Arabian compared to the Caspian is still more revealing. These two breeds have at least the following physical characteristics in common: a graceful neck, slim and arched; a mane and tail of uniquely fine and silky hair; nostrils which are large and low set in a small fine muzzle; short and turned-in-ears; skin which is thin, fine and supple; a short and slightly concave back; a high set tail; large and prominent, almond shaped eyes; limbs that are characteristically slender; a natural floating action, and great endurance.
The first point of aesthetic excellence looked for in the horse, so prized among lovers of the Arabian, is a forehead which exhibits a bulge between the eyes up to a point between the ears, and down across the first third of the nasal bones - a formation of the frontal and parietal bones in the form of a shield, known as the jibbah. The Caspian horse displays this exquisite physical characteristic to a degree unknown to other breeds. The vaulted Caspian cranium, which dips at the frontal bone and continues in a straight line through the nasal bone area gives the Caspian the typical slight concave appearance.
There are five basic skeletal differences between the Caspian and all other breeds.
1. The Caspian skull shows a pronounced elevation or bulging of the interparietal and parietal bones above the frontal bone and the Caspian possesses no parietal crest;
2. The scapula is wider than other breeds;
3. The metacarpal and metatarsal bones are much longer and slimmer in comparison with the height of the horse;
4. The spinous processes of the first six thoracic vertebrae show a pronounced elongation;
5. The hoof is narrow and oval shaped.
As well, the Caspian has gracefully sloping shoulders, good withers, slim body and slim legs with dense bone. The knee is low, the pasterns strong and sloping, and the croup is higher than the withers. There is no feathering at the fetlock. The hooves are extremely strong. The Caspian's dense winter coat can withstand the often-bitter Iranian mountain winters, yet has the fine, almost iridescent satin coat of a Thoroughbred. It has flat silken mane and tail, which can grow to great lengths.
Due to these and other unique Caspian characteristics, as it becomes known to the modern horse world, it may set the ultimate standard for equine beauty and perfection of form. The Caspian has maintained its small, elegant stature of belt-between 9 and 12 hands, since roughly 3000 BC, almost 5000 years, and today averages approximately 11.2 hh. Research has demonstrated that the Caspian has kept its small stature under all types of demographic and environmental conditions, further evidence of its purity, distinction and unique lineage over so many centuries. The most common colors are bay, grey, chestnut, occasional black or dun, mostly solid or with a few white markings on legs or face. Were King Darius alive, doubtless he would be pleased to recognize his Caspians almost unchanged in looks and temperament after all these centuries.
Louis Firouz was quick to utilize all of the exceptional talents of the distinguished Caspian. The first horses she discovered and purchased quickly adapted to all of the demands of a successful riding club. They excelled at every discipline from racing and jumping to gymkhanas, hunting and harness. Mrs. Firouz found there was nothing that a Caspian could not do well and sensibly. Her first find proved to be more than she hoped, and her interest was fueled by the discovery of how quickly, these horses adapted to riding, training and any other type of equine demands.
Mrs. Firouz discovered the Caspians to be intelligent and spirited animals of willing and enormous character, easily controlled by small riders and without a hint of mean behavior. For example, a young stallion rescued from the burden of a farmer's cart easily adapting to riding school needs.
Caspian stallions ran together at pasture without meanness or unruliness, and were successfully ridden by 5 year-old children. Caspians are very spirited, sociable creatures which make fast friends with their owners. They prefer and seek the company of other Caspians, when available, over that of other breeds.
The Caspian, after thirteen hundred years returned to the wild, has developed great qualities of endurance and is extremely hardy and tough with dense bone and small, tough feet which are never shod. Because of its narrow build, the Caspian is the perfect first mount for a child.
Without clumsiness and heaviness of the pony, the Caspian, a true horse, can provide all of the precise control and opportunity for a child that only an experienced adult on a large horse enjoys. It’s calm, willing temperament gives young riders confidence. The elegant appearance and gait of the Caspian attracts favorable attention in the show ring.
The Caspian's jumping talent is no less than extraordinary as it excels with ease and proves a born jumper. The effortlessness with which the Caspian jumps race obstacles has won it numerous awards in the show ring and makes it an invaluable mount to the young, first-time competitor. The Caspian has most recently demonstrated an important expertise in the American and British Hunter show rings.
The Caspian makes an excellent harness horse, grace-graceful and energetic. It is extremely fast and agile. In single, pair and tandem turnouts, in Dressage, cross-country and Obstacle driving, the Caspian is a frequent winner. Even Caspian stallions can be driven side by side. Their acceleration, maneuverability and intelligence bring them considerable success.
The Caspian Horse Society of the Americas
©1999, Vicki Hudgins all rights reserved