The Caspian horse is a truly unique breed of horse which was actually once believed to be extinct. Numbers of Caspian horses worldwide are still extremely low, but thanks to the word of dedicated enthusiasts, it appears that the breed is far less threatened than it once was. Extensive Caspian studs can be found in both the United States and Britain, and they are well worth visiting if you have an opportunity to do so. Not only are Caspians beautiful to see, but they also represent a form of missing link in the history of the horse.
The history of the Caspian horse is ancient. These small, fine boned, strong, and fiery tempered horses appear to have been domesticated around 3000 BCE in what is now known as Iran. Numerous works of art from the period depict Caspian horses pulling chariots, carrying kings, and working on farms in the region. However, traces of the breed began to disappear around 1000 CE, until the 1960s, when an American woman named Louise Firouz stumbled across a stallion who came to be known as Ostad.
Firouz was simply looking for small, trainable horses to use at her equestrian center, where she trained children to ride. Something about the look of the stallion struck her, and she wondered if she had perhaps stumbled upon the remnants of the original Persian horse, the founding stock of famous regional horse breeds like the Arabian. After acquiring several more of the unique horses, she set up a stud, dubbing them “Caspian horses” and popularizing her discovery to the world.
These horses have several physical differences which distinguish them from modern horses, mainly in their skull structures, legs, and hooves. These differences suggest that the Caspian horse may be the original domesticated horse from the region, which would make it one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Caspian horses also breed true, and have several distinct genetic differences from modern horses, which makes Firouz' discovery truly astounding.
Another distinctive feature of the Caspian horse is its size; these horses are quite small, typically measuring no more than 12 hands (four feet or 122 centimeters) tall. This technically puts them below the legal height for a horse, but they are not considered ponies because of their physical appearance and history. As a general rule, the Caspian horse is very graceful and strong, with a feisty temperament which leads people to call it a “hot” breed. The Caspian horse is also intelligent, highly alert, and very friendly, making well trained horses suitable for younger riders.
This once-threatened horse breed wasn't over the hump when Firouz rediscovered it, however. The breed almost vanished during the revolution in Iran, and was saved only by the prescient decision to export several mares and stallions to Europe just before the revolution broke out. After the war, Firouz established a new stud to ensure that the breed would be preserved, and it is now well-established outside of Iran in a variety of locations.