The CASPIAN horse is maybe the most fascinating of the world’s ancient horse breeds. It represents a uniquely important link between the early forms of Equus and the hot blooded “desert” or “plateau” horses from which the modern light horses have evolved. It is a classic incarnation of Horse Type 4, postulated by Ebhardt, Speed, Skorkowski, and d’Andrade as one of the pre-domestic sub species of the horse.
They had described what we know as the Caspian, with reasonable accuracy, half a century before these miniature horses were rediscovered by the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1965, by an American traveler, Mrs Louise L. Firouz.
The discovery of the Caspian, a breed of very great antiquity, was a matter of the greatest scientific and historical importance in equine studies. There has been a great deal of scientific research done since 1965, which seems to suggest that the Caspian’s antecedents were the far-off ancestors, possibly by some 3,000 years, of the Arab horse although that supposition has yet to be established conclusively.
The Caspian is certainly the oldest equine breed still in existence apart from the Asiatic Wild Horse. While a pure descent from the horses of antiquity is unlikely, this little horse is set apart from other modern breeds by several unique physical characteristics, such as a sharp difference in the shape of the scapula, a rather odd formation of the parietal bones of the head, giving a vaulted appearance to the skull, and an extra molar in the upper jaw.
Further evidence of the existence of small, quality horses of decidedly Arab appearance is provided by the many artifacts, including artifacts, from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Much later, in about 500 BC, similar miniature horses are depicted on the famous trilingual seal of the Persian king, Darius at (522-486 BC).
The seal shows a pair of se horses drawing the royal chariot from which Darius looses arrows at an attacking in, which is so huge it dwarfs the horses The Greeks also recorded the existence of a race of miniature horses in parts of ancient Medea, the area south of the Caspian Sea, d Caspian-type horse bones have also been found in Mesolithic cave remains near Kermanshah, mid-way between Baghdad Id Tehran. Although the descendants of ese horses have long since disappeared from the area, it seems that at some point, out 1,000 years ago, tribes from the Kermanshah region were driven out, moving themselves and their miniature horses to the northern edge of the Elborz mountains, which border the Caspian Sea.
The continuing existence of these ancient horses was not brought to world attention until 1965 when an American traveler, Mrs Louise L. Firouz, found a distinctive type of alert, quick-moving “pony”, quite unlike the usual native stock, working in the narrow streets of Amol, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. She bought several of them and formed the nucleus of a stud that was subsequently established at Norouzabad. Ten years later, a stallion and seven mares were exported to the UK to form the Caspian Stud (UK). Since then Caspians have been bred as far a field as North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
The modern Caspian is termed a “pony” on account of its size and, perhaps, also for the sake of convenience. In fact it is a horse, albeit a miniature one, with horse characteristics and proportions. Its distinctive head is short, and covered with fine, thin skin to give the “dry”, thin-skinned quality usually associated with the Arab and other desert breeds. The muzzle is small and tapered, the nostrils full, and the eyes large.
The Caspian’s ears are very short. In the “Physical Description” given in the International Caspian Stud Book it is stated that the ears should not exceed 11 cm (4% in) in length. Its feet are small and very strong, never needing to be shod even on the stoniest ground. The body is slim and narrow, making the Caspian an ideal mount for children, and its tail is set and carried high, like that of the Arab.
Modern Caspians are bigger than their early ancestors, and stand between 1.02 and 1.22 in (10-12 hh) high. The principal colors are bay, grey, and chestnut, with occasional blacks and creams.
Because of the sloped shoulders and the way in which they are joined with the withers, the action is long, low, free, and fast, so that the horse appears to “float”. The Caspian can keep up with larger horses at every gait except the gallop. Additionally, the little horse seems to be a natural jumper, and, though spirited, even the stallions can be handled by children.
Perhaps since its ancestors were used in chariots, it naturally adapts easily to harness. The ponies that were subsequently developed outside the original environment bear little resemblance to the ones found at Amol, or to those depicted on the Seal of Darius. Selective breeding, higher management standards, and better quality food have improved the conformation immeasurably.
Essentially, however, the great value lies in the retention of genes providing a unique link with the species’ primitive beginnings. The discovery of the Caspian is as fundamental to the study of equine evolution as that of the Asiatic Wild Horse and the Tarpan