Persian Caspian steed thought to be extinct for 1,000
years is alive and well and living in Rutland, US.
in the ancient world as a chariot horse for racing and in
battle, and presented to kings and emperors as a valuable
gift, the Caspian horse was thought to have disappeared in
of the distinctive horse can be seen on 3,000-year-old
terracotta plaques in the British Museum and on the seal
of King Darius the Great from Persepolis in ancient
Persia. They were probably used to pull chariots in the
battle against Alexander II the Macedonian warlord in 330
1965, a small but beautiful horse was discovered in a
remote village in Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea,
being used to pull carts. Louise Firouz, an American who
was married to one of the Shah of Iran's sons, bought it
for her children to ride.
realised the horse belonged to a unique breed with great
qualities of speed and temperament. There were still five
pure-bred animals in the village and she managed to buy
three. Later other horses were found, including some wild
ones in the mountains.
40 years later, with the help of the latest DNA
technology, enough pure-bred horses of different strains
have been found to ensure genetic diversity and the
survival of the species.
celebrate, the president of the worldwide Caspian Horse
Society, Pat Bowles, who lives in Rutland with 16 of the
pure-bred horses, has organised a conference from August
11 to 13 at which Louise Firouz will be speaking. Caspian
enthusiasts from around the world will discuss a further
breeding programme and hold a breed show at Castle Bytham,
near Oakham, on August 14.
Bowles said that although the Caspians were smaller than
modern horses - about 11.3 hands compared with a modern
racehorse at 16 - they were as fast. She breeds both.
have light frames and thin bones which are incredibly
strong. They are not like ponies, which are piggy and can
be bloody-minded. They are slim, narrow, elegant and
brood mares are worth between £2,000 and £3,000. There
are still wild Persian Caspians in the mountains in Iran
and the government has banned their export, fearing that
they will be lost to the country. Iranian experts are
speaking at the Rutland conference.
are now 1,300 pure-bred Caspians registered with the
society and a further unknown number in Iran. Horses still
being found in rural Iran are tested to check if they are
pure-bred Persian Caspians, and if so become valuable
1965 Louise Firouz went on an expedition on horseback and
discovered small horses in the mountainous regions south
of the Caspian Sea.. At first glance they appeared
somewhat rough from lack of nourishment, and were covered
with ticks and parasites. However, upon close inspection,
these horses showed distinctive characteristics similar to
the ancient artifacts she was familiar with. They had the
same large protruding eyes, a prominent jaw, large
nostrils, a dished head and a high tail set.
this first trip Louise rescued 3 horses, which were dubbed
Caspians. The former owners of these misused, over-worked
horses had no idea of the ancient breeds' near extinction!
1965 and 1968, Mrs. Firouz conducted a careful survey to
determine the approximate number and range of the
surviving Caspian horses. She estimated that there were
only 50 Caspians along the entire southern coast of the
mares and six stallions were purchased by Louise to form
the foundation stock for a Caspian breeding center in
Iran. After Mrs. Firouz' breeding successes, the Iran-Iraq
War placed a heavy burden on her endeavors. The Royal
Horse Society (RHS) of Iran took over Louise's herd in
started a second private herd in 1975, consisting of 20
mares and 3 stallions. In 1977, this second Caspian
breeding center was forced to close its doors and the RHS
declared a ban on all Caspian exports. The RHS collected
all remaining Caspians. Sadly, due to the political
climate, most of the RHS horses were lost.
Firouz once again completely redeveloped a breeding center
to save the Caspian from extinction in Iran. This herd is
now owned by the Ministry of Jehad and Louise is called
upon to assist in management. She has also, in recent
years, assisted John Schneider-Merck, a German
businessman, in establishing his small private herd of
Caspians in Iran.
Iran's many political upheavals - the overthrow of the
Shah, the Revolution, bombing during the protracted
Iran-Iraq War, threats of famine, together with the
Persian Caspian's close association with royalty, their
survival has been precarious. The Persian Caspian's
discovery was ever in the balance between political
honoraria as a national treasure and the threat of
political seizure as wartime food.
of her efforts to save the Caspian horses from starvation
and slaughter by exportation during the early years of the
Revolution, in 1979 Mr. and Mrs. Firouz were repeatedly
arrested and detained. During one of these incarcerations,
Mrs. Firouz went on a hunger strike in protest. She was
successful but left prison weak and emaciated.
number of Caspians in Iran is still quite small.
Additionally, there are only 900 Persian Caspians
world-wide. Exportation out of Iran is still extremely
difficult. The last exports occurred in the early '90s,
with a small shipment arriving in Great Britain, after a
tortuous journey through a war-zone where bandits attacked
and robbed the convoy.