History & Fleur Scott
Friday 7 June 2002
FOR over 1,000 years, the Caspian horse of Persia was thought to be extinct. Then, in 1965, two stallions and a mare were discovered just outside Tehran.
Ancient writings and artefacts provide evidence that horses of the Caspian type existed as early as 3,000 BC. The British Museum has a terracotta plaque from second millennium BC Mesopotamia which depicts a small horse, ridden with a nose ring. During the Mongolian Wars, however, and again during the revolution in Iran, much of the documentation relating to the Caspian was destroyed.
It is known that these horses were highly prized for ceremonial use, as well as for their agility. King Shapur (AD 260) and King Ardashir I (AD 224) are both shown on stone reliefs which depict small horses standing no more than waist high. Two horses of Caspian type were presented as gifts to King Darius the Great, as recorded on the stone staircase of the ancient Palace at Persepolis.
The gift horses probably originated from Hamadan, where recent excavations revealed bones thought to be those of the early Caspian horse. More artefacts which form part of the Oxus Treasure show small horses of a similar type. Further proof of the . esteem in which the Caspian was held lies in the inclusion of this tiny horse on the royal seal of King Darius in 500 BC (see picture below). A king's fatness to rule was judged by his bravery and prowess at killing lions set loose in his Persian game park so, for the horses harnessed to his chariot, acceleration and agility was crucial.
WHEN Jane Scott took a crashing fall from her horse more than 20 years ago she lost her nerve, but didn't want to give up on her passion for horses.
The answer came in the form of rare Caspian horses - a tiny breed which, despite their diminutive stature, closely resemble a miniature thoroughbred. The smaller specimens stand at around nine hands high, with the average being 11.2hh, and there are still only 500 or so in the world.
"I tried riding the big horses again after my fall," said Jane, "but every time they spooked I just froze, so I was riding less and less often. Then, at the Royal Show, two ladies had a beautiful grey Caspian stallion called Mehran. I fell in love with him instantly and thought he was wonderful - but he wasn't for sale. So I kept going back to ask what was for sale."
Eventually Jane bought Hopstone Zardalu, an in-foal mare born at the Royal Mews. Zardalu came with her yearling filly and a filly foal at foot, and the following year they were joined by the stallion Hopstone Tavis. These formed the beginnings of a new stud, and it was not long before the big horses were sold to make way for their tiny relatives.
"I get so much pleasure from simply watching them," Jane explained. "They move so beautifully. We run them in herds and rear them naturally, and it's fascinating to observe their behaviour since they are quite wild in their instincts. For instance, if one mare is foaling, the other mares gather round in a circle. It's almost as if, inthe wild, the foaling mare is protected by the rest of the herd. "Then again, home-bred horses are accepted back instantly into the herd, even when they have been away for some reason. But visiting mares who come to stud are always on the edge of the social group."
At one time the Scott family had 99 Caspians. Now they keep up to 30 mares and youngstock, plus a number of stallions, on their farm near Chippenham. The most usual colour is bright bay, but they also come in chestnut, grey, and occasionally dun.
Jane was attracted to Caspians partly because of their story, but also because of their beautiful movement and dazzling good looks.
She likens them to miniature thor-oughbreds, while others think they resemble them in varying degrees. Some specimens, it is true, bear a striking resemblance to the Arabian horse to which they are related and almost certainly pre-date.
Between 1965 and 1974 Louise Firouz,
an American married to an Iranian citizen, found 27 animals which were to become the foundation for the Firouz Caspians.
With the exception of a few horses exported to Bermuda and the UK between 1971 and 1976, the remaining Firouz Caspians were nationalised by the Royal Horse Society of Iran before being auctioned off at the time of the revolution in 1979.
All but three were bought by nomadic tribes - mainly for meat. During this time there was a ban on keeping more than one horse, due to a shortage of grain. Only the stallion Zeeland, who had been purchased by a buyer from New Zealand but refused permission for export, was retained. During the wars between Iran and Iraq, Caspians had been used as pack animals and to detoo,nate land mines - fortunately with little success.
It is lucky for the breed that our own Prince Philip had arranged for a number of animals to be cared for in this country. He was given a mare and stallion in 1971 to celebrate the Peacock Throne in Iran and, during a two-year quarantine in Hungary, they produced the f"ally Atesheh. The mare, Khorshid Kola, and the stallion, Rostam, have since had a marked influence on the breed. Louise Firouz's horses had mostly been rescued from a life of disease and over-work. Although spirited like most hot-blood horses, they possessed a kind disposition and were easy to handle.
Both mares and stallions were used extensively in the riding school where they excelled at jumping, and often competed successfully against much larger horses at local shows. The stallions were ridden by very young children, often in the company of mares, and both stallions and mares were regularly turned outtogether.
In this country the Caspian is a popular mount for children, but is also excellent for driving and for people, like Jane, who "just want to get out of big horses". Her animals live out most of the time, with ad lib hay when necessary.
"I think over here we tend to kill our horses with kindness," she says. "In Iran the climate is very cold in winter, very hot in summer, with a lush spring.
"If the British weather is very bad, we bring the horses in to a covered yard on deep bedding. Like all horses, some are good doers and some not - so with some we need to watch their weight, while the others may need extra feeding.
"But it's really not difficult, and they don't need shoeing either unless they are doing a great deal of road work. Obviously, though, their feet will still need trimming by the farrier."
LIKE all breeds, the Caspian Horse has its own breed society to oversee the stud book and decide on policy. Stallions are rigorously vetted before being licensed so no genetic faults are passed on - even more essential in a rare breed with so few bloodlines.
Jane Scott's husband, Ronald, is secretary to the Caspian Breed Society (UK) which holds its annual show on 4 August 2002 at Sparrow Farm, Lanhill, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 6LX.
For details of membership, or of stock for sale, telephone 01249 782246.
The next generation
FLEUR Scott is only 14, but already has her own stud prefix. The Lanhill horses are an obvious follow-on from her mother's stock, and Fleur took part in her first shows when she was only six. It all began when someone loaned her a Caspian mare for breeding, and the foal was given the Lanhill prefix. Since then, another 10 foals have joined the stud, with some being sold to America. Fleur, a student at St Mary's School, Calve, has her sights set on becoming a vet. Until then her average day starts at 6.30am when she gets up to feed and check the horses. After a full day at school, she comes home to repeat the morning routine, plus mucking-out duties, which are followed by homework and supper. Like all horse-owners, this is her life for seven days a weeks, 365 days a year.