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Troy woman raises horses of a different Œcurl¹

| March 4, 2004 11:00 PM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

While searching for the perfect breed of horse to accommodate her grandchildren, Troy breeder Marni Malet discovered American Bashkir Curly Horses and instantly fell in love.

Combining remarkable endurance, multiple talents and almost canine sensibilities, curly horses can do it all, Malet said.

³They¹re just so easy going and mild-mannered,² she said. ³But their biggest claim to fame is that they are hypoallergenic.²

Malet has resided in Troy for the last two years, having moved to rural America after working in the legal system in western Washington State for 25 years.

³I retired and I wanted to continue raising horses,² she said. ³I¹ve had horses all my life. On a retirement income in western Washington, you just can¹t do it. So, here I am.²

On the Bearpaw Ranch, which she calls a work in progress, Malet spends an inordinate amount of time outside with her curly horses, which she breeds yearly.

³I was an office girl,² she said. ³I was inside a courtroom for 25 years. It was like living in a cave, so I cannot get enough of being outside.

³My herd consists of one stud, three broodmares and a gelding that I use for trail riding,² she said. ³My breeding program is designed to maintain the Œearly curly¹ conformation — short, stout and strong, with mild dispositions. This line is especially popular among trail riders. Every year I offer two or three foals for sale, all with outstanding pedigrees.²

This year Malet took the season off and will not be expecting any foals. The respite has been good for the breeder, whose time has been spent building a barn for the horses that have become her friends.

Horses have been a constant in Malet¹s life. As a child her walls were adorned with pictures of the animals, an infatuation her parents always thought their daughter would outgrow. She never did.

Malet purchased her first horse when she was 16 years old and was riding professionally at age 18. Beginning with hunters and jumpers, she soon branched out into racing, galloping horses, and breaking yearlings.

While raising thoroughbreds for racing in Washington State, Malet¹s five grandchildren expressed a collective interest in being involved with their grandmother¹s avocation.

³I didn¹t want them interacting with the thoroughbreds because they¹re pretty hot blooded,² she said. ³I went pony shopping and ended up with this small horse that had curly hair. That was my introduction to curly horses. I fell in love with them and that¹s all I have now.²

Traditionally stallions can be moody and aggressive. Bo, Malet¹s stallion, breaks the stereotype.

³My grandkids go out and play with him,² Malet said. ³He¹s very bashful and always such a gentlemen.²

Curly horses perform extremely well on the trails and work cattle with amazing adeptness, Malet said. And in horse shows, it is not uncommon for the curly-haired animals to bring home accolades. There are several curlies that are currently making headlines in the Dressage world.

³They¹re just amazing horses,² she said. ³They¹re used for everything but horse racing.²

The horses earned their name because of their unique hair. Malet¹s trail horse Raindancer has curls so tight that she said he resembles an equine poodle.

³They¹ve put the hair under a microscope and the hair from the curly horses is actually different,² she said. ³Some are real, real tight like a poodle and then others are just kind of a soft wave. And their manes are in ringlets. They get kind of matted, like dreadlocks, and drop out. Then they get some more ringlets.² In the spring they shed their curls and have fairly straight coats.

Malet saves the hair from the horses each spring and ships the thick and springy locks to a breeder in Ohio to spin into wool.

³You can weave with it and knit,² she said. ³I make dreamcatchers out of it.²

Aside from their distinct personalities and many talents, curly horses are also unique in that people who often have allergic reactions to horses have no problem with the American Bashkir Curly.

A family from Bulgaria visiting relatives in Washington State made a trip to Bearpaw Ranch to experience the curly horses for themselves.

³They were a horsey family and they had a daughter who was terribly allergic to them,² Malet said. ³She came out and she was petting them and putting her arms around them. They didn¹t bother her asthma at all.²

Several other people have visited Malet to take the allergy test. One woman, finding that she wasn¹t breaking out in hives, stayed for two hours just brushing the horses. While at the ranch, the woman never stopped grinning.

³It¹s so exciting to see someone who thought they¹d never be able to own a horse, have a non-allergic visit with a curly,² Malet said. ³It means so much to them. It¹s brought tears to my eyes more then once.²

Of the handful of curly horse breeders in Montana, Troy is home to two of them: Malet and her good friends and neighbors Mike and Betty Conte. The Conte¹s were the horse aficionados who provided Malet with three of her curly horses.

³The Conte¹s have some of the best foundation stock in the United States,² she said

Malet welcomes visitors to her ranch, encouraging everyone to meet the horses. Before moving to Troy, she gave a presentation on the history of the breed to a 4-H group interested in the horses.

³It was fun,² she said. ³I really enjoyed having the kids come out. I love having visitors.²

The United States is broken up into districts for curly horse breeders. Malet is a board representative for District 2, which includes five of the western states.

³I don¹t have any curlies for sale this year but Mike currently has four for sale,² she said. ³If we don¹t have exactly what a horse buyer wants we are well connected and can help them find just the right one. There are even some gaited curly horses out there!²

In retirement, Malet is fortunate to have a passion to which she is able to devote nearly all of her time. The move to Troy has been cathartic for the horse breeder and her new residence provides a perfect destination for her children and grandchildren.

³This is the life I always wanted,² she said.

For more information about curly horses, Malet may be contacted by phone at 295-4482 or by e-mail at mmalet@libby.org.