|Dad on a daytime coon hunt ca. 1958.|
I have mentioned the McCurdy horses several times and said that one day I was going to tell their story... it tells of the development of what I believe to be the most versatile horse on earth, then of its neglect and near demise.
The McCurdy was developed in Lowndes County, Alabama, in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century by the McCurdy family, a family of large plantation owners. The McCurdy family owned many thousands of acres of cotton farming land around Lowndesboro, Alabama. The men of the McCurdy family worked as overseers of the cotton farming, but the labor was performed by sharecroppers. The overseers needed to travel many miles every day, seeing that the farming was done right and on time. Thus, a saddlehorse with a natural, swift, easy-going gait was developed, commonly known as the "plantation walking horse". These plantation walking horses were smaller, more delicately built, had greater endurance and a smoother, more natural gait than the later Tennessee Walking Horse. The plantation walking horse was the foundation of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.
There are two stories , both of which I will relate to you, regarding the development of the McCurdy breed of horses. The truth may contain some elements from both accounts, yet neither story may be completely accurate...The first story that I will relate gives explanation to the McCurdy's strong Arabian appearance and excellent stamina. The second one does not. Regardless of which story is true, or if neither is, somewhere there was a strong infusion of Arabian genes. That is unmistakable.
The first story goes that the McCurdy family imported an Arabian stallion from Egypt around the turn of the century. He was grey, and was bred to 20 plantation walking horse mares, then half-brother was bred to half-sister. The McCurdy family supposedly didn't let any of these horses out of the family and a close circle of friends until the Great Depression. This kept a closed inbreeding program. Thirty years of inbreeding would have allowed for five to ten generations of inbreeding with no outside influence. By 1930, the McCurdy was established as a distinct and recognizable breed separate and apart from the plantation walking horse.
The Great Depression affected the McCurdy family like everyone else. It left them with land, but they were broke. They were no longer able to support an expensive horse breeding program. Everyone else was broke and were not able to buy these horses, even if they were the best to be found. Consequently, most of the horses fell into the hands of the black sharecroppers. Since the Great Depression, it has been primarily the black people of Lowndes County, and a few in surrounding counties, that have been responsible for keeping the McCurdy breed going. The McCurdy served those people as a plow horse, a buggy horse, a cow horse and under saddle was their transportation. As late as the 1970s, almost every black family had one or more McCurdy horses. My first trip to Lowndes County was in 1967. Then you could drive along the road and see black people plowing corn with McCurdys, working cattle or using them as their transportation, usually all this being done with the same horse.
That part of Alabama has a lot of large pastures consisting of several thousand acres. Over time, some of these pastures developed herd of wild McCurdys that inbred generation after generation. Periodically, some of these horses were trapped, broke and became the using horses of the people. Some were sold to the public.
In early May (1992), I was passing through Alabama and made a point to go through Lowndes County and try to locate a McCurdy mare to breed to my 29 year old McCurdy stallion that I bought in Lowndes County as a two-year old in 1965. I learned that Lewis McCurdy, the only living son of Ed S. McCurdy, lived at Lowndesboro. He must be near eighty years old. I went by his house and interviewed him. The following is a synopsis of Lewis McCurdy's account of the origin of the breed.
According to Lewis McCurdy, his father Ed S. McCurdy, bought a grey stallion from a Dr. McNair (located) somewhere South of (Lowndesboro) in the late 1890s. The stallion's name was McCurdy's Doctor. He said they called him a plantation walking horse. He showed me a picture of his father astride the stallion, taken in 1905. He said his father probably rode him 75 miles a day every day of the week, overseeing the cotton plantation.
According to Lewis, McCurdy's Doctor became the foundation hub of the McCurdy breed. All McCurdy horses go back to that one stallion. The McCurdy family owned a stable of Standard Bred race horses. McCurdy's Doctor was bred to several of those standard bred mares as well as plantation walking horse mares. Offspring of both were then inbred, with McCurdy's Doctor being the common sire. As second, third and fourth generations were continually inbred, the traits of McCurdy's Doctor became dominant.
The McCurdy family kept a stud book on their horses from the very beginning. They registered some of their horses as Tennessee Walking Horses. If you are familiar with some of the older Tennessee Walking Horse pedigrees, you most likely remember seeing "McCurdy mare" listed on some of those pedigrees.
Somewhere about the time of the Great Depression, the McCurdy breed started in two separate directions. The branch kept and headed by the McCurdy family was assimilated into the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and, consequently, eventually was lost.
The other branch that fell into the hands of the sharecroppers is the one that has survived, albeit barely. The account given previously from the Great Depression on is essentially correct. After World War II horses became less important to the sharecroppers. Some were rounded up and sold at "killer" sales. Horse traders hauled hundreds, maybe thousands, to surrounding states. H.J. White, Jr., of Bladenboro, NC, hauled McCurdys out of Lowndes County from the early 1950s until the early 1970s. It was from him that I learned about McCurdys. I bought a number of the better ones from him. In the 1960s I had dreams of doing for the McCurdy horses what I had done for the Leopard dogs. I was unable to generate the kind of public interest necessary to swing it, and did not have the financial resources to do it alone. There were a lot of people who wanted to ride a good horse, especially if someone else furnished the horse, saddle and feed; but few were willing to make a personal commitment. Consequently, I gave up on the dream.
Two years ago, I asked Joe Wood of Greenville, Alabama to help me find a pure McCurdy mare to breed to old Doc, my McCurdy stallion that was 27 at the time. Joe put me in touch with Roy Rogers, also of Greenville, Alabama. Roy was in the process of trying to locate as many pure McCurdys as possible. There are very few pure McCurdys, even in the area of their origin. The situation with the McCurdys now is like the situation with the Cur dogs forty years ago. Just as the public's fascination with registered hounds resulted in the near extinction of Curs and unregistered hound breeds, fascination with Tennessee Walking Horses, American Quarter Horses, Arabians and other registered breeds led almost to the extinction of one of the most versatile breeds of horses on earth.
I am going to work with Roy Rogers and a group of McCurdy enthusiasts in starting a McCurdy association and eventually a registration program. My role will simply be that of an advisor.
In early July, Roy informed me that he had a mare for me. My brother-in-law, Robert Suggs, and I arranged to go down and pick her up. On the way back, I said to Robert, "If old Doc lives long enough to breed this mare, then I will be satisfied for him to die in peace." When we got home, we found Doc had died while we were gone to pick up the mare. He was 29 years old. He apparently had a heart attack and died with little pain or struggle.
I hope this article on McCurdy horses will inspire people to do something to rescue other endangered breeds and sub-species. I would appreciate hearing from anyone in any state who knows of pure McCurdy horses in their area.