The Long Haired Oregon Wonder Horses

The Oregon Wonder HorsesSometimes life has a way of humbling you. I fancy myself as being a sort of expert when it comes to horses. I mean, I’m not exactly a city slicker. So, when I came across a breed of horse from the 1880’s that I had never heard of before – –  and that looked like something from a fairy tale – –  I was left scratching my head. How in the Sam Hill had the Oregon Wonder horses eluded me up until a few weeks ago? Prior to reading up on this breed, I would have considered them to be as mythical as a unicorn . . . but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

However it happened that I had not heard of the Oregon Wonder horses, I feel it my duty to enlighten those who may not have heard of them either. Or, if you’re already a fan of this breed from the past, you can have the pleasure of feeling smug!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Long Hair

RapunzelWhat made the Oregon Wonder horses so wondrous? Let’s just say if the breed had a theme song, it would be “Hair,” from the musical of the same name. “Gimme a head with hair—long, beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen…” Oh, yeah, the Oregon Wonder horses had enough hair to earn them the reputation of being the Rapunzels of the horse world. If anyone had ever put an Oregon Wonder horse in the top of a fairy-tale tower, a prince could have rescued it simply by climbing up its flowing mane or tail. One stallion had a tail that measured 17 feet long and a mane that measured in at 14 feet.

Tall Tails = Tall Tales

Long-haired horseLegends say that the original Oregon Wonder horses had been captured from a wild herd that roamed freely through the mountains of Oregon. In reality, they appear to have been bred from draft horses. There may have been some Andalusian blood running through the breed, as well. But, let’s get one thing straight. Those were some seriously high maintenance ponies. It’s difficult to imagine that they were ever capable of running wild and free. It would have been like those pretty girls on “Survivor” who try to turn their team bandanas into an entire outfit. Some animals were just never intended to survive in the wild, any more than a dental hygienist from Akron should be expected catch a fish with her bare hands.

Domesticated Oregon Wonder horses slept with their tails and manes in braids to avoid waking up in knots. An unkempt Wonder horse would have looked like a My Little Pony that’s been wedged in the car seat alongside a pile of Cheerios. Therefore, I maintain that the breed was not simply discovered in the wild.

Sideshow Pony or the Mane Event?

Carnival sideshowThe carnival sideshow business was HUGE in the 1880s. And, if you were fortunate, you would find an Oregon Wonder horse touring alongside the muscle men and bearded ladies. These horses drew in big crowds. As was common with sideshows, grand stories accompanied the attractions. That’s likely where the idea of a wild herd of horses with hair resembling Crystal Gayle’s originated.

Perhaps the most famous of the Oregon Wonder horses was Linus. He was known as the Sampson of horses. There was an entire sideshow schpiel surrounding Linus’ ancestry. The sideshow barkers said he been sired by the “Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses,” who had his own harem of beautiful mares and adventures to rival those of any Western legend. As the story went, Linus’ dam was the exquisite “Oregon Queen.” Her capture led to Linus becoming the first Oregon Wonder horse born in captivity. The boring fact of the matter was that Linus’ dam was named Oregon Beauty and his sire was unknown. But, apparently Americans have long been suckers for a good story about royalty—even of the horse variety. Linus was ¾ Clydesdale, ¼ Percheron. And, from the looks of his photos, he was approximately 96% hair.

LinusLinus was a star! He was bred in about 1884 and, by 1890 he was sold for $30,000 to the Eaton Brothers. The Eaton Brothers were shrewd promoters of the horse, and shrewd businessmen. They told tall tales about Linus’ rapid hair growth (as much as three inches per month) and the beauty regime for Linus (cold water wash with no tonics applied). Linus died in 1894, at the age of ten. But he didn’t die before siring Aurelius and Linus II, who followed in their father’s sideshow footsteps. Aurelius was a regular at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. Linus II appeared in prestigious venues in New York and also toured the UK, with exhibits in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Blog6In at least one case, a Wonder Horse was still considered an intriguing specimen, even after he died. Prince Imperial, a famous Oregon Wonder Horse who was credited with having the longest mane, was even taxidermied. Stuffed Prince Imperial continued to travel the sideshow circuit. I’m sorry, but I can’t help giggling a little when I imagine a bunch of barefoot kids showing up with their pennies to see a stuffed horse with long hair. When not on the road, Prince Imperial was displayed in his owner’s living room, which, in my opinion, is taking Western decorating too far! He remained in the family for years before changing hands a couple of times. Ultimately, Prince Imperial found a home as a permanent exhibit in Marion, Ohio, at the Heritage Hall.

Hair Yesterday, Gone Today

Wonder horseIt was common for sideshow barkers to say that the Wonder Horses’ tails and manes became more luxurious with each passing generation. How then did the breed become extinct? No one really knows the answer to that. Perhaps it was an issue of the “long hair gene” dying out. However the end came for this curious breed, it is doubtful that it will make a reappearance. But no matter what happened, I hope you’re as delighted as I am to look at the old sepia photos of a remarkable breed, long gone.

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

37 Replies to “The Long Haired Oregon Wonder Horses”

  1. `Having a cup of coffee around that campfire right now and loving your story about the Wonder Horses. How sad that they no longer exist, but I suppose we’ll always have them as long as people like yourself keep telling the stories. Thanks for sharing 😀

    1. Hi Lynne, so happy that you stopped by to share this story with us! Seriously, just when you think you’ve heard it all and know one whole heck of a lot about horses, along comes a story like this! 🙂 Glad that you enjoyed!

  2. Good heck I could not imagine having to take care of all that hair. I have two horses that are in good shape except the funny part is that just recently I was talking about how I wish my gelding had a better mane tail and grew a thicker winter coat. I think I will watch what I wish for. Lol I would have to spend hours a week just grooming. Although- I do have a friend currently in beauty school who needs more practice with braiding 😀

  3. I owned a Paso Fino way back in the 70’s…his mane hung about 8 inches below his neck, his tail dragged about 12 inches on the ground and his forelock came past his nose…he was a beautiful palomino color to boot…I loved grooming his long hair…unfortunately, we had to pasture him where there were a lot of what we call “burdock” large 1/2 inch round burrs…they became so tangled in his mane and tail after one day that by the time I got them all out, much of his hair came with them…he still had a nice long mane and tail but it was about 12 inches shorter than it was to start with…and after each time I cleaned him up he lost more and more of the hair until it was less than average 🙁 it never did grow back to what it was

  4. Thank you so much this was a fascinating story. I had never seen or heard of such a breed either. They are beautiful animals. My interest has been peaked and will probably be looking them up on the internet to find some more beauties. Thanks Again Patti

  5. Several years ago I met a lady with her beautiful Palomino Stallion. This horse had a mane and tall a lot like these beautiful horses. I started up a conversation with her regarding the long length of the hair. I thought surely she must have a secret product. She explained to me that she had to cut several inches off a month on his mane and tail. It gre so quickly with no miracle product. Not only did he have this great hair but passed it along to most his offspring’s. Maybe he had some distant DNA.

  6. What a great story! I am a horsehair hitcher/braider and my eyes popped when I saw the photos of those gorgeous manes and tails. Thanks so much for sharing this info. Love your sense of humor!

    1. Hi Donna! With horses like these in your pasture, the possibilities for a horsehair artist would seem, well. . .endless! 🙂 I’m so happy that you liked the story, and hope that you’ll stop by for a visit again soon!

  7. Thank you for sharing the pictures and story. I have never heard of the Oregon Wonder horse before they sure a beautiful animal.Please keep up the good work.

  8. OMG I could only dream of my Belgian having a mane period, let alone one like that!!!!! They were so so BEAUTIFUL! it reminds me of a horse named Santiogo!!!! Thanks for posting the story!!

  9. Hello ! There were also horses are also found in The northern parts of Canada in the early 20th century. There are pictures in St. Walberg Museum , in the town of St Walberg, Saskatchewan, Canada . As you stated the horses were usually of a draft horse breeding cross . It became a special treat for the people of the area could see these beautiful horses at a local fair or exhibition when they were not being used for farm work. When a farmer here had a horse whose mane and tale hair grew exceptionally well they took great pride in the extra time and care spent maintaining the luxurious locks of their working partners . It would be curious to see if the horses are in any way related to the ones in Canada ,{ it may just be from a particular blood line and a fluke of nature} it is still hats off to the great grooms and the beautiful horses of the past.

    1. Hi Sheila, thanks so much, delighted that you enjoyed the story! No one seems to know why they became extinct, they just faded away in time. I imagine that people did not favor the high maintenance associated with the breed, and simply bred their horses to shorter-haired mates. ‘Tis a mystery!

  10. I just had to look it up to find more info. Here is the website; http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/12086 The stuffed carcass of Prince Imperial, the horse with the world’s longest mane. He once belonged to Napoleon. Not THE Napoleon, but the famous Napoleon’s nephew, Emperor Napoleon III. Prince Imperial was also the official title of Napoleon III’s only child and heir, which is a little weird. There are photos and more info on the site.

    1. WOWWW!!!! Brenda, this is fantastic! Thank you so much for finding this great information, and for sharing it. . . we all appreciate it so much. It makes a wonderfully weird story all the more weird! 🙂

  11. Thanks for the interesting article. Good thing there are pictures otherwise it would be hard to believe about the length of the mane and tail horsehair.

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