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Rare horses find home in L.A.

By Jane Triola
The New Orleans Times-Picayune
September 3, 2000

King Darius the Great, ruler of Persia in 522-486 B.C., thought so much of the athletic ability of the Caspian horses he rode to fight the lions in the coliseum that he placed their image on his royal seal.

After being considered extinct for 1,300 years, Caspians were found in 1965, living in the Alborz mountains of Iran near the Caspian Sea. Louise Firhouz, an American-born scholar who had married an Iranian prince, had them officially declared a national treasure of Iran.

Today, the horses remain on the critically endangered list, numbering just 500 worldwide, 13 of which have found a home at Millennium Farms in the Evans Creek community north of Pearl River. The farm is owned by Don and Nan Scroggins and Pat Alexander.

"We have the first Caspian in the world to be born in Louisiana, and he's spoiled rotten," Nan Scroggins said, introducing La Kamal to her guests and adding that the name means perfection. "And if all goes well, we'll have six babies in the spring."

To Scroggins, a retired kindergarten teacher, the Caspians are her new full-time students.

"Sonata, say no," Scroggins said, encouraging the mare to shake her head. "Sonata came to the United States from England and she was like a tiger in a cage." Scroggins said, "But these guys would have never survived if they weren't so smart."

Caspian horses have two extra vertebrae, an extra tooth, a flat shoulder blade like that of a deer, and can jump 5 feet, Alexander said. Each Caspian in the United States has been DNA tested and the DNA is different than that of the modern-day horse, she said.

"The Caspians are a true miniature horse," Alexander said. "They have a horse body, not a pony body, and there is nothing pony about them."

"These horses are super, super athletes," Scroggins said. "They have extraordinary jumping ability, and are more like a sports car than the bigger horses."

"In 1965, Prince Phillip of England noticed the Iranian children riding on the Caspians and exported some to England to help save the breed," Alexander said. "Today, they still have Caspians living in the royal stables."

The Scroggins' love affair with the Caspians began in 1996, when they visited St. Clare Monastery in Texas and came back owning two. Two were born at the farm, and in June they purchased nine more. Don Scroggins also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Caspian Horse Society of America.

Today's political climate with Iran is such that no more Caspians can be exported from that country, Scroggins said.

"These horses have only been in the U.S. for six years," Scroggins said, adding that there are now about 150 in the United States, mostly in Texas. They range in price from $15,000 each and up.

"Our main interest is to promote and to preserve the breed," Alexander said. "There are not enough in the U.S. to show, but we have a stallion in training to pull a buggy."

"I like to think the future of these horses will be in pony clubs working with the kids," Scroggins said.

"And perhaps some day we can breed the Caspians to thoroughbreds to compete with the grand prix purses. It is all so exciting."


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