On 25 May 2008, Louise Laylin Firouz died. She was born in 1933 near Great Falls, Virginia. Her life is well charted in the many obituaries that have followed.
She has been hailed as the woman who re-established the ancient breed of the Caspian horse finding a breed society in the UK and exporting horses around the world ensuring the survival of the breed.
She was born into a hunting family and learnt to ride very early. This was Louise’s inspiration, it was the bow from which like an arrow she was sent into the unknown. The child on the pony became the woman in the saddle. She would ride all day, every day, right up to the last year of her life. Those journeys were for her a source of history and of horses. She gathered a body of knowledge about local horse breeds unrivalled to this day.
In the 1950’s she spent a year at the American University in Beruit. It was during her time there on a visit to Iran that she met Narcy Firouz a descendant of the Quajar Dynasty who ruled Iran from 1779 to 1925. They married in 1957. The following years up until the revolution they lived in great style, entertaining diverse and interesting people. She was taken by her husband on horseback through wonderful country. She told me that in those days there was much wildlife, but it was systematically slaughtered after the revolution. The Shah had encourage the farming of old land which had never before been cultivated. Iran was changing.
She would point out to us while on our rides the hills that were once abundant grasslands now under plough. Horses and Iran were to prove to be the focus of her life. She told me that a small horse wandered into the compound one day in Amol. She bred from this fine little stallion and discovered that it produced more tiny horses. She realised that she could be looking at a phenotype from the past. This horse could be a descendant of the ancient horses depicted in rock relief carving in Persepolis. She wrote a paper, Equus Fossilis Persicus in 1998, putting together all the known research on this extraordinary little horse. She set up the Caspian Horse Society and was able to export breeding stock.
Her discovery of the Turkoman horse was the next piece of the jigsaw. What is less know about Louise is that she has for many years been collecting the local breeds and identifying them. She was constantly rescuing horses bound for the slaughter houses of Europe. She could spot an ancient breed of horse with the same genius as an art collector can spot an old master. She has constantly tapped her energy, contacts, knowledge and tenacity to re-establish not only the Caspian but also the Turkoman horse as the ancestor of our Thoroughbred setting up a stud at Ghara Tepe in north eastern Iran.
But Louise was more than a truly knowledgeable horse woman, she was great fun to be with, always looking for the absurd and the challenges of life. Louise had courage, spirit, a sense of the absurd, she was an adventurer, she was above all an incomparable horsewoman. Once you heard her distinctive american accent softened by years of speaking farci and turkman you could never forget it. We had such fun riding with her, experiencing the diversity of Iranian landscape from desert, to dense forest to arable. We climbed out of ravines and up mountains across dusty planes and through tiny villages. We laughed and shared experiences we ate the same simple, but delicious food and slept under canvas.
She was never short of a good tale interspersed with history and of course horses. I never knew a braver woman. I remember the day we were late for a meeting in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and she was on crutches. Somehow she hopped at speed around a huge roundabout under construction. I have know Idea how she negotiated the rubble and the ditches. It must have been excruciating. But we got there on time. She made me buy a wonderful carpet we saw in the Tolkuchka Bazaar. She handed me the dollars and said, “pay me back you must have this carpet it is unique.” She slept on it that night in my hotel room. I shoved it into my suitcase and finally got it home. We had such fun ordering vodka one night in Ashgabat, from the waiters who were too embarrassed to give alcohol to two women. In the end they brought it out in a carafe. We talked endlessly about horses and history and I would give anything to have that time over again with her. She was in every way an equestrian fairy godmother to me. My debt to her is immeasurable. I am sure I speak for many people when I say, the world just won’t be the same without her.
Caroline Baldock © 2008