10 Russian Horse Breeds You May (Not) Have Heard Of

Russia is well known for many things. Vodka, extreme cold, being the largest country in the world, and many other interesting facts. It has also turned out some of the most well known and best loved horses of today! There are quite a few Russian horse breeds that are native to this vast country, so let’s have a look at some of the most interesting.

Budyonny

Budyonny horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

This breed was created by Marshall Semyon Budyonny, by crossing the local Don and Chernomor mares with Thoroughbred stallions. The results were a large horse, standing between 16 and 16.1 hands, which has a strong build and good bone, similar to Thoroughbreds. Budyonny horses are used as all-round competition horses, as they are fast and agile, and they are also suitable for endurance riding and light carriage work.

Kabarda

Also known as the Kabardin, this breed is as old as the hills upon which it roams. The breed has been known for 400 years, but it is probably as old as the Hitite civilisation. The Kabarda was formed from a mixture of steppe horses, and it has been bred by tribespeople in the Caucasus mountains since the 16th century. During the 20th century, Kabardas were crossed with thoroughbreds, creating the Anglo Karbarda.

Purebred Kabardas stand around 14.1 to 15.1 hands, and they are a solid looking horse. Kabardas’ blood has a high oxidising capacity, which is born from spending much of their lives high up in the mountains. This is a fast breed with good endurance, which is used as a sports horse outside its native Russia, and as a saddle and a pack horse. The tribespeople of the Caucasus make hay by hitching mowers behind these hardy horses.

Mezen

The Mezen, or Mezenok, is a type of Russian draft horse that is close to extinction. It originated in the Archangelsk region, and it is thought that it was created by crossing Estonian, Danish, Holstein, Mecklenburgers, the Northern Forest Horse and Finnish horses.

The Merzens have long bodies and are often cow-hocked. They come in black, brown, sorrel, gray and bay colors and are noted for their resistance to insects and their ability to survive on an unusual diet – they have been known to subsist on moss and fish! They are used for all types of agricultural work as well as showjumping, rescue work and traditional carriage work.

Orlov Trotter

Orlov Trotter
Source: Depositphotos.com

The most famous of all the Russian breeds, the Orlov Trotter was developed in the 18th century by Count Alexei Orlov, by crossing European mares with Arabian stallions. The resulting offspring were tall and beautiful, with a noble bearing and a distinctive fast trot, which has been passed down through the generations.

Orlovs can reach 17 hands, and they have a strong muscular body. Orlov Trotters are used for riding and harness work, and for improving other breeds – they have a good temperament and are willing to work hard; this along with their beauty makes them much prized.

Priob

The Priob is a small breed of horse which is found around the Irtysh and Ob rivers in Siberia, and it is a traditional breed of the indigenous people who live there. Traditionally the Priob has been used for agriculture, draft work, forestry and as a pack horse, but it is now considered to be endangered.

The Priob stands between 13 and 14 hands and its frame is reminiscent of a sturdy draft horse. They have wide feet, adapted to their muddy terrain, and are generally bay or dun, with a dorsal stripe and zebra striped legs. They are still used as pack animals in the winter, and are left free to graze through the summer months.

Don

Don horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Don evolved from steppe horses and Oriental breeds that were brought to Russia through Cossack raiding, and was widely used in the defeat of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, where they proved the supremacy of the Cossack cavalry over their European counterparts. Much of the Don stock was wiped out after WW1 and the Russian revolution, but since that time breeding programmes have been implemented that have revived the breed.

The Don stands between 15.1 and 15.3 hands, and is an attractive horse with a characteristic color – chestnut with a distinctive gold sheen, and they are bred specifically for this color. Dons these days are most often used as a saddle horse, but some are also used for carriage work.

Russian Heavy Draft

This horse started out life being known as the Russian Ardennes, a name which was changed in 1952, and it is the oldest and smallest breed of Russian draft horse. They stand about 15 hands and have a heavy cob conformation, with lively gaits which bely their size. They are usually chestnut or strawberry roan, but can also be bay. The Russian draft was originally bred for draft work, as the name suggests, but these days it is mainly kept for its high milk yield, and for meat production.

Tersk

The Tersk is a light horse which was first bred between 1925 and 1940. The stud was established by the same founder that started the Budyonny, but the Tersk has far more Arab in its ancestry. Because of this influence it shares many Arab characteristics, including color – they are most often gray, but can come in bay or chestnut too. The Tersk is used for eventing, cross country, showjumping and dressage. They are also very good at endurance riding.

Vyatka

Named for the Vyatka river, this horse is an endangered native which has been influenced by its terrain and climate, and by the introduction of Estonian horses into its native home. The color was originally a striped dun with primitive markings, but as time has gone on and other breeds have been introduced colors like roan, bay, chestnut and occasionally black have become apparent.

The Vyatka was considered to be the best horse for pulling troikas by the middle of the 19th century, and many were exported – nowadays the breed is on the endangered lists and efforts are being made to revitalise it.

Yakutian

yakutian horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

This native horse is well renowned for its ability to survive on vegetation hidden under deep snow – an essential skill when you live in Siberia, where the temperature ranges between 38 and -70 degrees C! The Yakutian probably evolved from horses the Yakuts brought with them when they migrated to the area in the 13th century, and they have adapted well over the centuries to survive in their harsh climate.

The most purebred and valued Yakutian stands about 13 hands and is a dun color with primitive markings. These days they are used for general riding, meat and milk. Their coats, because of the extra dense hairs and manes that protect them from the cold, can be made into very effective winter clothing.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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2 thoughts on “10 Russian Horse Breeds You May (Not) Have Heard Of”

  1. Would any of these be considered as the “beetewk”? If not, do you have information, and, hopefully, a photo of the Beetewk?

  2. The first photo grabbed my attention !!!

    It was disappointing to have 5 photos for 10 breeds —-
    “A picture is worth 1,000 words/”

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