Ask a non-Russian horse lover to come up with named of Russian horse breed and the only that will come up is the Orlov Trotter. In the 1800s, this was the most successful breed in Russia, but has now become quite rare both within and without the former Soviet Union. But the breed has such admirers that it may rebound in the future.
Roads were becoming more and more common in the late 1700s all throughout Europe and Russia. It became more economical to have a horse pull a wagon full of goods rather than ride a horse and lead a pack animal. Galloping or cantering could tire a horse too easily — but a good trot could be sustained for many miles. There was a great demand for fast, good-looking trotters.
The foundation sire of the Orlov Trotter was a white-grey Arabian stallion named Smetanka. He was purchased for 60,000 rubles by Count Alexis Gringorievich Orlov and brought to Orlov’s stud, but he died soon afterwards. He did manage to get five Mecklenburg, Danish and Dutch mares pregnant. A mare of Danish breeding foaled Polkan I, who would continue the new breed by siring Bars I, (1784 – 1808), considered the first Orlov Trotter. Count Orlov and his serf V.I Shishkin started a new stud called Khrenov and stood Bars I there.
The breed went from strength to strength and won many admirers for its speed, beauty and spirited yet tractable nature. The Orlov family fortune failed but the family’s fame spread on in the horses named after them. They became cavalry horses, race horses, hunting horses, pulled sleighs, carriages and plows. They had exceptional stamina and could survive living out of doors. Leo Tolstoy even wrote a story about an Orlov Trotter called “Kholstomer (Strider): The Story of a Horse”, although this Orlov was a piebald, a color not seen in the breed today.
All Soviet animals suffered a major blow when the Soviet Union collapsed due to poverty, war and destruction of records. The Orlov breed suffered as well. Stud farms such as Khrenov, Perm, Tula, Dubrov and Novotominikov, which used to be funded by the government, now had to rely on their own and many went bankrupt. But somehow, the Orlov has hung on.
Orlov Trotters are predominately grey, but they also appear in other colors such as bay, black and chestnut. They average 16 hands in height and are built very much like an Anglo-Arab. Their head are sometimes dished but often have a straight profile. They have large eyes full of mischief and thin hair growth around the head. Their necks, backs and legs are long. The tops of their hindquarters are often level with the tops of their withers.
The Orlov’s trot is not as fast as that of the French Trotter or the American Standardbred. These breeds became much preferred for harness racing within Russia, although some races just for Orlovs exist. Orlovs do well in other horse sports, such as dressage.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Forling Kindersley; 1991.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
“Strider: The Story of a Horse.” Leo Tolstoy. 1864.
RT, “230 Years of Russia’s Famed Horse.” 22 June, 2006. http://rt.com/prime-time/2006-06-22/230_Years_of_Russias_Famed_Horse.html
RT. “The Glory of Russian Horse Breeding Under Threat.” 13 Feb., 2009. http://rt.com/Top_News/2009-02-13/The_glory_of_Russian_horse_breeding_under_threat.html