The Orlov Trotter is one of the most loved and celebrated Russian native breeds, originally bred in the 18th century by Count Alexey Orlov at his Khrenovsky Stud. The Orlov Trotter is renowned for its fast trot, outstanding stamina, and graceful looks. Unfortunately, the Orlov Trotter is a lesser-known breed outside of Russia and Europe.
We’ve put together some interesting information and background to help you get to know the prestigious Orlov Trotter a little better!
Russian History and Heritage
With an agreeable attitude and athletic paces, the Orlov Trotter was originally bred to be able to pull a light harness with both speed and endurance, and to withstand the harsh and unforgiving Russian climate, terrible roads, and the long, arduous journeys that were taken by horse and cart.
At the beginning of the breeding program, the Khrenovsky Stud was home to as many as 3,000 horses at one time, with records of breeds such as European horses and Arabians. Orlov was so protective of the breed that he sold only geldings for many years, before things changed and stallions were sold to private owners.
Breed Characteristics of the Orlov Trotter
The Orlov was known as a competitive harness racing horse, possessing great pace and stamina. And it outperformed some of the most outstanding horses in Russia and all over Europe. In appearance, the Orlov Trotter stands between 15.2 and 17 hands, with a muscular shoulder and hind.
Orlov Trotters are taller and heavier than Standardbreds. They have elegant, naturally arched necks with prominent withers, expressive eyes, and large heads. Many Orlov Trotters are grey in color, due to their Arabian roots. Howeve,r they can appear black, bay, or chestnut, too. The Orlov Trotters have a long stride in trot, allowing them to work in trot at speed.
All modern Orlov Trotters can be traced back to one of two stallions: Liubeznyi I (black) and Lebed’ I (grey). Both stallions were sons of Bars, a horse that Count Orlov bred himself for his large size and correct conformation, as well as his strength and swift paces in trot.
A Prized Russian Horse
Orlov Trotters began to be bred all over wider Russia. In fact, the breed can be credited for introducing the sport of harness racing to Russia. The breed’s prestigious reputation spread throughout Europe, and these beautiful horses became popular carriage horses. The Orlov Trotter was later combined with the American Standardbred to produce the Russian Trotter, subsequently diluting the Orlov bloodlines.
Due to less controlled breeding and decreased exclusivity of the valuable Orlov Trotter bloodlines, the Orlov Trotter’s breeding and genetic pool was compromised. In turn, with the outbreak of WWI, civil war in Russia, WWII, and other social factors such as the deterioration of agriculture and carriage driving, the breed became less popular and investment was not taken in the breeding of this once-prized horse.
The Modern Day Orlov Trotter
Fortunately, owing to the dedication of passionate enthusiasts, the breed survives today. Fifteen stud farms in Russia and Ukraine breed Orlov Trotters, and many of these horses have enjoyed great sporting success and have been decorated in the show ring. An Orlov Trotter called Balagur, ridden by Alexandra Korelova, competed in dressage up to 2009 at Grand Prix level.
Balagur has a fascinating life story. He started off as a circus horse before being sold to the mounted police. He was noticed at the age of 10 by one of Russia’s most famous dressage riders, Elena Petushkova, who recognised his potential. Balagur went on to compete around the world. He competed in multiple FEI World Equestrian Games, as well as the Olympic Games in Athens and the European Championships in Hickstead and Hagen. In 2007, the pair scored a perfect 10 for piaffe in the FEI World Cup Dressage qualifier—an exceptional horse to say the least.
Did you learn anything new and interesting about our equine friends? Don’t forget to share this article with other horse lovers that you know so that they can learn something, too.
This article was written by Anna Wilson