By Larissa Cox
The Orlov Trotter from Russia is one of the world’s most rare horse breeds. In the 18th Century, Count Alexei Orlov developed this rare breed by crossing his Arabian stallions with royal Spanish and Danish mares, as well as English Thoroughbreds and Dutch Friesians. The Orlov Trotter is noted for its outstanding speed, stamina and it’s hereditary fast trot.
During the 19th century, the Orlov trotters were used mainly for riding and harness racing by the Russian nobility. These horses were valued for their beauty and elegance along with their ability to work hard. The Orlov Riding Horses, as they were called, averaged about 16 hands with strong, athletic bodies, but also featured dished heads, swanlike necks and an elegant look. The Orlov Trotter is predominantly grey but sometimes bay and black are seen.
When harness racing became widespread at the end of the century, the Orlovs faced intense competition from the American developed Standardbred who generally are recognized as less refined but considered faster than Orlov trotters. Eventually, Standardbred stallions were crossed with Orlov mares and a new breed, The Russian Trotter, appeared but this breed was not as useful or as impressive as the Orlov.
During the Soviet Revolution, the Civil war and World War II, many Orlovs were lost and so Russian breeders had to work hard not only to restore but also to improve the Orlov Trotter breed. In 1931, a Horsebreeding Trust was organized, and regular work began with all the breeds, first of all with the Orlov Trotter. During 1937-38 all the Orlov studs were inspects and a stock judgment was performed to show a drastic improvement in the size and quality of the breed.
Today, the breed is still in crisis with the number of Orlov Trotters declining. They are still being raised as racing trotters and are often used as crossbreeds to improve or upgrade other breeds on the twelve stud farms in Russia and three farms in the Ukraine.. However, thanks to the International Committee for the protection of the Orlov Trotter, a new strict breeding programme has begun to increase numbers of this wonderful breed.