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The oldest of Russian breed obtained by crossing the Orlov Trotter with the
American Standardbred in the late nineteenth century. Russia's most famous
native breed the Orlov Trotter was in the 1700 generally acknowledged to be
the fastest harness horse in Europe, even in competition against
American-bred horses. Furthermore the Orlov Trotter had a reputation of
being a stylish carriage horse and continued to be of value after its racing
days were over.
As the American horses improved they began to out race the Orlov on European
harness tracks. European investors took advantage of a depressed American
economy and began to purchase American harness horses. The faster American
trotters brought with them talented American trainers or drivers along with
new carriage vehicles and a lighter weight harness. The sulky or
"amerikanka" had rubber wheels, and a more rigorous and effective system of
training young racing stock.
The American harness horse threatened the viability of Russian-bred horses
and attempts to restrict buyers to Russian bred horses, i.e. the Orlov,
resulted in more than one ringer. An example of this is in the early 1900s
when the American-bred William C.K. began racing with false papers as the
Orlov Trotter ( Rassvet) in Moscow and Petersburg. The dark grey stallion
(typical colouring for an Orlov, but rare in the Standardbred) had won
twenty thousand roubles in prize money. In June he beat the absolute Russian
record of 1600 meters (9 meters short of a mile) that was held by the
reigning champion the Orlov Pitomets, by an unbelievable two seconds. A long
drawn out and highly publicised trial followed; threatened by exposure,
either the owner or someone connected to the deception of William C.K.
(Rassvet), had the horse poisoned, thus destroying the living evidence.
The greater speed of the American Standardbred, in spite of conflict at the
time between Russian breeders and racing fans, assured that cross breeding
would continue. These crosses sometimes produced a faster horse than the
purebred Orlov, but at the expense of the beauty and stamina of the breed.
In pursuit of a faster harness horse, breeders engaged in selective breeding
of cross-bred horses; thus the breeding farms of Telegin and Lezhnev built
the foundations of the future Russian Trotter breed.
Russian horse breeding fell into decline at the beginning of World War 1.
The market for sport horses virtually disappeared and the importation of
horses ceased, plus the 1917 revolution and the bloody civil war depleted
their numbers. The American-Orlov cross was either line-bred to themselves
or bred back to Orlovs. Sports horses were diverted into agriculture and
army transport. There were a few sport enthusiasts left who bred for speed
on the racetrack. The greatest trotter of the 1920s, Petushka (Trepet -
Prelest') was born in 1925 at the Smolensk Stud, was the first Russian-bred
trotter to break 2.05. He won 50 of the eighty races he entered, including
several races in Germany.
Though World War II caused set backs to the sports horse in Russia,
selective breeding of American-Orlov crosses continued. In 1949 this type
of horse was officially recognized and registered as the Russian Trotter.
One of the most outstanding examples of the breed was the bay stallion Zhest
(Talantlyvyi - Zhelnerochka), born in 1947 at the Kul'tura Stud. He became
at the age of six the first trotter on the European continent to break the
In the 1950's the Russian trotter became less favoured, partly because of
the popularity of the French Trotter, a breed which through French breeding
programmes has developed significantly and partly due to the increasing
popularity of the American Standardbred on European harness tracks. During
the 1960s (in the Cold War) a limited purchase of foreign-bred American
horses was allowed into Russia to cross with the Russian Trotter, but it was
not until the mid-eighties that American Standardbreds began to be imported
into Russia in large numbers the majority were not particularly good
specimens and they depleted the Russian breed.
The breed is now similar to the American Standardbred in appearance. It may
be bay, black, chestnut or grey. Any solid colour is permissible It stands
between 15.2 and 17h.h. The average being 16h.h. The head is heavy though
attractive; the neck is long and well set. The back is long and straight
with muscular loins and broad powerful croup. The limbs are fine with a
minimum of 8inches of bone below the knee
Since the break up of the Soviet Union, wealthy private citizens have been
able to purchase horses from abroad. The demand for cross breeding the
American Standardbred horse with the Russian trotter is linked to the
prestige and financial incentives of winning races, unfortunately there is
no other market for the Russian Trotter. This exclusive pursuit of speed
places in jeopardy the original breed traits of the Russian Trotter.