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23 February 2019   
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Russian Trotter

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 two-minute mark.

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.

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