The Orlov trotter is the oldest and most popular stud breed in Russia. Orlovs are not as fast as the Standardbred and French trotters, but are more robust, massive, endurable, sure-footed, strong, and tough. Their trotting action is more impressive. Orlovs are extremely valued in Russia as ameliorators of local breeds.
The Orlov has the conformation of a typical
light harness horse. It is taller and bulkier than the Standardbred, more
robust and sturdy, better boned and muscled. The ideal Orlov combines height
with a light, powerful build and an overall elegance of conformation based on
good proportions throughout the skeletal frame. He has a clean, medium-sized
and properly set head with a
direct or slightly dished profile, often somewhat coarse.
There is a distinct Arab flavor in the set of the eyes and the width of the
poll and mane are long and thick.
The long, swan neck is set high
on the shoulders.
Average measurements of Orlov trotters
The predominant color, derived largely from Arabian influence, is gray (46%); there are also blacks (28%), bays (20%), and chestnuts (5%).
The Orlov trotter is a versatile and willing worker. He has a quiet temperament.
There are four types:
Medium-sized and massive Somewhat smaller animals, with a dryer constitution, well-bodied, with good tendons and ligaments.
Large and rangy. Horses with a dryer and stronger constitution, stronger and longer legs, and a smaller chest girth. They mature slower and have good distance qualities.
Average. The bulk of the breed.
Legend has it that an idea to produce superb Russian horses first occurred to the Orlov brothers, when they, favorites of Catherine the Second, were meeting her on a road when she was dashing from Tsarskoye Selo to St.Petersburg to head her coup de tetat against her husband Peter III. But en route, of all the moments, her coach came to a grinding halt, because her fancy European horses couldnt stand the pace. The officers rushed to a nearest bawdy tavern, borrowed a set of hardy but unattractive nags and harnessed them onto the imperial coach to haul Catherine to her destination. Catherines and the Orlovs lives hung on a thread.
This unglamorous episode put one of the brothers, Alexey, in mind of producing some time in the future a Superb Horse. And so, when retired, Alexey Orlov got round to it, breeding in parallel a Superb Trotter and a Superb Mount (Orlov-Rostopchin). And both of his undertakings were a huge success. Orlov trotters were the first breed developed in Russia with method and perseverance.
In the latter half of the 18th century, in the era of Russo-Turkish wars, Orlov brought to Ostrov stud near Moscow a large number of Arabians, among them the silvery gray Smetanka, and the brown Sultan I, Arabian stallions of outstanding distinction. Both of them were used by Orlov during one season only and fell to leave two daughters and six sons, among them Polkan I out of a dun Danish mare that carried much Spanish blood.
Count Orlov was not happy with the climate of his Ostrov stud and was looking for a suitable place. At last he found such a place at Khrenovoye in the Voronezh region, south of Moscow. That black-soil steppe area was perfect for horse-breeding vast open grass-lands, many springs with clear water, dry climate. What impressed Count Orlov was the fact that the place was favored by Tarpans, Russian wild horses. In 1778 he moved his stud to Khrenovoye to start the famous Khrenovoye stud.
Polkan I was bred to a substantial, free-moving
gray Dutch mare to produce the grey Bars I, one of the founders of the breed.
V. Shishkin, Count Orlovs stud manager, described Bars I: He was
large and well-balanced, light and strong, and had a superb trotting
The horses were kept out in the steppe and well
fed. This toughened them and made them strong and impervious to hardships.
Rigorous selection and culling strengthened the desired qualities.
A Russian Drozhky, presented
to Queen Victoria's husband,
Orlovs rained supreme on the track till the end of the 19th century, when Standardbreds and later French trotters made their appearance. There was a crisis. Many breeders began to bring Orlov mares to Standardbred stallions. The resulting cross, which came to be known as the Russian trotter, was faster all right, but he was not as useful and impressive as the Orlov in a practical carriage in town, even less so in a troika in the steppe.
In the Revolution, the Civil war and World War II many Orlovs were lost, and so Soviet breeders had to work hard not only to restore but to improve the breed. To begin with, all the Orlov studs were reorganized. In 1931 a Horsebreeding Trust was organized, and regular work began with all the breeds, first of all with the Orlovs. In 1937-38 all the Orlov studs were inspected. A further stock judgment was performed in 1947 to show a drastic improvement in the size and other quality of the breed.
Now the breed is in a crisis. The number of Orlovs is declining, and so does the number of trotter tracks. The producers of Orlov trotters have to learn hot to run their studs in a market economy. Some Orlovs continue to be exported, mostly for driving.
Orlovs began to be raced in the early days of the breed. At first the trotters were raced over 1 furlong several times. Later Orlovs began to be raced at 3 verstas, or 3200 m, (1 versta was about 1 kilometer) again with two heats, and to get a prize a horse had to win both heats. If nobody won both heats, a further heat over 2-3 verstas was ruled.
In the 1870s in Moscow for six years in a row a 30-versta race was held. Orlovs used to cover that distance in 1 hour 8-20 min. Later on this race was discontinued, among other things because breeders tended to enter only second-rate horses. In 1834 a Trotting Society was established in Moscow, and regular races began. In winter trotter and troika races on the ice of the Moskva-River in Moscow and the Neva in St.Petersburg were quite popular.
Now Orlovs are raced on 000 tracks in Russia.
Present record 1 mile 1 min 57.2 secs
An Orlov Stud Book is issued by the Russian Institute of Horse breeding.
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Updated: October 2005.