The Orlov Trotter is a rare Russian breed known for their elegant appearance, trotting ability, and noble history. Once used for harness racing throughout Russia, these horses declined in popularity after the rise of the less-refined but faster Standardbred.

Orlov Trotters originated during the rule of Catherine the Great at Count Alexei Orolv’s Khrenovskoy stud. Today, state stud farms continue to preserve the breed despite challenges imposed by conflicts and cross-breeding trends.

Although rare in other parts of the world, Orlov Trotters gained recognition in the early 21st century for their success in international sport. This adaptable breed is now considered a versatile pleasure horse and a living link to a rich cultural heritage.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Orlov Trotter horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for these horses.

Orlov Trotter Horse History

Orlov Trotters are the most famous Russian horse breed. Most purebred Orlov Trotters today are found at Russian and Ukrainian stud farms, where breeding programs are dedicated to preserving the breed and its unique history.

Origin

These horses get their name from Count Alexei Orlov, who first developed Orlov Trotters at his Khrenovskoy stud in the late 18th century.

All Orlov Trotters can trace their ancestry to Smetanka, a purebred grey Arabian stallion that Count Orlov purchased in Turkey to stand at his stud. Breeding records describe Smetanka as a large, long-backed horse with an extravagant trot. [1]

After Smetanka’s untimely death a year after Count Orlov purchased him, an autopsy revealed he had an extra rib responsible for his unique conformation. [1]

Despite his short breeding career at the stud, Smetanka sired several influential offspring. A cross between the Arabian and the Danish mare Isabelline produced the stallion Polkan in 1778.

Polkan sired Bars I, the first Orlov Trotter. Born in 1784 to a grey Dutch mare, Bars I was taller than most Russian horses and renowned for his fast trot and beauty. Count Orlov crossed Bars I and his sons to his large herd of mares to further refine the breed. [1]

Historic Use

Count Orlov’s original breeding program at the Khrenovsky stud aimed to produce healthy, hardy horses with the constitution to survive the local climate. Orlov trotters were bred for trotting ability, but breeding stock also had to meet strict aesthetic standards. [2]

Muzhik, a famous Orlov Trotter gelded for his white markings despite being the fastest horse on the stud, inspired famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s novella Kholstomer. [3]

The noble appearance of the breed attracted the attention of Russian Tsars and nobility, but Count Orlov famously only sold geldings to protect his breeding stock. This rule continued after his death, until the Russian Crown took ownership of the stud.

The large, hard-working horses were popular all-around working mounts and elegant harness horses. Historical artwork often portrays Orlov Trotters in a troika, a traditional Russian harness of three horses abreast with the middle horse in a shaft bow.

Orlov Trotters also dominated harness racing in Russia throughout the 19th century.  But crossbreeding with faster Standardbreds to produce the Russian Trotter threatened the breed’s survival in the late 1800s. [4]

Russian horse breeding faced significant challenges during the Russian Civil War and World War II. Populations of horses further declined during the Soviet Union. But today, renewed commitments to preserve Orlov Trotters have helped the breed recover.

Breed Registry

The International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter was established in 1997. While purebred Orlov Trotters are rare in North America, some crossbred descendants of Orlovs are eligible for registration with the Orlov-Rostopchin Sporthorse Association.

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Breed Characteristics

Centuries of selective breeding produced a uniform breed type in Orlov Trotters. Although only a small breeding population is left today, new research into the heritability of desired Orlov characteristics has helped to continue improving the breed. [5]

Conformation

Orlov Trotters have an average height of 16 hands. These horses are generally larger than other harness horse breeds but still have characteristic driving horse conformations. These conformations allow Orlov Trotters to trot with speed and stamina. [6]

The ideal Orlov has a large head with expressive eyes and a long, elegantly arched neck.  Like their founding sire, Orlov Trotters have long, muscular backs</