Horses of Russia

The Orlov Trotter

The Orlov trotter has served the Russian people well. It is the oldest 'pure' breed in Russia and one of the most popular. The Orlov and the Don are the two native breeds left in Russia. The Don is increasingly earning a formidable reputation as an endurance horse. The Cossacks, mounted on Dons, pursued Napoleon back to Paris during the Napoleonic Wars.

The breed was established by (and takes its name from) Count Alexei Orlov. Orlov was one of four brothers. In the palace revolution of 1762, he and his brother Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov were instrumental in ensuring the ascension of Catherine the Great to the throne. In 1770 he commanded the country's navy and annihilated the far superior Turkish navy. When he retired, he settled at Moscow and devoted himself to breeding livestock. Some seventy different livestock breeds owe their existence to Orlov, including the Orloff chicken and the Russian wolfhound.

Orlov TrotterCredit:

For his efforts in aiding Catherine the Great, he was rewarded with a gift of land where he established his stud farm, Khrenovskoy, near the town of Bobrov. Orlov's stud farm was situated on a black-soil steppe with vast, open grasslands. There was ample, fresh spring water. The Khrenov area was inhabited by the wild Tarpans of the region.

While in Turkey, Orlov purchased a large number of Arabians including the brown Sultan I and the silvery grey Arab stallion Smetanka. Smetanka died the following year but not before siring five offspring. One of the progeny was a colt, Polkan which, in time, was crossed with a substantial, free-moving Dutch mare. The resulting colt, Bars I, was an outstanding animal, 16hh, speedy and possessing exceptional conformation. He is regarded as the basis of the Orlov trotter. Around 3,000 horses were used in the elaborate selection process, including mares of English, Dutch, Danish and Mecklenburg blood. Orlov did not believe in inbreeding. During the 19th century, the Orlov was regarded as a hard, willing worker graced with elegance and beauty.


Bars I sired eleven stallions. At the time and up until 1829, only geldings were sold. When Orlov died in 1809, his daughter inherited the farm and it was run by Orlove's disciple until 1831. While trying to increase the speed of the Orlov by crossings with other European breeds, the quality of the animal decreased. The faster American Standardbred was crossed with the Orlov resulting in the Russian trotter. The Russian trotter was faster but smaller, lighter and not capable of the hard work that the Orlov could do. Separate races were then introduced for the two breeds.

The Russian Revolution and Second World War played havoc with the horse breeding industry but following the war, Orlovs were back in the limelight and being used to improve the native horses.

In 1997, the International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter was formed. Stud farms which formed in Russia and the Ukraine have tended to focus on particular traits of the breed and there are now several distinct 'types'.

The Orlov stallion averages 16hh and the mares 15.2hh. The clean-cut head is large but well proportioned although some individuals have a coarse head. The eyes are large and expressive. The profile is straight or slightly dished. The long neck is muscular and naturally arched. The back can be somewhat long and is often slightly dipped. The loins are muscular and the croup broad and powerful. The shoulder is well sloped.

The legs of the Orlov are strong with well defined tendons but rather straight pasterns. Some are sickle-hocked. The Arab influence is seen in the eyes and width of the forehead and in the grey colouring of the majority although some are bay, black or chestnut. The mane is long and thick.

The Orlov is a fertile breed with a sound constitution. There are twelve sire lines and sixteen mare families. Longevity is good with mares raising healthy, strong foals well into their teens.

Count Alexei Orlov established the breed at his stud farm, Khrenovskoy, near the town of Bobrov. The land was given to Orlov by Catherine the Great for his help in ensuring her ascension to the throne. Orlov didn't restrict himself to horse-breeding. Some seventy different breeds, including the Russian wolfhound, owe their existence to Orlov's efforts.


The Orlov has had many uses over the years. It has been used for draught work, pleasure, competition and as a general all-purpose utility animal. Used over native breeds, it has been a great 'improver' passing on qualities of endurance, toughness and trotting ability. It has great stamina and strength. The Orlov excels in harness and makes a great troika horse. It has also found a place in the mounted police force. It is especially valued as a competition driving horse because of its courage, fast trot and sure-footedness.