The Breed

Everything about the exotic black Orlov-Rostopchin is unusual and romantic; its appearance, its origin, its fate. What little remains of this once famous Russian Riding Horse is being restored after two world wars nearly eliminated the brainchild of two aristocratic breeding talents, Count Orlov and Count Rostopchin.


Pröud Black Hörse öf the Czars

Article by Dr. Barbara Weber, Solstice Farm
Article First Appeared in Hors’N Around Magazine

World-wide, the best known horse of the forty or so breeds raised in lands encompassing the former Soviet Union, is the Orlov Trotter. But the Trotter isn’t Russia’s only Orlov. Few horse fanciers outside of Russia know that Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov-Chesmensky (1737-1807) also developed an elegant black cavalry and classical riding horse. It too survives, as today’s critically endangered Orlov-Rostopchin sport horse.

Shortly after German-born Czarina Ekatarina Alekseevna, also known as Catherine the Great, overthrew her husband, Czar Peter III, she rewarded her co-conspirator and lover, Count Orlov, a cavalry officer and avid horse breeder, with his choice of fine horses from her imperial stables.

The count picked Drakon, an Oriental stallion said to be Arabian (but probably a Turkoman, today’s Akhal-Teke) previously presented to Catherine by the Shah of Persia; thirty-eight unraced, Russian-born English Thoroughbred mares; and a selection of Turkoman, Arabian, Karabakh, Neapolitan, and Danish Frederiksborg mares, which he transferred to Ostrov, his estate near Moscow.

From the beginning Count Orlov stressed type and beauty, trainability, intelligence, and disposition. Every horse bound for Ostrov’s breeding sheds was schooled in dressage. Those unsuitable, he culled. He practiced judicious inbreeding, mating best to best. His superior Russian horse began to emerge.

Then, during the Russo-Turkish war, Catherine appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Mediterranean fleet. A brilliant military strategist, Count Orlov’s forces pounded the Turks at the Bay of Chesman, for which Catherine bestowed upon him the surname addition ‘Chesmensky’.

Perhaps more to his liking, by war’s end he had purchased or taken as spoils of war twenty-one Oriental horses: twelve stallions and nine mares, including Sultan, a brown Turkoman, and a silver-grey Arab he renamed Smetanka.

Smetanka, the Count believed, was a wonder horse. He paid 60,000 gold rubles for the stallion, a staggering amount in an era when the sum total for all horses sold by Russian state studs that year (1774) amounted to just 5,609 gold rubles. To avoid the hazards of sea travel, he had the horse transported overland from Turkey to Russia by way of Hungary and Poland, under a protective charter issued by the Turkish government. The journey took two full years.

Meanwhile, Ostrov was considered the best studfarm, state-owned or private, in all of Russia. However, because of the harsh climate, Count Orlov was forced to stable his delicate Oriental acquisitions up to eight months each year. Sultan expired during his first Russian winter. Worse, Smetanka died too.

At his request, in October of 1776 Catherine granted Count Orlov three hundred and twenty-five thousand acres of virgin black-soil steppe in the Bobrov district of Voronezh province. There, where until Orlov’s horses arrived, only tarpans and antelope had roamed, the Count established Khrenov studfarm. Orlov Trotters are still bred at Khrenov today.

By the turn of the century, six hundred broodmares&emdash;almost three thousand head total&emdash;grazed Khrenov’s broad grasslands. There, the Count labored to develop a trotter line based on the bloodlines of Polkan, a son of Smetanka, and a riding horse line on those of the stallions Sultan II (by Sultan) and Felkerzam (by Smetanka). And he was successful.

When Count Orlov died in 1807, he’d achieved his dream. His Orlov Trotter had become Russia’s premier harness horse; his riding horse was the darling of its time. Tall, elegant, and classy, the Orlov Riding Horse was immensely popular at the new czar’s court, where classical riding was in very much in vogue. Cavalry officers treasured Orlov’s big, invariably black chargers for their soundness, energy, trainability, and beauty. Orlov Riding Horse stallions were used to improve run-of-the-mill cavalry mounts (which effected the quality of horses ridden by Russian troops when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812), as well as numerous steppe horse breeds, the Don, and the Stretlets Arabian.

Meanwhile, at the turn of the century, Count F. V. Rostopchin developed his black Rostopchin Riding Horse by crossing three Oriental stallions with Karabakh, Don, Persian, and English Thoroughbred mares. He selected primarily for conformation and speed. He raised phenomenally successful race horses.

In 1845, the czarist government purchased Khrenov, as well as Count Rostopchin’s Annenkov studfarm. Orlov Riding Horse stallions crossed on Rostopchin mares created a new, dynamic breed.

Thus commenced the Golden Age of the Orlov-Rostopchin. In 1866 nearly half of the breeding stallions used at Russian studfarms were Orlov-Rostopchins. Many were exported to Europe, where they fetched amazing prices. The czar favored them as gifts to foreign dignitaries. Shipped to the huge expositions of the day, Orlov-Rostopchins brought glory to czarist Russia. Frant, Fakel, and Fazan carried home gold medals from the 1867 Paris World Fair, as did Bayanchik (pictured at left) and Vorobeiy, respectively, at the 1900 Paris and 1912 London World Fairs. Priyatel was pinned best riding horse at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, where he sold for 10,000 gold rubles. Priezd grabbed Grand Prix at the 1896 Chicago World Fair.

But those glory days paled. During World War I (in which 4.5 million horses on the Russian fronts were killed), the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and the civil war that followed, the breed was all but annihilated.

When, in 1931, under the supervision of Soviet government director Marshal S. M. Budyonny, breed reconstruction began, only nine purebreds could be located: five stallions and four mares. To this gene pool was added twenty-eight partbred Orlov-Rostopchin mares, nine Anglo-Arabian mares, and forty-eight mares representing Russian breeds of similar type and pedigree. By carefully line breeding to suppress non-Orlov-Rostopchin bloodlines and rigorously testing all young stock, culling all who didn’t meet muster, the old breed re-emerged, called now, by government decree, the Russian Riding Horse.

But Fate hadn’t finished with the Orlov-Rostopchin. During World War II, every horse at the studfarm was killed. The only known purebred survivors were three horses stabled at the Moscow Agricultural Fairgrounds: a mare and the stallions Buket and Braslet.

Shipped to a studfarm in the Ural mountains, Buket and Braslet covered the remaining purebred mare, partbred Orlov-Rostopchin mares with added Thoroughbred and Arabian breeding, Russian Thoroughbreds and Trakehners, and Akhal-Tekes. Again light inbreeding was employed to suppress non-Orlov-Rostopchin bloodlines. But because of the harsh Ural climate, the horses failed to thrive. In the early 1950’s, the best horses were transferred to studfarms in the Ukraine. There they were used to develop the Ukrainskaya, the Ukrainian sporthorse.

However, in 1977, at Starzhilovsky state studfarm, eighty-nine miles southeast of Moscow in the Ryazan region, government-directed efforts began anew to reconstruct Count Orlov’s superior Russian riding horse. Ukrainskaya tracing directly to old Orlov-Rostopchin bloodlines were shipped to the studfarm to be bred to carefully selected Russian horses of similar color, disposition, type, and pedigree, among them Russian Trakehners, Thoroughbreds, and Arabians, Anglo-Akhal-Tekes, Anglo-Hungarians, and Orlov Trotters. Because studies conducted prior to WWII proved the breed was dominant in all crosses, preservators were confident the 19th century Orlov-Rostopchin could be recreated. And they were right.

The first volume of the reconstruction studbook was published by the National Agriculture Institute in 1994. An update will be issued this year.

And what does this reconstructed black horse of the czars resemble today?

A typical Orlov-Rostopchin (pronounced or-laav raas-TOP-chin; sometimes called Orlovo-Rostopchin, Orlov-Rostopchinsky, Orlov-Rostopchinskaya, or simply O-R) stands 16-16.2 hands. A few individuals, slightly over or under that ideal.

The breed is predominantly black: 90% of all pedigreed Orlov-Rostopchins are true black, black bay, or darkest seal brown; the rest are bay or brown. grade Orlov-Rostopchins sport at most a star or narrow strip, perhaps a low white sock or two. Excessive white markings are strictly taboo: no white above knees or hocks, no markings trailing off the side of the face are tolerated.

Three words best describe Orlov-Rostopchins: long, lean, and elegant.

O-R heads are finely chiseled and wonderfully dry, featuring large, fluted nostrils, broad foreheads, neat ears, and prominent bony eye orbits over huge, expressive eyes. Profiles are straight or slightly dished. A characteristic cherished since Count Orlov’s time: a sliver of white sclera shows at the edges of O-R eyes.

Long, shapely swan necks with long napes and crests meld into long, high, muscular withers set high atop Orlov-Rostopchins’ beautifully laid back shoulders. Their backs and croups, too, are long and muscular, their bodies lean, with rib cages nicely rounded. Orlov-Rostopchins set high on long, lean, dry legs. Stallions average 8.2″ bone, mares proportionally less. O-R hooves are of moderate size, dark, and strong.

There’s nothing coarse or clunky about Count Orlov’s perfect horse.

Its gait is distinctive: breezy and easy, naturally rounded with worlds of suspension and hocks naturally engaged.

The breed carries itself proudly, even regally. It is naturally upheaded, alert, and aware. Orlov-Rostopchins are suave, charming, and personable. Bred for disposition and intelligence since Count Orlov’s era, these black horses are a trainer’s dream, wonderfully responsive and easily schooled for any sporthorse discipline.

And to make certain every individual meets these criteria, all Russian Orlov-Rostopchins are evaluated by government inspectors at two and four years of age. At each government bonitirovka, horses receive marks for measurements/proportions, conformation, pedigree, capacity for work, and color. Two year olds are gaited in hand and tested over a free-jump course; four year olds in training, usually as jumpers or for dressage, are judged under saddle. Horses are then rated Elite-1, Elite-2, Elite-3, Class 1-1, Class 1-2, and so on. Only Elite stock may be used for breeding.

Until the late 1980’s, few outside Soviet Russia knew these horses existed. Then, in 1988, Orlov-Rostopchin geldings, Barin and Dikson, represented Russia at the Seoul Olympic Games. Barin also competed in 1992 in the Barcelona Olympics. Ridden by Russian team member Nina Menkova, Dikson shone at the European Championships, the World Cup (where he was pinned Reserve Champion), and the 1990 World Equestrian Games. Folks outside of Russia erroneously called them ‘Russian Trakehners’.

Gert Reuter did when he imported, by way of Europe, the first Orlov-Rostopchins known to set hoof on American soil. Soon thereafter, an article in Dressage and CT, “The Russian Warmblood Horse” by Russian biologist Dr. Alexander I. Polozkov, piqued interest in the breed. More importations followed.

Today there are thirty to forty (the exact number is unknown because not all are registered in the American studbook) Russian-pedigreed Orlov-Rostopchins in North America, about six hundred world wide.

And while restoration efforts continue at Starozhilovsky studfarm, shortages of everything from feed to medicines to manpower to muck stalls make keeping the project afloat increasingly more difficult.

It was from Starozhilovsky studfarm’s program that Dr. Barbara Weber of Solstice Farm, then of Sandstone, Minnesota, imported Iskusnik, an Elite-1 stallion who tested best colt at his two year old evaluations in Russia. He was one of only two Russian-bred, approved Orlov-Rostopchins standing in North America when, as a four year old, he shattered a hind leg and was subsequently euthanized at the University of Minnesota’s veterinary facility.

Hoping to perpetuate Iskusnik’s superior conformation and athletic ability, Dr. Weber retained all of Iskusnik’s daughters and three of his sons, which she will be crossing with Russian-approved breeds (Trakehners, Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Hungarians, Akhal-Tekes, Orlov Trotters, and crosses thereof) to establish an American Orlov-Rostopchin restoration project. Select individuals of the same breeds who do not carry Russian Orlov-Rostopchin blood but who otherwise approximate the Russian Orlov-Rostopchin standard are also being admitted to the registry on a limited basis.

Formation, History and Transformation

By Vadim A. Parfenov
Chief curator of the breed, docent of the Department of Horse Breeding in Timiryazev Academy

The best Russian breed, which put Russia to a number of leading countries in horse breeding, has more than 200 years history. Count Orlov, who took an outstanding role in Russian history during Ekaterina’s 2nd epoch, made a lot for horse breeding. His efforts on breeding draught and riding horses got really phenomenal results. Invaluable role of Orlov trotter in rising of quality of horses in Russia is widely known. The destiny of the 2nd creation of Orlov – Orlov Riding breed – was totally different. In Khrenovo stud Orlov collected excellent horses of European and Asian bloods and could see all good and bad sides of them.

Having convinced by that any of the delivered breeds cannot meet to the full to its requirements to cavalry horse, suitable both for fights and for parades, columns has gone on a way of complex multipedigree crossings to search of the model suitable his overview about an ideal saddle horse. Certainly, almost unlimited material opportunities have allowed Orlov to embody the plans in a reality, but not only it has provided as a result the present success of work. Creation of the precise and deeply thought over system of breeding work and technology of horsebreeding, strictly executed during decades, became a primary factor of formation of new breed.

Snow-white Arabian stallion Smetanka and a brown stallion the Saltan east (it is quite probable, Turkmen) origins became the basic ancestors of the Orlov riding horses. From the mother site the greatest role have played English thoroughbred mares, lipizzaner, mecklenburger, the Arabian mares and daughters of the Danish stallion Krasavetz. From numerous variants of crossings of these horses of Orlov and its associates have managed to allocate the most productive, fixing them in the further combinations. Strict selection by results of tests in dressage and field riding provided fast perfection of breed.

During the first years of the nineteenth century the Orlov saddle-horse breed was formed and consolidated enough on the basic qualities. Engravings of that time show us very harmonious horses with very correct exterior. Orlov never pursued growth to the detriment of any other qualities, his horses were not giants, but had excellent movements. They were gentle, very good movements, temperamental and hardy.

Count Rostopchin started to create his breed of warmblood horses three decades later then Orlov. His crossings were a little bit easier; mostly he used Arabian stallions and mares of English thoroughbred. Primary training and tests of horses in racing have made Rostopchin’s horses quick and hardy. But their exterior was a little bit worth then exterior of Orlov’s horses.

In the middle of the 19th century studs of A.G.Orlov and F.M.Rostopchin were sold in the State treasury. First time the pedigree work with Orlovskaya and Rostopchinskaya breeds was proceeded separately, but then, considering affinity of these horses on many qualities and to destination, have been gradually incorporated in one breed which has received the name Orlov-Rostopchinsky.

This domestic breed got both an acknowledgement and high appreciation on exhibitions in Russia, Europe and America; and almost full disappearance and oblivion. Only vigorous measures accepted under pressure of the horse-breeding public, have allowed to save breed those years. Save for the hardest years of its history of tests, the military years of First World War and especially hard years of followed for it civil war. Almost all livestock of Orlovo-Rostopchins was lost in a hearth of these wars. The first years of Soviet Russia also didn’t become the years of revival of breed. The work on restoration of the breed began only in thirtieth years in horse-breeding centers of Ukraine (Limarevsky, and then Dubrovsky).

Already among the first horses born in these studs were some stallions and mares with excellent exterior. Many experts and visitors of pavilion “Horse breeding” at All-Union agricultural exhibition were delighted by them. However new war, fast capture of territory of Ukraine by German army – and again almost full disappearance of almost restored breed of Russian Riding. Just few horses, was in the summer of 1941 at an exhibition in Moscow, were kept and allowed to begin a new stage of complex work on restoration of breed.

That almost hopeless process has been begun in the hardest conditions of wartime, in severe climatic zone of Northern Urals Mountains in Krasnogvardeysky stud of Sverdlovsk region. In a short time there were collected horses of necessary breed and type (except for the best representatives of breed – stallions Buket and Braslet and several purebred mares, there were added some horses sent earlier from studs of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, hybrids received from them and some Akhal-Tekins, Arabians and Thoroughbred horses with the relative type and quality). It was possible due to improbable efforts of enthusiasts and director of the North-Ural trust of horse-breeding centers Andrei Sokolov.

Persistent work of the collective has brought expected results. Russian Riding horses again took place in our horse breeding and began to extend in some areas of the country.

But time left no hopes for blossoming of the breed: by the groundless decision of a guidance of horse breeding organization of the country all livestock of horses of Krasnogvardeysky stud were sent to the Kursavsky stud in Stavropol region. There Russian Riding had no serious attention and after two years were sent to Labinsky stud in Krasnodar region which almost right after reception of this livestock had been reoriented in a pedigree direction on breeding the thoroughbred horses.

Russian Riding, including the best stallions, were sold in the shortest time and soon had completely disappeared. Obviously, it would be possible to finish the history of one of the best and original domestic breeds. Only on the kept pictures and engravings of known Russian artists we can see wonderful, forms of Orlovo-Rostopchins horses, only books kept names of best representatives of the breed – stallion Svirepy, Orlov’s favorite; refined and temperamental stallion Glazunchik; stallion Ashonok with its unique exterior; stallion Yashma, given the best in breed posterity of winners and prize-winners of largest world exhibitions (Frant, Fakel, Priyatny, Priyatel, Granitik, Bayanchik, Braslet, Begonia, Vorobey and others).

But there were still some Russian Riding in different places of the country. In Zaporozh’e stud they tried to work with stallion Globus with nearly no result. Some horses from Labinsky stud went to Ukraine. The must significant was the posterity of stallion Buket and Trakehner mares, got in fiftieth in Kirov stud in Rostov region. The best from that offspring was Buket’s son stallion Bespechny, who played an outstanding role in forming and founding of Ukraine Riding breed. Some of half-blooded horses still were in Ural region. So, was it possible to restore the breed using such a different and not homogeneous material? The answer was the only: it is impossible.

And nevertheless, it would be not good to refuse such an attempt, in time when equestrian sport in country was going up and also a great demand about horses sports type from foreign sportsmen. All of that dictated necessity of creation of breed specialized for sport. And the best model for that purpose could be only Russian Riding. To recreate the breed, keeping its external shape and giving to it more sport-qualities was not easy. In such conditions when the recoupment of branch was the indispensable requirement and made opportunities of experiment very limited, there left no margin for mistake.

It was also very difficult to form a basic livestock of horses. The big part of horses with blood of Russian Riding was concentrated in studs of Ukraine. And problem to get them to Russia was not only in money but also in unwillingness of their Ukrainian owners to give them. Nevertheless more than ten mares and five stallions with Russian blood went to Starozhilovo stud. This stud was made a basic centre for the work of recreation of Russian Riding. Before 1976 Starozhilovo stud works with Trakehners. But in 1976 most of them went to Kaliningrad stud and the remained livestock was not enough for effective work of Starozhilovo stud.

Few trakehners from Starozhilovo stud, some Arabians, Akhaltekins and English thoroughbred were choosen for the beginning of the work on recreation of Russian Riding breed (Orlov and Rostopchin used those breeds when they created Russian Riding). Also were added some Orlov trotter as the genetically close breed to Russian Riding.

Plan of work of reconstruction of the breed developed by employees of faculty of horse breeding of the Timiryazev agricultural academy (Moscow) and provided the complex scheme of interbreed crossings. The basic directions of these crossings were: combinations among horses with Russian blood and complex reproductive crossings of breeds initially used in work of Orlov. Gradual merge of those two basic directions should provide consolidation of type and the main pedigree qualities and create genealogic structure of revived breed.

Twenty years of working got good results. The base of breed made about 200 mares with all qualities and type of Russian Riding. The special commission of Department of animal industries and breeding business of the Ministry of Agriculture and the foodstuff of the Russian Federation made the decision about inclusion of Russian Riding in number of the selection achievements admitted to use in territory of the Russian Federation. Special acts have fixed creation of breed and put it in number of best domestic breeds of horses.

The primary goal of formation of breed was the development and fastening in it specific and enough the distinct qualities necessary for successful use of horses in competitions by classical kinds of equestrian sport and, first of all, in dressage. Achievement of this purpose was possible not only because of using horses shown high results in sport in breeding work, but also due to special system of tests and trainings for young horses. In an expert of horse-breeding our country such system approach to selection on sports qualities has been carried out for the first time.

All young mares and stallions started to train in the age of one and half years and in six months they were tested on quality of movements on the basic natural gaits (a walk, a trot and canter) and on quality of jumps. Thus, impellent properties of horses were tested on work with horsemen, and jumping qualities tested on freely moving horse in a special corridor – schpringarten. The complex estimation of results of these tests was considered in selection) together with parameters of measurements, correctness of the exterior and even features of color. The preference was given to horses of black color, dark-bay and, as exception, bay horses.

In the generated breed there is the genealogic structure consisting of stallion’s lines and mares families. Best stallions are from lines of well-known Buket. There are two perspective lines begun from thoroughbred stallions Gunib and Daban. Among nine mare’s families developed in breed, families of Grust, Inspektsiya and Bespeka have special value. Fastening of typical features of horses of these related groups with using of moderated inbreeding creates necessary differentiation in breed and allows predicting results of breeding selections. In Starozhilovo stud they also use in work stallions of English thoroughbred, Arabian and Akhaltekins breeds specially selected for it. It creates conditions for updating single qualities of horses of young breed and allows to not becoming isolated in a circle of the limited number of families.

Horses of Russian Riding breed have good parameters for wide use in classical kinds of equestrian sport. Average measurements of mares in breed: height – 165 cm, body length – 167 cm, chest girth – 196 cm and a chest metacarpus – 20,5 cm. They have special line of head and a structure of a neck. In the breed prevails the black color, white marks meet not often. The most important qualities of these horses are their abilities to sports work. As it is already noted, annually lead tests of working capacity of two-year-old young horses and participation in the best representatives of breed in the All-Russia tests of young growth distinctly shows significant successes in selection to these attributes. Last years horses from Starozhilovo become winners of these competitions, winning representatives of other breeds, including Trakehners.

Some good results in “big sport” were already during the first years of work with the breed. Remarkable sons of stallion Nabeg (from Bespechny) – black stallions Dikson and Barin – during a decade dominated over All-Union and All-Russia dressage competitions. They were winners and prize-winners of the international competitions, participated in Olympic Games in Seoul and in Barcelona. In nowadays stallions Kipr, Kubar, Gepard, Izumitel and many others get lots of excellent results in dressage in All-Russia and international competitions.

As the result of achievement of high parameters in work with breed, is marked also steady economic efficiency of breeding and growing of these horses in Starozhilovo stud and other facilities. The stud annually enters into a three of the best horse breeding farms of the country. Many sport schools and other organizations in Russia and abroad use horses from Starozhilovo. Sportsmen from Germany, Belgium, Italy, Finland and other countries is appreciated and gladly buy Russian Riding horses. Of particular interest in this breed are often U.S. citizens. This country already has a stud farm for breeding Russian horses.

Remarkable Russian breed of horses, having passed a difficult and tragically way, having revived in new qualities, certainly, should become one of the best in our horse breeding.

Orlov–Rostopchin Breed Standard

Article Source: Olimpia Stud Farm

Modern Russian Riding breed origin dates back to the famous Orlov-Rostopchin horse – once the most valuable and popular in Russia breed for cavalry and dressage horses of XIX century. Orlov-Rostopchin breed, unfortunately, was almost completely lost in the XX century. There have been several attempts to restore this unique breed, and only the last attempt made in 1980 employees of the Department of Horse Breeding in Moscow Agricultural Timiryazev Academy led to a long-awaited success. In 1999 was recorded a new breed – the Russian Riding horse, which accumulates the last drop of Orlov-Rostopchin blood and carrying her features. To learn more about the history of breed you can find the appropriate section of our site.

Breed Standard


165-170 cm stallions for 4 years and older
161-166 cm mares for 4 years and older

These indicators provide the horse the maximum score for the height performance of 10 points. If height of the horse deviates up or down, the scores are reduced proportionally. Such a rating system used for other breeding features.


Dark Bay

In breed welcome dark colours. Chestnut colour are not typical for horses of this breed and its carriers are trying to avoid in breeding. Gray, dun, and other unusual colour in the breed are extremely rare. Horses with these colours are not allowed to breed. Also, do not welcome large white markings on head and legs horse. The most valuable are pure black horse with no white markings.

Breed Type and Exterior

Russian Riding horse characterized strong conformation and elegant upland forms. The format of the trunk close to a square or rectangle lying. Exterior of the horse as a whole must meet the well-known modern requirements for sport horses, and the type closest to the Orlov-Rostopchin breed.

Russian Riding horses have a harmony physique, well-developed muscles and tendon-ligament apparatus. Head of medium size with a broad forehead, straight or slightly concave profile, expressive eyes and medium-sized straight erect ears, neck is long and high set, well defined long flexible neck, withers has average height and length, blade oblique, of moderate length, the back is usually straight, back flat, croup mostly middle-length, sometimes at half-mast, well-muscled. Chest of medium width and deep enough, with well-developed ribs. Limb properly set and in their structure do not have serious shortcomings. Hooves of the correct form with a strong horn. The mane is usually averaged over the density and silky. The tail is fairly thick and long, often wavy. hairy heel standing there or it is very mild.

Temperament and Character

Russian Riding horses are very intelligent, curious and sociable. The character of a lively, energetic, friendly. They are easy to learn, especially in dressage. But in working with these horses need to remember that they will not tolerate abuse. For experienced riders, Russian Riding horses show a high degree of intelligence, persistence and willingness to cooperate.

Sports Performance

Modern Russian Riding horses – a specialized sporting breed, focused mainly on the use in dressage. With the introduction of mandatory health tests sporting qualities for all youngsters from the very beginning the restoration of breed, breeders have made significant progress in performance. Russian Riding horses have the rhythmic movements and a large capture space in all gaits, respond well to training. Some horses show good technique jump, prudence, courage, and succeeding in jumping and eventing. Multiple participation in the Olympic Games, win prizes in the the World Cup finals, leading position in Russian equestrian sport over the past 20 years – that objective indicators of success in the selection of Russian horses.


Currently in Russian Riding breed dominated by the method of pure breeding, with the gradual accumulation of Orlov-Rostopchtin blood. Often used a moderate and distant inbreeding on outstanding ancestors and founders of the lines. As a certified improvers may be used for these purposes stallions Thoroughbred, Arabian and Akhal-Teke breed. The total volume of such crossings is limited and should not exceed 20% of the total annual copulation. Another 10% is a crossing with stallions of other breeds, usually of European sport breeding: Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Oldenburg, Trakehner and others. Horses, derived from such crosses can not be considered purebred and registered in a separate section Studbook as mixed breed. Nevertheless, the best crossbred horses who have successfully passed the test and evaluation experts or well-established in the sport, as well as appropriate for the type of Russian Riding horse, allowed to interbreed with pure breed horses. Foals in this case, registered as a pure breed in the main section Studbook.

Selection of the breed is a range of indicators. With 10-point scale assessed:

1. Pedigree
2. Measurements (height at withers, body length, chest girth, cannon bone girth)
3. Indices of body (are calculated on the basis of measurements)
4. Breed type
5. Exterior and temperament
6. Colour and markings
7. Sporting qualities (results tests of movements and jump in 2-3 years or as a result of sports)
8. Quality of offspring (for horses that are used in breeding)

According to the results of expert assessments derived average score and the horse is equal to the class of Elite-1, 2 or 3 or I, II class. Best horses get admission to the breeding, the vast majority of them usually belongs to the Elite class. Class Elita-1 is assigned only to the horses passed the tests of sporting qualities, or performed well in the sport.

Breeding work with the breed, registration of foals, issuing passports and tribal edition Studbook, is engaged Department of Horse Breeding in Moscow Agricultural Timiryazev Academy. Currently published three volumes of the Studbook Russian horse breeds, which included all horses born from 1980 to 2006. Preparing to publish a fourth volume of the Studbook. Forces of breed fans created an online database of Russian Riding breed, which collected the most complete information about the breed and each horse. This site has become a popular place for communication of breeders, owners, sportsmen and fans of Russian Riding horses.

Orlov–Rostopchin (Russian Riding Horse)

Article by
Black of exotic beauty and substance for dressage and pleasure. Now quite rare.

The Orlov–Rostopchin is an exotic horse. Everything about it is unusual and romantic: its appearance, its origin, its fate. To begin with, it is a product of an exciting competition and a brainchild of two aristocratic breeding talents, Count Orlov and Count Rostopchin.

The two counts followed the same breeding philosophies. And no wonder that when after their deaths their studs were bought by the Crown, the Orlovs and Rostopchins were merged to give rise to Orlov–Rostopchins. The Orlov–Rostopchin combines the size, type and dressage abilities of the Orlovs and the speed of the Rostopchins.

In those days Russian breeding was dominated by the teachings of the French naturalist Buffon. Buffon maintained that crossing was the surest way to “reproduce the prototype” of a given animal species from “bits of perfection, which have been dispersed by God among individual breeds” and which through crossing and mixture “…combine to yield the supreme beauty.” All Russian breeders of the time went overboard in order to “reproduce the prototype,” with nil results, of course.

Orlov and Rostopchin were not Buffon’s disciples, they went their own ways, using their own methods of crossing, selection, and culling. They also had their own ways of training the young, and testing the performance of their horses.


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 Peterhof to St–Petersburg to head her coup de t’etat against her husband Peter III. But en route, of all the moments, her coach came to a grinding halt, because her fancy European horses couldn’t 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. Catherine’s and the Orlov’s lives hung on a thread.

This unglamorous episode put one of the brothers, Alexey, in mind of producing some time a Superb Horse. And so, when retired, Alexey Orlov got round to it, breeding in parallel a Superb Trotter and a Superb Mount. And both of his undertakings were a huge success.

Orlov mounts were the first saddle 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 Russia 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 Felkerzam I and Sultan II, the stock stallions of the breed.

In addition to Arabians, Orlov used Thoroughbred, Karabakh, Turkish, and even Danish horses. As to Thoroughbreds, the breeder only used Russian–bred unraced mares.

Later on the desired type was reinforced by moderate inbreeding. A good example is the pedigree of the bay Yashma II, f. 1833, one of the best sires at Khrenovoye and the founder of a line. One sees in it several occurrences of Felkerzam I and Saltan II.

The incarnation of Orlov’s idea of the saddle horse was the bay Svirepy II (Saltan II x Uyutnaya). With his perfect conformation, a height of 158 cm and his ability for dressage he became the favorite mount of the Count, who rode him all his life.

Of immense importance for the creation of the breed were the ideal steppe conditions at Khrenovoye and carefully hand–picked foundation stock of various breeds, especially the outstanding Arabian individuals used by Count Orlov at the beginning.

Several decades of hard work yielded an outstanding creature. Orlovs were elegant and strikingly beautiful. Those black horses had an exquisite dished head, large expressive eyes, a swan–like neck, an excellent poll, and a superb topline. Their legs were strong, clean, and correctly placed.

Their size, athletic qualities and kind disposition made them unparalleled mounts for cavalry. Russia thus obtained an excellent saddle horse, which surpassed in many respects most European breeds of the day.

According to the 1866 Statement of the Russian Directorate of Horse Breeding nearly a half of stallions used at breeding stations in the country were Orlovs.


Count Rostopchin did not have the huge resources of Alexey Orlov’s, but he was his match in perseverance and ambitions. And his achievements were nearly as impressive. Just like Orlov, he relied on Arabian blood. In 1802 he bought in Arabia the stallions Rishan, Kaimak, and Kadi and used them on Thoroughbred, Persian, Karabakh, and Don mares to create the horse that came to be known as the Rostopchin. The young thus produced were subjected to the most rigorous culling for conformation and speed, mostly for speed.

Nearly all the horses were trained and tested. And Rostopchin’s mounts were remarkably successful on the race track: his gray stallion Anubus, f. 1824, was an invincible runner and defeated even Thoroughbreds brought from England. Unlike the Orlovs, the Rostopchin horses were not so exotically typey, they were smaller, had a shorter neck and poll and they were black as well.


In 1842 Orlov’s Khrenovoye stud and Rostopchin’s Annenkov stud were bought by the Crown. The horses and the breeding programs were merged to give rise to the Orlov–Rostopchin horse. In 1883 the Orlov–Rostopchin horses were transferred to the Limarevo State stud. The stud’s brief was to produce superb officer horses with excellent conformation and endurance. And the stud met whose requirements. To work out robust constitution and sound health the horses at the stud were kept mostly outdoors and subjected to rigorous tests.

The type and beauty of Orlov–Rostopchins caught the fancy of the Russian breeders and the horses were in great demand as improvers of Russian breeds, specifically Don and Strelets horses. Also Orlov–Rostopchin stallions were heavily used on steppe horses in eastern Russia.

Restoration of the Breed

During the two world wars most of Orlov–Rostopchin horses were lost. What little has remained of the once famous breed has been concentrated at several studs. The breed is being restored. It is now officially referred to as the Russian Saddle horse.

It is still going to take much time and hard work for Russian studs to build up enough stock and to produce those remarkable horses in quantity.

Starozhilovo Stud

Starozhilovo Stud

Starozhilovo stud was founded in 1893 by successors of Baron Pavel von Derviz, who was railway builder and one of the richest people of that time. For more than centenary history stud was engaged in breeding of horses of various breeds and specializations. Initially Starozhilovo stud had been completed by Arabians and thoroughbreds and draught horses. Later the largest stud breeding Orlov-Rostopchinsky horses has been completely bought. The trotters section was organased.

In 1917 the farm was nationalized and cavalry courses were launched in it. One of Starozhilovo’s cadets was Georgy Zhukov, an outstanding military leader of the 2nd World War. That war was cause of irreplaceable loss of breeding livestock of Starozhilovo stud. In October 1941, when the enemy was absolutely close evacuation of livestock had begun, but all horses were lost at a ferry through Oka.

After war Starozhilovo stud completed by Trakehners bought in Poland and transferred by Kirow stud. It was possible to reach significant successes with Trakehners but it was decided to return them to their “historycal native land” in Kaliningrad area.

In 1978 under the initiative of faculty of horse breeding of Timiryazev Academy (Moscow) it had been decided to recreate the oldest warmblood breed of the country – Russian warmblood, in fact – to create it anew. In parallel with breeding work the new technology of the maintenance and breeding of young horses and the most important – trainings and tests had been fulfilled. It allowed working on not only selection of type, color and exterior but also to test and predicts the working capacity.

So, soon Starozhilovo farm got 1st good results: Barin (Nabeg-Brigantina), few times the champion of the Soviet Union in dressage and Dikson (Nabeg-Diadema), silver prize-winner of the World Cup. Soon to them were added Kubar (Konok-Benefiska), Improvizator (Intrigan-Igrivaya), Izumitel (Intrigan-Igrivaya) and Gepard (Gamlet xx-Divnaya).

Per 1999 Russian warmblood breed of horse had been included to “the State register of the selection achievements admitted to use” published by the Ministry of Agriculture and the foodstuffs. The breed got a registration number 9353144 and Starozhilovo stud got the state license as the originator of the breed. Management of breeding work with Russian breed of horses charged to faculty of horse breeding of the Timiryazev Academy (Moscow).

Russian warmblood confidently moves ahead in number of breeds which are the best for dressage. Many Russian leading sportsmen work with horses from Starozhilovo, such as Elena Irsetskaya with Kipr and Inessa Poturaeva with Amaretto. In 2001 Amaretto (Au-Dag–Galaktika) was recognized as the best dressage horse of Russia and also the leader in the Central European zone winning prize-places in 5 stages of World Cup. Sport Horse schools of Yaroslavl and Nizhny Novgorod are regularly replenishes by horses from Starozhilovo.

The elegant exterior, noble lines of head, dark colors (mostly black and dark bay) and high sport potential – all those things makes Russian warmblood known not only in Russia but also abroad. So, black stallion Neznaika (Nenaglyadny-Zagonka) acts in sport and in breeding work with halfbreed mares in England. Russian warmblood Abrikos (Agdam–Beglianka) excellently acts in Grand Prix dressage in USA.

Russian warmblood is unique breed in the world specialized on the concrete kind of equestrian sport. They are the best for dressage. Horses-aristocrats, they are the only descendants of line of Orlov-Rostopchinsky horses. Children and grandsons of outstanding champions in dressage, winner of Olimpic Gold medal Absent, best horses of Arabian, Akhaltekin, Trakehner and thoroughbred breeds.

We are looking to the future with optimism. We have collected the “best blood”. Our horses are prize-winners of National and International competitions. Russian warmblood will be a serious concurrent to foreign breeds soon. Our horses are the most beautiful and talented. We are sure that soon horse breeding in Russia will reach former level.

International Museum of the Horse

Article by the International Museum of the Horse
More information can be found at

About the Breed

Orlov-Rostopchin is the original name of the breed dating back to 1845 when the Orlov Riding Horse and Rostopchin Riding Horse breeding herds were combined. Nearly a century later the breed was renamed the Russian Riding Horse (Russian russkyi verkhovod, German Russisches Reitpferd, Swedish rysk ridh?st) by officials of the former Soviet Union. Today russkyi verkhovod is used officially by Russian agricultural officers but “Orlov-Rostopchin” is a term which has returned with the restoration of the breed, which was made public only in recent years. Contrary to some reports the terms are both used in Russia when referring to the same breed. Less accurate is the use of the term “Russian Warmblood” to specify this breed as there are several Russian breeds which are warmbloods and their studbooks are not combined. There is no literal translation in Russian for this term.

The history of the Orlov-Rostopchin dates back to the middle of the 18th century, when Russia was breeding horses not only for carriage and military use, but for dressage riding. Through its associations with the French court, the Tsarist upper class was introduced to and practiced horsemanship as an artistic pursuit, and the foremost breeders of that day were called upon to develop a riding horse which was to be the horse of the Russian court (Catherine the Great is said to have enlisted the talents of the Orlov brothers from the prominent land-owning family of the day). Some of the initial foundation blood of this horse is shared with the Orlov Trotter, but the riding and driving breeds diverged as specific lines were formed.

The breeding program of Count A. G. Orlov-Chesmensky (1737-1807) was to produce both the Orlov Trotter and the Orlov Riding Horse. The Orlov Riding Horse and the Trotter both trace back to two stallions, the imported Saltan and Smetanka being the key progenitors when crossed with the produce of mares bred to the previously-acquired Shah and Drakon, stallions from one of the “Arabian” strains then in use by Persia, perhaps the Muniqi which is thought to be related to the Turkoman or Akhal-teke. Mares of these lines were also imported and all were introduced to Count Orlov’s stable, which already contained horses of Spanish, Neopolitan, Danish, English and Persian origins. The acquisition of broodmares continued, especially the newly-created Thoroughbreds from England, which were seen by the Russian breeders as excellent riding horses beyond the racetrack. From these mares crossed with Saltan came riding horse lines named after the stallions Sviryepy, Saltan II, Ashonok and Yashma. Lines from Smetanka included Felkersam and Polkan, the latter of which was used strictly in the breeding program for Trotters. Breeding stock continued to be culled until the results were uniform. The newly-created Orlov Riding Horse no longer looked like its Arabian or European ancestors in phenotype and were producing true as well. The result was a horse of both size and beauty, good bone without sacrificing refinement, and a temperament which was sensitive without being flighty. The predominant colors were black and dark bay.

In 1802 Count F. V. Rostopchin started his verkhovod (riding horse) breeding program in a different manner, but one which was to produce a strikingly similar result. During the early 19th century, he crossed his imports Rishan, Kadi and Kaimak, Bedouin-bred Arabian stallions of Siglavy and Koheilan strains, with mares of native stock such as the Don, Kabardin and Karabair, as well as Thoroughbred, Arabian and Persian stock. The Rostopchin Riding Horse was swift and nimble, and was also usually black or bay in color. By purchase of the state, the Rostopchin Riding Horse breeding herd was, in 1845, combined with the Orlov Riding Horse, by then a well-established breed, to be called the Orlov-Rostopchin. The practice was usually to cross Orlov’s stallions with the mares of the Rostopchin program. In the 1880’s the Orlov-Rostopchin was bred specifically as a mount for officers pursuing dressage in the cavalry (but not en masse as a battle horse). This horse also enjoyed a position of favorable nature in the Tsarist court and was exported for trade or as gifts, just as its ancestors had been imported. They were highly successful when shown at international exhibitions of the mid-19th through early 20th centuries, earning numerous gold and silver medals for their excellence as riding horses. Some world-class examples were Fakel and Fazan, Priyatel and Priezd, Vorobei and Bayanchik. These horses all traced back to Felkersam I and Saltan II.

Like many treasures of the land, the Orlov-Rostopchin suffered severe threats to its existence during the First World War, the subsequent revolution and World War II (“Great Patriotic War”), after which some sources prematurely declared it extinct due to both conditions of war and a stud farm fire which took the lives of most mares and young stock. However, each time consequences appeared to be most dire, surviving specimens were located and identified by horse breeders who knew and recognized the black beauties, and large infusions of new blood were obtained by breeding horses of similar type to these survivors. Such an effort was undertaken starting in 1931, when 82 broodmares were introduced by absorption breeding into the restoration of the Orlov-Rostopchin, which now bore the name Russian Riding Horse as mandated by the Soviet government. This is also the time when stallions Buket, Braslet and Globus were born from pre-Revolution bloodstock. Examination of their “purebred” Orlov-Rostopchin pedigrees along with others both pre- and post-Revolution confirms that then, as now, the breed studbook retained a degree of openness as is the modern sporthorse breeding practice. In the brief decade before the onset of yet another devastating war, the breed was restored to a remarkably high quality, with the formulation and practice of new testing and evaluation standards still in use today.

Unofficial (undocumented but nevertheless conscious) restoration of the Russian Riding Horse was yet again undertaken in the 1950’s. This time success was found in Ukraine by breeding horses with original blood to Trakehners, Thoroughbreds and Anglo-Hungarians at the same time and in the same stud farms where the new Ukrainian Riding Horse was being created; the descendents of the old Orlov-Rostopchin were thus for a time referred to, in official documentation, as Ukrainian. It was during this Cold War era that the USSR rose again to international prominence in equestrian sport, especially in dressage, where gold and silver Olympic medals were contested with West Germany as the main rival. The stud farms of Aleksandriisky and Dnyepropetrovsky produced such contenders as gold medalist Ikhor while harboring the covert restoration of the russkyi verkhovod. By this method the restoration could proceed even as the tragic slaughter of fine riding and racing horses was carried out in Russia to fulfill meat quotas under Krushchev’s rule. In the 1970’s, this effort to restore the Russian Riding Horse was recognized and made official by the Institute of Horsebreeding (which then oversaw all breeds in the entire Soviet Union), and successful products of the programs on Ukrainian stud farms were chosen by bloodline and type to be moved in 1978 to Starozhilovsky State Studfarm, southeast of Moscow, to continue the project in its official capacity. In a rare gesture to the dedicated horsemen who foresaw the possibilities of yet another resurrection of the breed, the Ministry of Agriculture relinquished all control of the project and assigned supervision of the studbook to the National Agricultural Academy named after K.A. Timiryazev. In the introduction to the first printed manual, Starozhilovsky was designated the base for restoration of the “russkyi verkhovod (orlovo-rostopchinskaya).” Goals included the expansion of the broodmare herd to an eventual count of 300, a slight increase in size and height, continued pursuit of the traditional qualities of refined but athletic beauty and an emphasis on dressage over other sport disciplines, with light gaits and extreme trainability consistent in all mounts.

Breeding stallions containing pre-war Orlov-Rostopchin blood have been supplanted by Thoroughbreds known for success in sport or extreme similarity in type, two Akhal-teke/Thoroughbred stallions which were sons of the great Absent, and at any given time at least one Siglavy/Koheilan Arabian with proven sport bloodlines. (In Russia, purebred Arabians have reached top levels in eventing and jumping and have set new international standards for Arabian track racing.) The 123-head broodmare band has been increased to nearly 200 by introducing mares of Arab, Akhal-Teke, Trakehner, Orlov Trotter, Anglo-Arab and Karachaev (a native horse) breeding. The produce closest to old Orlov-Rostopchin type is to be kept in the breeding program, with small groups of horses born at Starozhilovsky gradually shipped to Sergeiyevsky and Korobovo State Studfarms, where further breeding continues. Limited private efforts have started in Russia, but control of the breed standards remains under Timiryazev’s control. This breed is still subject to careful experimentation as useful additions to its gene pool are evaluated, but these additions are now almost always Arabian or Thoroughbred. The first book of the breed’s restoration was published in 1994 by the National Agricultural Institute, Timiryazev Academy in Moscow. Out of only four printed books, RSANA (see below) possesses one, the only such copy in the U.S.A. An update is in the pre-printing stage.

Evaluations of young Orlov-Rostopchins are made at age two and age four. Horses are classed as Elite-1, 2 or 3 and Class I-1, I-2 and I-3 etc. Only Elite-1 or Elite-2 stock is retained for breeding with some late-blooming Elite-3 horses. In addition to type, the criteria used in the “bonitirovka” (evaluation) includes measurements/proportions, conformation, pedigree or ancestry (to indicate probability of traits passed on), color, and “capacity for work.” The last mark is, at age two, a test of gaits and free-jumping in the chute. At four, it includes more rigorous under-saddle qualities and height of jumps cleared. Horses under training for a particular discipline are evaluated by their performance while in training. Selected competition stallions return to stud farms to become breeding stock. The conformation ideal is that the horse be suitable for collection and extension and possess angles and a compact body type lending to overall athleticism while retaining traits of exterior beauty such as a long, graceful neck with high carriage and proportionately long and dry legs. While the mark for color is of less importance than others, the most desirable mark is for black with no marks or very little white (heels and small stars being common); over 90% are black or dark bay. No white is accepted above the knee or hock, off either side of the face or that which will cause blue eyes.

Breed Characteristics

The modern-day Orlov-Rostopchin stands, on the average, at 16 to 16.1 hands high, with individual variations from 15.1 to 17.1. While they have been bred for dressage and have had as representatives Dikson and Barin, both Olympic veterans with Dikson a Reserve World Cup Champion, Starozhilovsky has also bred the successful open jumpers Dialog and Durman, now privately owned and at stud, and current dressage mount Amaretto. Many stallions have been retired to a breeding career after showing performance potential at age five or six, so their public life is brief and they are not seen by the west. Not only a horse for professionals, the Orlov-Rostopchin is a sensitive, willing horse who will give much return for its rider’s respectfully-given requests. Their trainability is often noted as an impressive trait. A refined warmblood, it is a mount with superior lightness to the aids and lovely freedom of shoulder. It is an ideal mount for those who also love the Thoroughbred and Arabian but seek more sport qualities. Imports to America and young homebreds are training in dressage, eventing and conformation and working hunters – a testament to the breed’s overall athleticism.

At present the population of the Orlov-Rostopchin is approximately 500 head. Many of the young horses are at preliminary Russian dressage levels. The main breeding herd and young trainees are kept at Starozhilovsky. Unfortunately, their future is in the hands of the unstable government and the limited funding received by the Russian Equestrian Federation. The dissolution of the USSR has proved a mixed blessing to the fortunes of the breed. One one hand, it has provided connoisseurs across the globe access to this refined mount for the first time in nearly a century (though import is not easily negotiated and remains bogged by paperwork). On the other hand, the accompanying financial collapse was disastrous to the state-funded stud farms as well as to the national equestrian program which was successfully utilizing the breed in international competitions including the Olympics, World Championships and European Games. As a result some of Russia’s best stock is now being sold to competitors indifferent to the continuation and development of the bloodlines while the financially strapped studfarms struggle to continue with bloodstock remaining after necessary sales.

Thus far it has only been in the United States that there has been interest shown in conserving the Russian Riding Horse by breeding imports and showing the adults in open competition. Imports to Europe and even private purchases in Russia often mean a dead end for bloodlines represented. As the breed has survived through incredible hardship before, it is likely that it will again, perhaps aided by those breeders continuing the lines of those now being imported to North America. It is in this context that the following concerns are addressed.

The first Orlov-Rostopchins imported to the United States came through Europe with the onset of perestroika and were brought in under the incorrect breed attribution “Russian Trakehners.” (There are very fine Russian-bred Trakehners, but they maintain a separate studbook listing both fullbloods and partbreds.) Importation continues on a small scale; united conservation efforts remain crucial. It is important that breeders understand Russian studbooks, breed history and current restoration practices as well as points of the bonitirovka so as to aim for the same ideal to which Russian breeding managers aspire. Furthermore it is important to breed stallions and mares of appropriate lineage to each other; Russian studfarm managers have already identified successful combinations and conservators would do well to build on established foundations. Future importations to North America should be orchestrated amongst all interested parties so as to emphasize missing or underrepresented bloodlines and avoid overabundance of get from one currently fashionable line.