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The Orlov-Rostopchin

(Russian Riding horse)

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.

horse  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.
This pedigree gives a clear insight into Orlov’s approach to breeding:

Yashma II

foaled 1833

Yashma II

Yashma I,
Ashonok Svirepy II (Grafski) Saltan II Saltan I x Gullivaya
Uyutnaya Milyj x Uyutnaya
Dosuzhaya Ah I Akut x Svirepaya
Kartinka Felkerzam I x (?)
Yashnaya A white stallion zero.gif(44 bytes) zero.gif(44 bytes)
zero.gif(44 bytes) zero.gif(44 bytes)
Yashnaya Felkerzam II Felkerzam I x Izmenshitsa
Neizmennaya Saltan II x TB mare


Vazhny II Vazhny I Svirepyi I Saltan II x Uyutnaya
Izomnaya Felkerzam I x Khripunya
Naneta Tendem zero.gif(44 bytes)
Yashnaya Arap II x Livarka
Sibirskaya Postoyanny Postoyanny I Saltan II x Bay mare
Ubornaya Dobrovolny x Bay mare
Milovidnaya Felkerzam I Smetanka x TB mare
Golubaya Borodovkin x TB Mare

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.

horse  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.

Exhibition awards

Orlov-Rostopchin horses were always an attraction at any Russian and international exhibition and fair. They bagged dozens of awards. Some examples:

1867 Stallions Frant, Fakel, and Fazan receive a Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition
1893 Priyatel, Yashma’s son, is recognized the best saddle horse at the World Exhibition at Chicago, and sold for the then unheard-of sum of 10,000 roubles
1896 Priezd, Yashma-Priyatny’s son, is awarded the Grand Prix at the Chicago Exhibition; Predvoditel, another Yashma-Priyatny’s son, receives the Great Gold Medal at Nizny Novgorod
1898 Stallion Bayanchik receives the Great Gold Medal at the St-Petersburg exhibition
1890 Stallion Bayanchik receives a Gold Medal; and Yashma-Priyatny, the Great Silver Medal in Paris
1907 Vorobei receives the Great Gold Medal at a Rostov-on-Don exhibition
1912 Vorobei receives the First Prize at the London Exhibition
1913 Mare Zurna receives a Gold Medal at Kie

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.

Average measurements of modern Orlov-Rostopchins

Stallions Mares
Height 163 161
Body length 165 164
Chest girth 184 183
Bone below the knee 20.5 20


The predominant color of Orlov-Rostopchins is black; there are also browns and bays.

Temperament disposition

The Orlov-Rostopchin is a versatile and willing worker. He has a quiet temperament and is quite trainable. This all makes these horses good for dressage.

Dressage potential

Orlov-Rostopchins are favored by dressage riders. Barin and Dixon took part in Olympic Games.

A limited number of Orlov-Rostopchins are available for sale.
Some Orlov-Rostopchins have already been sold to the States and other countries.

Troika, the ultimate Russian horse resource centre All the information and photographs for this section were kindly provided by Troika, the ultimate Russian horse resource online. For further information on Russian horses and horsemanship please click here

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