Eighteenth century Count Alexei Orlov bred Arabian stallions with royal Spanish and Danish mares, as well as English Thoroughbreds, Dutch Friesians and other breeds, to produce the Orlov Trotter in the late 1700s.
But in addition to his Trotters, Count Orlov also used some of his same foundation Arabians to produce a saddle horse in the first decades of the 19th century. Orlov Riding Horses, as they were called, averaged about 16 hands with strong, athletic bodies, but also featured dished heads, swanlike necks and an elegant look. They were predominantly black.
At the same time, a rival breeder, Count F.V. Rostopchin was crossing his own Arabian stallions with Persian, Thoroughbred and Russian mares to produce a riding horse of this own. Rostopchin’s horses were smaller, with shorter necks, but they were known for speed; his horses, too, were predominantly black.
In the 1840s, after their deaths, both breeders’ studs were purchased by the state, and the two lines were combined into one breed, called the Orlov-Rostopchin (also called the Russian Saddle Horse). Many were lost during the wars of the 20th century, but enthusiasts have sought out survivors and are rebuilding the breed.
To read more about the Orlov Trotter in print, see “From Russia, With Love” in the June 2005 issue of EQUUS magazine.