The Don riding horse is the oldest continously bred Russian breed. It can be traced back over 200 years to
the steppes of Southern Russia. The cossacks who lived in the grassy plains around the mighty Don River adopted
the rivers name as did the plains and the breed of horse of the area.
The Cossacks way of life became dependant on the horses that thrived in the harsh conditions of the arid steppes. The diverse local equine population of the Nogai type of horse was influenced most by the blood from Karabakh, Persian and Turkmenic breeds. Later Arabian horses were introduced to the Don Cossacks herds as war booty, and, lastly, the English Thoroughbred or English Pure Bred.
The Cossacks trace their heritage back to the sixteenth century, when runaway serfs (slaves) settled in parts of southern Russia and eventually became known as Cossacks, after the Mongolian word Kazak, meaning a lightly armored warrior on horseback. Living semi-nomadically, The Don Cossacks had huge herds and guided the defining traits of their horses, needing reliable horses for mounted combat, horses with speed, agility, physical and mental strength and stamina. The Don Cossacks gained a reputation as fearless combatants and superb riders of superb horses.
At the end of the eighteenth century the first private stud farms devoted to the breeding of Don Horses appeared.
By the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Don became well known as a distinct breed and by mid-century
over 50% of the horses in the Don steppes were direct descendants of the original Don horses.
By the end of the century the number was down to 25% due to cross breeding of Don mares to Streletsky, Orlov-Rostopchin and especially English-bred stallions which refined the Don conformation but at the expense of some of its warmblood characteristics. The Don Horse was adopted by the military and used for work under saddle and in harness, not only for the Cossacks but the entire Russian army.
World War I saw the emergence of the war machine over the Don and the days of mounted soldiers passed. The losses to the Don during the war and subsequent civil war left only a few hundred horses. A breeding program sponsered by the government centered in the Rostov area, revived the breed in the thirties and forties and the Don continued to serve in the Russian military until the cavalry was disbanded in 1954. In 1948 the official separation of the Don from the related Budenny (Budyonnny), an Anglo-Don cross was made.
The Don Horse has a refined warmblood appearance, well chiseled head, muscular chest and strong legs.
Dominant colors include chestnut and bay, often with a gold cast.
Current measurements for stallions is 16.1hh (166 cm) at the withers.
Currently the Don Horse is bred for sport, recreational riding, equine tourism and sport competition at which it
During the Soviet period outstanding study farms included the Budenny Stud and Zimovnikov Stud, both near
Rostov. The Issyk-Kulsky Stud (Kirghizia) and Lukovsky Stud in Kazakhstan. The two Russian farms have
remained active in the post-Soviet period and have collected some of the best specimens into their herds.
The studbook for Don breed is regularly published by the All-Russian Institute of Horsebreeding (VNIIK).
Volume XIII was published in 1997; Volume XIV was scheduled for 1999. Passports for horses registered
in the Don breed are authenticated by VNIIK. Each year VNIIK publishes a catalog that evaluates and ranks
eligible breeding stallions. The 1998 catalog evaluates horses born in the period 1994-1996. For further information
direct inquiries to VNIIK: