Orlov Trotter: Horse Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Grey Orlov Trotter in a pasture in front of a lake, preparing to lie down

 Photographs by Maria Itina / Getty Images

The Orlov Trotter was once a prized Russian horse breed, but various wars and culture changes have threatened its survival. With a combination of speed, strength, stamina, and an agreeable temperament, this versatile horse is a great choice for many riders – if they can find this rare breed. Careful and selective breeding went into the Orlov Trotter’s development hundreds of years ago, and now some dedicated breeders are working to ensure that this breed survives for centuries to come.

Breed Overview

Weight: 990 pounds

Height: 15.2 to 17 hands

Body Type: Large, muscular "gentle giants"

Best For: Driving, combined driving, and sports requiring athleticism and endurance

Life Expectancy: 30 years

Orlov Trotter History and Origins

The Orlov Trotter, the most famous breed of horse in Russia, originated between 1775 and 1784. The breed was developed by Count A.G. Orlov, who sought to develop a light harness horse that had both speed and endurance. Additionally, the breed needed to be able to withstand the harsh Russian climate, and horses needed to be sound enough to travel the country’s poor-quality roads.

Count Orlov’s Khrenovsky Stud was located in central Russia and housed as many as 3,000 horses at a time for the breeding program. Count Orlov kept meticulous records as he crossed European mares and Arabian stallions. He was highly protective of the breed, selling only geldings, though 20 years after Count Orlov died, tradition changed and stallions were sold to private owners.

The Orlov Trotter became a popular harness racing horse during the mid and late 1800s. These horses outperformed the best horses in Russia and in Europe. While Standardbreds still proved to be faster than Orlov Trotters, the breeds were crossed, resulting in the Russian Trotter.

Horse breeding suffered tremendously during the Civil War, but Orlov Trotter breeding resumed in the early 1900s. This strong breed served as farming workhorses and transportation horses, and racing did resume in the 1930s. World War II also reduced the breed’s numbers. The International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter was established in 1997, working to ensure the breed’s preservation. Today, 12 stud farms in Russia and three farms in the Ukraine breed these horses.

Orlov Trotter Horse Size

Orlov Trotters typically stand between 15.2 and 17 hands high, and they weigh about 990 pounds. They’re large and muscular horses that are often referred to as being gentle giants.

Breeding and Uses

The Orlov Trotter is a versatile breed, so while it’s still suitable for harness work, it can also do much more. These horses have a quiet temperament that’s highly desirable in a driving horse, working horse, sport horse, or pleasure horse. An Orlov Trotter’s speed and endurance makes it an excellent combined driving horse.

The breed’s future is largely in the hands of Russian stud farms. These farms collectively have only about 800 mares, which means the breed’s survival could be jeopardized. This somewhat rare breed needs the support of dedicated breeders and breed enthusiasts if it is to survive.

Orlov Trotters pulling a sleigh in Russia
 OlgaIT / Getty Images

Colors and Markings

Foundation horses were chosen for their notable gray coats, and the majority of modern Orlov Trotters still have gray coats. Black, bay, and chestnut coats are also commonly found in this breed.

Grey Orlov Trotter in a field
AnakondaN / Getty Images 
Bay Orlov Trotter lying down
 SkvortsovaSashas / Getty Images
Pair of grey Orlov Trotters on a stud farm
 Kondakov / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Orlov Trotter

The Orlov Trotter has a notable fast trotting gait. While other breeds also have a fast trot, the Orlov Trotter combines this characteristic with unusual stamina and strength. These qualities make the Orlov Trotter not only suitable for harness racing, but also a versatile horse for riding, farm work, driving, and more.

Diet and Nutrition

These horses are very hardy, and they can adapt to both stable and pasture life. Many stud farms raise these horses largely outside in herds. These horses can survive on pasture alone, but if quality pasture isn’t available, they may need supplementation with hay or grain.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

The Orlov Trotter is a hardy breed. Because it was selectively bred to withstand the climate and difficult roads of Russia, it tends to be a healthier, sound horse.

These horses are also known for having a great temperament. They’re agreeable and intelligent, making them suitable for many riders, including beginners.


The Orlov Trotter doesn’t have any specific grooming needs, but like all horses, benefits from regular grooming and care. Frequent currying can help to support a healthy, shiny coat. This breed has strong, healthy hooves, but regular farrier care is important in maintaining that hoof health.

  • Hardy breed with minimal health issues

  • Excellent strength and endurance

  • Versatile and ideal for many disciplines

  • Highly rare, especially in the United States

Champion and Celebrity Orlov Trotter Horses

Certain famous Orlov Trotters have helped to shape the breed:

  • Smetanka, an Arabian stallion, was bred for one year and sired five horses. All Orlov Trotters can trace their bloodlines back to Smetanka.
  • Krepysh, an Orlov Trotter, set a record in the early 1900s for the 1600-meter race. He earned himself the title of the “horse of the century” for his incredible speed.
  • Pion, a hugely influential Orlov Trotter stallion, set the record for 3,200 meters.
  • Ippik, a gray Orlov Trotter stallion, still holds the record for the 2,400-meter race today. 

Is the Orlov Trotter Right for You?

The Orlov Trotter features many desirable characteristics. It’s hardy, strong, and has impressive stamina. It has a great temperament and tends to be easy to train. It’s also versatile, so whether you’re looking for a driving horse, a harness racer, a workhorse, or a pleasure riding horse, this one breed could fit the bill.

How to Adopt or Buy an Orlov Trotter

Unfortunately, the Orlov Trotter is highly rare. While a handful of these horses have been imported into the United States, it’s unusual to see any of them for sale. Horses that are made available for sale will likely command high prices and sellers may require that horses go only to breeding homes.

While it may not be possible to buy an Orlov Trotter for yourself, the Standardbred offers many similar characteristics. This breed is much more accessible, and you can potentially adopt retired racing Standardbreds from horse rescues throughout the country. Alternatively, you can purchase this breed from private sellers, trainers, and breeders. While the Standardbred isn’t quite the same as the Orlov Trotter, it’s a more practical compromise and this breed can serve a variety of riders well.

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