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The Don horse of Russia is traditionally associated with the Don Cossacks, and evolved in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds.
EARLY FORMATION AND RECENT IMPROVEMENTS
The foundations for this breed were the southern Russian steppe horses of the nomadic tribes. Early influences were the Mongolian Nagai and breeds like the Karabakh, the Persian Arabian and the Turkkmen horses obtained as trophies.
The Don horse was hardly pampered. They lived in herds on the steppe pastures and fended for themselves, scraping away the snow in winter to get at the frozen grasses, becoming incredibly tough as a breed and adapting easily to every sort of climatic hardship.
The breed and its riders became famous in 1812 to 1814 when 60,000 Cossacks, mounted on Dons, helped to repel Napoleon’s forces from Russia.
More recently, Russian riding stallions (Orlov and Orlov-Rostopchinsky) were used to improve the breed, along , and also Thoroughbreds and selected Arabian part-breds. No other blood has been introduced since the early twentieth century, when the breed emerged as a solid army remount that could be put in harness, requiring minimum attention.
CHARACTERISTICS THEN AND NOW
The Don is predominantly chestnut with a golden sheen, although others colors of brown or light bay are also seen. This golden glow most likely comes from the early and principal influence on the Don by the Karabakh which originated in the mountains of Karabakh in Azerbaijan and was established as long ago as the fourth century. The Karabakh, like many of the eastern Russian breeds carries a metallic, golden dun coloring.
The head of the Don horse is of medium size with a straight profile and a short poll, making flexion a bit different than that of many other breeds. The forelegs are usually well muscled. The back is straight and wide, the withers low and the loin straight. The shoulder blade is usually steeply inclined and not long, which limits the amount of ground the Don covers with one stride. The croup is rounded and the quarters tend to slope away, the tail being occasionally low set. The neck is of medium length and usually straight. Height is around 15.3 but sometimes larger.
Don horses are good natured, clam and easily managed and quite able to work in harness and in light, agricultural draft. Energetic workers, with a high level of endurance, they do not demand any special attention. The early Don was inclined to be wiry, , light, hardy and very mobile. Modern developments have produced a heavier horse.
The modern Don is a comparatively massively framed horse with a strong constitution to match and is raced, mainly in long distance events as well as used in competition and to improve other breeds in Russia.
The present day horse is larger and of better conformation that formerly. Some of the best were bred at the Budonny Stud, where the Budonny Sport Horse was developed as a result of crossing Dons and Thoroughbreds. The Don has also been used to improve many native Russian breeds such as the Kazakh and the Kirgiz.
The stud book for the breed is published by the All Russian Institute of Horse Breeding VNIIK, and every eligible breeding stallion is ranked.