Horse Breeding

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Horse Breeding


a branch of livestock raising concerned with the breeding and use of horses. Horse breeding originated in Europe and Asia during the fourth millennium B.C. Horses reached Africa from Asia Minor in the second millennium B.C. They were imported to America in the 16th century and to Australia in the 17th century. After the horse was tamed and domesticated it became man’s constant helper in agriculture and transportation and played an extremely important role in the army. Among many ancient peoples (for example, the Scythians who lived in the steppe region of southeastern Russia from the seventh to the first century B.C.), horse breeding was a major sector of the economy, providing the population with meat, milk, hides, and a means of transportation.

Man has been improving the quality of horses since antiquity, creating breeds that most satisfied his needs. Three basic types of horses have been developed: saddle, harness, and draft. Within these types there are more than 200 breeds and breeding groups. During the 18th and 19th centuries the development of new breeds was intensive. Many of the breeds developed in that period are still important (for example, the Don saddle horse and the Orlov trotter in Russia; the Thoroughbred, Shire, Suffolk, Clydesdale, and Norfolk trottter in Great Britain; and such heavy draft horses as the Brabançon, the Percheron, and the Ardennes).

Because horses were used in agriculture and for local transportation, the horse population increased steadily until the 1930’s. In 1930 there were approximately 120 million head throughout the world (including 32.6 million in the USSR). Between 1930 and 1960 the horse population decreased almost 50 percent as a result of the rapid mechanization of agriculture and the development of automobile transport in most countries. The horse ceased to be used in almost every army. The number of horses decreased most sharply in the most highly developed capitalist and socialist countries (for example, Great Britain, France, Sweden, and the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). However, in Afghanistan, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, and several other countries the horse population did not diminish but continued to grow.

Workhorses in most countries still constitute a substantial energy reserve, which is used together with mechanized tractional power in some kinds of agricultural work and transport. A large number of high-quality horses are required for the development of universally popular equestrian sports and in tourism. The raising of horses for meat and milk and for the production of serums and preparations that are used in livestock breeding for therapeutic and other purposes and in medicine (pregnant mare’s serum, anti-influenza serum, antidiphtheria serum, antibotulin serum, and gastric juice) has also become important.

Prerevolutionary Russia led the world in the number of horses and the variety of breeds. In early 1916, Russia had 38.2 million horses, with small and medium-sized breeds dominant. The percentage of purebreds was low; the small number of pedigree horses of cultivated breeds belonged only to owners of private stud farms.

In the USSR, breeding of high-quality horses is systematically carried out at state stud farms, state pedigree breeding farms, state breeding stables, hippodromes, stations for breeding and artificial semination, and specialized breeding sections of kolkhozes. Valuable old breeds (the Orlov trotter, Don, Karabair, Kabardino, Akhaltekin, and Lokai) and local breeds have been improved, and new breeds have been created (the Russian trotter; the Budennyi and Ters saddle horses; the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Torii harness horses; the Kustanai and Novokirghiz saddle-harness horses; and the Vladimir, Russian, and Soviet heavy drafts).

Present-day horse breeding at government enterprises has produced primarily purebred animals; in 1972 these purebreds ac-counted for 90 percent of the total horse population of 7.3 million (in the USSR in 1941 there were 21.1 million horses, of which 40 percent were purebred; during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, 7 million horses perished). As of 1971 most of the horse population of the USSR was concentrated in the RSFSR (3.6 million), the Ukraine (1.3 million), and Kazakhstan (1.2 million).

The speed, strength, endurance, and external appearance of horses in the USSR have been improved considerably as a result of planned breeding, systematic training, and trials at hippo-dromes. There has been an increase in the number of extremely swift horses that are capable of competing internationally in classical equestrian sports, including the Olympic Games. Purebreds and riding horses are exported to many countries.

In the eastern regions of the USSR (Kazakh SSR, Kirghiz SSR, Kara-Kalpak ASSR, Buriat ASSR, Bashkir ASSR, Tuva ASSR, Yakut ASSR, and Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast) herds of horses are raised for meat on several million hectares of natural pastures. The best meat producers are the Kazakh of the Dzhabe type, the Kirghiz, the Altai, and the Yakut, as well as their crosses with stud breeds (the Soviet, Lithuanian, and Russian heavy drafts produce the highest yield of meat in the breeding stables). The USSR exports more than 30,000 head of meat horses to Western European countries annually; frozen horse meat is also exported. Mare’s milk, a valuable food product, has for a long time been part of the diet of people living in areas where herds of horses are raised. A medicinal beverage, koumiss, is made from mare’s milk. The number of horse donors for the needs of medicine and biological industry has been steadily increasing.

The development of horse breeding in the USSR is under the direction of the Central Board of Horse Breeding and Stud Farming of the Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR. Scientific research in this field is conducted by the Institute of Horse Breeding. Horse breeding is taught as a scientific discipline at agricultural, zootechnical, veterinary, and zooveterinary higher and secondary educational institutions that train specialists in horse breeding. State herdbooks, numerous general textbooks, and production and reference literature are published; the monthly journal Konevodstvo i konnyi sport (Horse Breeding and Equestrian Sports), which has been published since 1842, reflects the advances in horse breeding in the USSR and abroad.

The horse population has declined on all continents except America and Africa (see Table 1).

Table 1. World horse population
1Excluding USSR 2Excluding USSR and China
USSR..............12,800,007 400 000
China..............53000007 200 000

Horse breeders in the majority of countries are primarily concerned with the development of purebreds (the production of high-quality horses for breeding purposes) and horses for sports. Because of the growing demand for horse meat in the international market, the breeding of horses for meat is being developed in many countries. Thoroughbred horses and horses for sports and meat are exported and imported extensively.


Karlsen, G. G. Ispol’zovanie rabochikh loshadei v kolkhozakh. Moscow, 1951.
Kniga o loshadi, vols. 1-5. Edited by S. M. Budennyi. Moscow, 1952-60.
Pruski, W. Hodowla koni, vols. 1-2. Warsaw, 1960-63.
Konevodstvo i koneispol’zovanie. Moscow, 1964.
Kalinin, V. I., and A. A. lakovlev. Konevodstvo, 6th ed. Moscow, 1966.
Isenbart, H.-h. Das Konigreich des Pferdes. Frankfort, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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