Horse Isle 3: Big Book of Breeds
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Big Book of Breeds
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[ INDEX ] Equine Type: Horse Breed: Don   [ PREV ] [ NEXT ]
The Don (also known as Russian Don) is the oldest Russian horse breed, and one of the only two native Russian horse breeds that still exist today (the other one being the Orlov Trotter). Originally from the arid steppes of southern Russia, the Don was named after the nearby Don River.

The story of the Don horse starts in the 16th century, when Cossacks arrived at the southern steppes of Russia. These Cossacks, known as Don Cossacks, didn't settle in one place, but rather traveled all over the steppes. Accordingly, their horses could withstand the long travels in the harsh Russian climate. The Cossacks let their horses roam wild, with minimal to no care, which helped ensure that only the fittest horses survived. These sturdy horses were the ancestors of the Don Horse.

When Don Cossacks joined the Russian army as mounted warriors, it was the stamina of their horses that attracted special attention, and for a good reason. In 1813, the invading French army, which was led by Napoleon Bonaparte, lost to the Russians and retreated to France. Don Cossacks, who were riding their Don horses, chased the French army all the way back to Paris, a total distance of approximately 2,600km. This stunning achievement made the Don breed famous all over Europe.

By the end of the 18th century, organized breeding of Don horses officially started. In order to refine the breed, Don horses were crossed with Thoroughbreds and Arabian horses. Don horses were designated to serve as cavalry horses, and as such, their stamina was constantly assessed by the Russian army. This means that Russian officers would ride their Don horses for long distances to ensure that their horses will be able to withstand long battles. This habit lasted until the 1950s, when the Russian cavalry was disbanded.

Today, Don horses are primarily used for endurance riding, but can be found in other sport disciplines as well. They mostly come in the colors of chestnut and bay, and can have a metallic sheen. Grey and black individuals can also be found. They stand between 15.1hh to 16.2hh.

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