TERSKY HORSE AND STRELETSKY HORSE
Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
With its distinguishing light, often silvery, gray color and aristocratic pedigree –Arabian in type, but significantly larger — the Tersky horse embodies the same qualities that made its immediate ancestor, the Streletsky horse, a favorite among Russian officers for parades and formal (dressage) riding. The Tersky breed, officially recognized in 1948, and can attribute its modern incarnation to the enormous affection for horses retained by the Russian army during Soviet times. After the Russian cavalry was officially disbanded in 1953, the Tersky eventually found new venues in which to literally shine in recreation and sport riding.
The origins of the Tersky horse trace back to the nineteenth century, when a fancy, light and speedy cavalry horse was developed through a complicated crossing of Arabian and Anglo-Arab horses with Karabakh, Orlov, Rostopchin, Persian and Turkmenic horses. This horse was named Streletsky, after the Ukrainian farm where the breed was developed. Never widespread or numerous, the Streletsky horse nonetheless had a loyal following.
Any story of horsebreeding in Russia and the former Soviet Union must contend with the devastating effects of war. In the case of the Streletsky horse, the breed was one casualty of the prolonged civil war which followed the 1917 revolutions. The tale would have ended here were it not for two valuable Streletsky breeding stallions that were discovered among the equine war booty when the Red Cavalry captured the Crimea from the White Army. One can only assume that these elegant, typey, silvery stallions would have called attention to themselves in any herd of horses. Quickly identified by breed and eventually identified by name, Tsenitel (born 1910, 153 cm) and Tsilindr (born 1911, 155 cm) were both sired by Tsenny (born 1899), an influential sire in the Streletsky breed. Their lineage traces back to distinguished Arabian stallions who exercised a major influence on the Streletsky breed. Their grandsire was the chestnut Arabian stallion, Tsiprian (born 1875); further back, in both maternal and paternal lines Tsenitel and Tsilindr carried the blood of Obaian Serebriany (born 1851), an even more celebrated, gray Arabian stallion. So the legend goes, in 1925 the famous Red Cavalry officer and life-long horse advocate, Marshall S.M. Budenny, personally ordered that these two stallions, along with a few pure-bred mares (4 or 9, depending on who’s telling the story), be given the nearly impossible task of replicating the distinctive qualities of the Streletsky horse.
Wisely, equine specialists soon recognized that the Streletsky breed, per se, was lost to history: the surviving horses did not constitute a sufficiently large gene pool for the breed to survive, and the former breed name was retired. Over the next few years a few more pure-bred Streletsky mares were located and they, as well as additional mares of complementary type (which, in addition to various Streletsky crosses, including Don, Kabardin and Arabian, as well as Lipizzaners imported from Hungary) were added to this initial breeding herd. Both Tsilindr and Tsenitel lived long lives and were very successful at stud. The former, who died at age 27, produced several first-class stallions. The daughters of the latter, who died at age 23, were among the best breeding mares in the new herd. Arabian stallions were subsequently utilized to enlarge the gene pool and diffuse the impact of inbreeding. The developmental breeding program lasted for over twenty years and has been carefully documented; it is a tribute to the historic tradition of dedication and excellence in Russian horsebreeding.
This new breed came to be named Tersky, after the farm which received the remnants of the Streletsky herd in 1925 and began the breeding program. The threat of invasion by Germany in 1941 prompted the removal of the herd to western Kazakhstan, a journey that took 21 days and covered a distance of 900 kilometers. By 1945 the entire herd came back east, to the Stavropol Farm, (in the Northern Caucasus) where it has remained to this day.
The Tersky horse is a versatile recreation and sport horse, especially in dressage and endurance. Several individuals have achieved notable success in world-class competition. The circus has always been a popular venue for Terskys; Tseitnot (born 1978) performed for six years before retiring to stud.
The Tersky breed is a warm-blood breed with a very limited open book. For horses to be considered pure-bred their pedigree may not contain more than 1/8 of thoroughbred blood, 1/2 of Arabian blood or 1/8 of Trakehner blood. In appearance the Tersky horse has a great deal in common with the Arabian horse — even down to the dish-faced head –, but with the important difference that it is a larger and more sturdily built horse.
The breed is noted for its cheerful and easy disposition, trainability, longevity, fertility, and its characteristic, stunning color — described by one devotee as “silver in the sun.” The Tersky horse has been selectively bred for color; more than 70% of the Streletsky breed is gray. A recent memoir about military horse parades on Red Square describes the splendid horses flying by the reviewing stands: golden chestnut Budenny horses followed by the silvery gray Tersky horses. In the early 1940’s two sons of Tsilindr, Tselebes and Tsvetok — like their father, polished silver in color — were among the pedigreed horses especially trained for the festive equestrian pageants that Stalin so adored.
One drawback to the reputation of the Tersky horse has been excessive concern with its size. (That same issue plagued its predecessor breed as well: For a short time — until the results proved injurious — the Streletsky horse was intensively crossed with thoroughbred horses to “grow” the breed.) In 1945, for example, Stalin insisted that Marshall Zhukov ride a gray horse in the parade to celebrate the victorious conclusion of the war; Tselebes and Tsvetok were passed over, however, because they were considered too small for the general’s imposing figure. More recently, perhaps under the influence of the (hopefully now past) dressage world’s obsessive fascination for humongously sized warmbloods, Russian breeders experimentally crossed Terskys with thoroughbreds and Trakehners; the result was a more scopey horse, but at the cost of the essential typiness of the breed.
Nonetheless, the Tersky horse has grown in size. In 1948 the average measurement for the mares and stallions was 150.3 cm at the withers, at least 5 centimeters shorter than current measurements. Specialists now divide the breed into three types, eastern (shorter), basic and heavy (taller), but almost 60% of Streletsky horses belong to the basic type. Average measurements for stallions of the basic type are: 155.7 cm at the withers, 175.5 cm at the girth and 18.99 cm at the cannon bone. Average measurements for mares of the basic type are: 153.6 cm (withers), 174.6 cm (girth) and 18.59 cm (cannon bone).
In spite of this growth in size, the Tersky horse has changed very little in appearance from that of its Streletsky forefathers. When photographs of living specimens of the Tersky breed are set along side a lithograph of Ibragim, a renowned Streletsky breeding stallion born in 1888, what is most striking is the close similarity; their proportions are virtually identical.
A more serious drawback to the future of the Tersky breed is the lack of depth in the genetic pool. In 1988 the entire breed was estimated at about only 1700 horses. Volume II of the Tersky studbook appeared only in 1990 (almost 40 years after the initial record was published), a strong indication of neglect of the breed. Even though Volume III was published only two years later, support for the breed since privatization of the Russian economy has been lackluster. Currently the largest and best site for breeding stock is still the Stavropolsky Farm, home to about 120 pure-bred Tersky mares and about 100 crossbreds, mostly Anglo-Tersky and Trakehner-Tersky. The Tersky breed is obviously threatened by its small numbers. The most recent published recommendations (1999) by breed specialists have recommended an increase in numbers by selective crossing to Lipizzaners, Andalusians, and Anglo-Arabs.
Information about breed clubs and sale horses outside of Russia can be found on the internet. Tersky horses have been sold abroad since 1965; a few years ago the stallion Tsepellin was exported to England. Outside of Russia perhaps the largest and most ardent supporters for the breed can be found in that country.
Within Russia, expert evaluation, breed certification, passports and the offical studbook are maintained by specialists at VNIIK [the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of the Horse]. Volume IV of the studbook, an update from Volume III (1992) and restricted to information from the Stavropolsky Farm, up through 1996, was published in 2000. Additional information about the breed can be obtained from Evgeny Sheramykin, who works with the Tersky and Arabian breeds at VNIIK.