The Don horse is native to Russia and has roots dating back to the 18th century, when horses were released into the plains near the Don River. These horses naturally mated with wild horses in Southern Russia and were later crossbred with Arab and Thoroughbred horses to create a more resilient breed.
This breed’s living conditions were less than favourable, as the Russian climate exposed them to cold and harsh weather. This has strengthened the Don breed over the years and has made them a hardy horse that is renowned for its toughness.
The Don horse gained notoriety in the early 19th century when it was used as a cavalry horse against Napoleon and his troops upon their invasion of Russia. During this time period, it became even more prized for its resilience.
Though the Don horse’s population is not endangered, the breed was severely threatened during World War I and the Russian Revolution. The horse was in high demand during war times because of its impressive ability to travel long distances at high speeds without becoming fatigued. After the fighting ceased, breeders worked to improve the Don’s numbers. The horse was also becoming better known in other parts of the world and as the Don’s population increased, so did its universal presence.
This horse is generally found in colours that range from gold to brown to red. It may also be black or gray with a mottled pattern. Its colour is thought to be inherited from the Karabakh horse, which was introduced to the Don breed hundreds of years ago. It stands at a commanding height that averages 15-16 hands high. It is muscular with long legs and a tail and mane of average length.
The present-day Don horse is stronger and larger than ever, excelling in riding. It is particularly well-suited for long distances, as its rest and food requirements are low in comparison to many other horse breeds. The Don is also energetic in less demanding exercises, including dressage and jumping in horse competitions. Though it is a fast horse, it is better known for its fortitude, so it does not generally outperform other horses in racing competitions.
The personality of the Don horse is just as admired as its endurance. It has a wonderful and easygoing disposition that makes it an easy horse to ride and work with. The breed is able to spend time outdoors regardless of the weather and its hardiness is still prized today, though it is no longer used as a cavalry horse.
While other breeds have been used to influence and strengthen the Don breed, the Don horse is now used to improve existing Russian breeds such as the Kazakh and the Budenny.
At the time of writing this article, there were no known breeders or Don Horses in Australia.