BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
THE KARABAIR horse is one of the oldest of the Central Asian horse breeds. It is found principally in Uzbekistan, an area famed in antiquity for its horses and one that is frequently mentioned in accounts of military campaigns in pre-Christian times.
Uzbekistan is situated on a network of ancient trade routes, since around 600 BC, mounted warriors and bands of nomadic herdsmen have passed through this harsh landscape. In consequence, the local stock has been much influenced by Arabs Turkmenes, and related desert horses from neighboring countries.
Genetically, the Karabair is the product of the crossing of southern, oriental breeds with the wider-barreled steppe horses of “primitive” type. The result is a small, quick-moving riding horse, which stands at about 1.52 m (15 hh). The breed is coarser and less graceful than the Arab, but has many of the latter’s characteristics. For the most part, however, the Karabair is without the Arab’s pronouncedly “dished” profile. The face is straight, and is sometimes inclined to be Roman-nosed. The head is fine, and has the “dry” quality associated with desert horses – the noticeable absence of fleshiness, with the veins standing out under the fine skin. There is a tendency to cow- and sickle-hocks, but the limbs are exceptionally strong with ample bone below the knee; the breed standard laid down by the old USSR authority requires a measurement of 19.2 cm (3h in) for stallions, and 18.8 cm (7 in) for mares.
Constitutionally, the Karabair is a very sound horse, seldom suffering lameness, with powers of endurance beyond the norm. Moreover, it has great courage, a very necessary quality in a breed used almost exclusively in the wild game of kokpar, the Uzbek version of buzkashi. This can be a dangerous game, usually played with very few rules and resulting in numerous casualties.
USES AND ENVIRONMENT
The Karabair is a dual-purpose horse, used both in harness and under saddle. In earlier days there appear to have been three distinct types: a spirited riding horse; a quieter, heavier ride-and-drive sort; and a longer-backed harness horse which, on account of its conformation, was also suitable for use as a pack animal. Today, the Karabair is still a dual-purpose animal, but has improved in quality and conformation. This is largely due to the breeding policies implemented by the studs at Dzhizal, near Samarkand, and at
Avangard. The best specimens are to be found at these studs, and stallions there are available for the improvement of the breed.
The predominant coat colors are bay, grey, and chestnut. Dun and a dull Palomino coloring sometimes occur as well, as might be expected of a breed that is based on steppe horses. Less understandable is the occasional incidence of black and piebald horses.
The Karabairs are bred in herds that live alternately on mountain and foothill pastures. The horses are fed on lucerne and
hay, and in bad weather they are even fed on cereal. It is customary for young horses to be broken at between 18 months and two years, and then to be tested on the racecourse as two- and three-year-olds.
Karabairs are raced on the Tashkent courses, and perform well in races confined to local horses. Karabair mares have been crossed with Thoroughbreds in order to produce faster horses that are suitable for competing in the international ridden disciplines. Flat racing, however, is not the forte of the pure-bred, dual-purpose Karabair, so combined competitions are organized where the horses are alternately ridden and driven in harness, a practice that gives a better indication of an individual’s versatility, temperament, and stamina.
Over 50 per cent of the Uzbek people, the principal breeders of the Karabair, may still be nomadic, despite the efforts of the old USSR bureaucracy to settle them in collective farms. They live in a shrub and desert steppe country but it affords sufficient food for herds of horses, sheep, and goats. Indeed, the Central Asiatic steppe grasses offer good, nutritious feed for the horses and include some feather grass and fescue. In common with their neighbors, the Turkmene and the Kazakhs, the horse it highly regarded in Uzbek