The world's best mountain breed.
Reliable & sure-footed, very economical to keep.
Good for endurance rides in a rough terrain.
The Kabardin horse, well-known
since the 16th century, is one of Russia’s “extreme” breeds, that is a horse
meant for living under extreme conditions. The Kabardin thrives in the most
difficult mountain terrain, at high altitudes, undeterred by snow and fast
rivers. Temperamentally, it is a tractable and obedient animal, being both
hardy and infinitely enduring. It is safe to say that the Kabardin is the
world’s best mountain breed.
The Kabardin has been bred by the mountain tribesmen of the Northern
Caucasus. Like many Russian breeds it is a product of centuries of primitive
selective breeding for survival under the harshest conditions. That wondrous
steed is derived from the horses of the steppe people crossed with Karabakh,
Persian and Turkmenian strains.
The Kabardin is the principal breed of the Northern Caucasus, and is widely
used to improve native stock in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The best
Kabardins are raised at the Karachai and Malka studs.
Several years ago the group of Kabardin horses
bred in the Karachai republic began to be referred to as the Karachai breed.
Most of the Karachai sub-breed are of the so-called massive type (see below).
At the turn of the century Count Stroganov was crossing Kabardins with Arabs
with satisfactory results. Now crossings with Thoroughbreds are quite
The Kabardin (Part 1)
The Kabardin (Part 2)
The Kabardin is at home in the mountains and has developed characteristics
that are suited to the terrain and the rigors of the climate. It is
surprisingly sure-footed and rarely stumbles even when trotting or cantering
downhill. The horse is impervious to cold, mountain showers and hail. It
does not panic when stones begin to roll downhill. If a herdsman in riding a
Kabardin, the horse will easily find the herd within 2 kilometers. Kabardins
have an uncanny ability to find their way in mist and darkness.
I, Alexander Repiev, (author of this article),
spent three summers as herdsman with an Anglo-Kabardin herd at over 2,500
meters in a huge picturesque gorge called Kich-Malka. The way to my hut
included some narrow paths on a formidable slope. Many a time I was caught
in a cloud so dense that I could only see the ears of my mount. I would then
drop the rains, wrap myself in a felt coat, and... pray. My Kabardin would
progress slowly and cautiously, the sound of a stone falling into the
precipice from under his feet signaling that we were playing a deadly game
of Russian roulette. After a long while he would stop, and I would discern,
straining my sight, the wall of my hut only one meter away from my savior’s
nose. That’s the horse for you!
It would take ages to tell stories of how
Kabardins bravely cross torrential streams, how they fight wolves, how
Kabardin mares foal onto frost-bitten soil, how they would carry you for
hours on end without so much as a blade of grass to eat. They are kings of
The higher the altitude the more apparent is the supremacy of the Kabardins
over other breeds.
In the Pamir Mountains a Soviet
frontier cavalry company had to climb to 4,000 meters. They rode various
breeds, including Kabardins. The only breed that made it were Kabardins,
other horses were dropping out at lower altitudes (the last to give up were
the Dons). Helicopters could not bring hay that high, and so the Kabardins
survived perfectly all right on what they could scavenge there. Back home
they needed no recuperation, while other horses were allowed several days of
Recently a rider on a Kabardin horse climbed
the Elbrus mountain
(5,642 meters), the highest peak of the Caucasus Range!
Universal mountain horse
Although the Kabardin is considered primarily to be a saddle horse, it can
also be used as a pack horse, and for every sort of work in harness.
Mountaineers make hay on steep slopes by hitching a couple of Kabardins into
a horse mower.
I watched young boys, when their fathers were away of course, racing
their Kabardins harnessed into two-wheel carriages over dangerous terrain,
with teenage outriders galloping alongside, cheering wildly and making
Conformation The conformation of the Kabardin is that of a perfect mountain horse.
Some features could be called defects in a normal mount, but they serve
their purpose in the mountains.
The blood of the Kabardins has a heightened oxidizing capacity, their
heart, lungs, tendons, ligaments, and muscles are strong and efficient.
They quickly accumulate fat to keep them through worse days. They have a
stable nervous system and quick reflexes, are agile and flexible.
The body of mountain horses is dense, massive and elongated, their back is
well-muscled, short and straight, and the quarters slope away from the
rounded croup. The loins, though very strong, are often slightly concave.
By Western standards, the shoulders are loaded and even straight, which
accounts for the high action — not a disadvantage in the mountain horse but
not, of course, conducive to speed. The neck is of medium length and well
muscled. It runs into somewhat flat withers.
The thick-set Kabardin has a long head to match its general proportions. The
profile is Roman-nosed and the impression is that of a typical steppe horse,
whose roots extend to the primitive Asian wild horse and the Tarpan. Between
the ears, the poll is curiously narrow and the occipital crest is ill-defined.
The ears are very sharp, alert and mobile.
The legs and feet are strong and clean. The forelegs are a good feature.
They have clearly defined tendons, good joints and short, strong cannons.
The bone measurement, which is 17-20 cm, is more than sufficient in relation
to the built. The Kabardin’s hindlegs are often sickle-shaped, an advantage
in a mountain horse.
The pasterns are properly sloped. The hoofs are unbelievably hard, so that
shoeing them is often a problem — most Kabardins go unshod even on the
A typical feature of the Kabardin is the usually luxuriant growth of mane
The predominant colors found in the breed are dark bay, bay and black,
mostly without other distinguishing marks.
Average measurements of Kabardins
Bone below the knee
The Kabardin will not impress you on the racetrack, but then he is no
racer on the flat. He is an intrepid stalwart of the mountains, and
should be judged as such.
The Kabardin’s action is often high. The paces are good: the walk is even
and rhythmical, the trot and canter light and smooth. Some Kabardins are
The Kabardin has for centuries enjoyed the reputation of an extremely
undemanding and enduring horse. In the last war Kabardins were widely used
as cavalry mounts, and covered the distance from Stalingrad to the Alps,
having shown exceptional strength and stamina. They were especially good in
In the winter of 1935/36 a 3,000-kilometer ride was held in the Caucasus.
The time and route of the ride were extremely difficult. Among the
participants there were 15 Kabardins, 8 Anglo-Kabardins, and horses of other
breeds. The ride lasted 47 days, on average 64 km per day. On some days they
covered 120 km. The party was accompanied by vets who were checking the
horses’ pulse and breathing rates, their weight and other metabolic and
mechanical parameters. The Kabardins and Anglo-Kabardins appeared to be the
best all around. Many long-distance test rides were held ever since, with
Kabardins invariably among the winners.
In 1946 a major test of the performance of various Russian breeds was
organized in Moscow. It was a 250-km ride with the last 2 km covered in
gallop. The winner was the Kabardin stallion Ali-Kadym, his time was 25
Modern types Following the Russian Revolution, the breed was much improved. A
stronger type was created for riding and agricultural work. Now Russian
breeders distinguish three main types in the Kabardin breed:
Basic type. As the name suggests this type is predominant. It is a typical mountain
riding horse. Rangy and well-muscled, with a well-shaped typey head.
This type shows pronounced influence of oriental breeds. The horses have
very clean legs, smaller typey heads with expressive eyes, thinner elastic
skins, and a temperament to match.
Horses of this type have longer bodies and more robust bone structures. In
appearance they are closer to a carriage horse. This type is predominant
among the Karachai sub-breed.
Kabardins are kept in herds, and they have uncanny herd instincts. If stolen,
they can escape and find their way to their herd in several months’ time,
even when feted. Kabardin mares are very fertile and “milky,” some of them
continue to produce well into their 20s. They are perfect mothers, extremely
possessive and protective of their young.
Most Kabardin sires remain quite potent till 20 years and beyond, although
even during the service season they receive no extra feed. In spring,
breeders form so-called kosyaks, small herds of around 20. Each small herd
is put in the charge of a sire, who looks after the mares, services them and
protects them from other sires and wolves. The sires are so fierce that
headsmen approach them with caution.
Early in May the herds begin to trek up to the alpine meadows. As the snow
line recedes, they get higher and higher till they reach their destination
where they spend the summer. The only extra they receive there is salt.
Early in August the stallions are separated from their respective herds, and
all the mares are brought together. In September, with the first snow, the
herds begin to migrate back home.
The horses spend winters out or in enclosures, they are grazed and receive
some hay. The weaning occurs in November.
The yearlings are split according to sex and are grazed and trained
The Anglo-Kabardin was created by crossing Kabardins and Thoroughbreds.
Anglo-Kabardins are bigger and rangier. They are nearer to the Thoroughbred
in conformation: they have a longer neck, a shorter back, and better legs.
They are faster on the track, but they are more demanding and not so suited
to herd keeping in the mountains as the Kabardins. To be sure, their
performance in the mountains depends on the amount of Thoroughbred blood in
them. Overall, they are good for up to 1800 meters. Above that altitude,
especially for “up-and-down” everyday work, only pure-bred Kabardins are
Because of their sure-footedness Kabardins and Anglo-Kabardins make perfect
mounts for circus jighitovka riders, especially for two-man tricks.