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Breed Organization Information

391105 P/O Institut konevodstva Rybnovskogo raiona Riazanskoi oblasti Russia
Tel: 011-8-0912-24-02-65
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About the Breed

The Budenny, pronounced "bood-YAW-knee" (and, depending on transliteration from the Russian also spelled Budyonny or, less commonly, Budonny or Budennovsky) horse is one of Russia's most popular and versatile native warmblood sport horses. The primary impetus for the development of the breed came from the army; indeed, the horse takes its name from Marshall S.M. Budenny, a distinguished cavalry officer whose name is synonymous with the legendary Red Cavalry. Carefully cultivated as a remount horse, the Budenny achieved recognition as a distinct breed in 1948, ironically only a few years before the Russian cavalry was officially disbanded. For a short time thereafter, the future of the breed seemed bleak. Today, however, the Budenny horse enjoys a reputation as an energetic and multi-talented sport horse, both within Russia and, increasingly, abroad. The Budenny horse has the potential of becoming a major player in world-class sport competition.

The Budenny began its evolution into a separate breed at the end of the nineteenth century when English thoroughbred stallions (first brought to the southern steppes of Russia after the Napoleonic wars) were unsystematically bred to Don mares (very different from today's Don horse, smaller, less refined, and with genetic material from a variety of breeds, including Cherkassky, aboriginal Nogai, Persian and Karabakh) to create a cavalry horse that would combine the size, speed and versatility of the Thoroughbred with the Don's more massive body type and its ability to thrive in difficult conditions.

Systematic and carefully controlled development of the breed began only during the 1920's. The initial, primarily military, priority was to replenish the large horse population that had been devastated by WWI and the protracted civil war. The chaotic conflict had extended to the verdant steppes of the Don, home to the progenitors of the Budenny horse. When the battles were over, many high-quality horses were roaming the plains, half-wild and untended. Valuable breeding stock, sometimes identified by tattoos, sometimes by their former caretakers, were gathered into several breeding farms, among which the First Horse Army, the S.M. Budenny and Yulovsky Farms, all located in the Rostov region (north of the Black Sea), are still major sites for foundation breeding stock. Each farm had a specific task, but they all shared a common goal: increasing the number and improving the quality of horses for the new Soviet state.

The development of the Budenny breed passed through several distinct phases. Of the more than 70 Thoroughbred stallions used for breeding from 1926 to 1940, only three stallions eventually entered the studbooks as forefathers of the Budenny breed: Simpatyaga (born 1916), Inferno (b. 1925) and Kokas (b. ?). These Russian-bred thoroughbred stallions formed five major founding lines: Simpatyaga's three sons, Sagib, Saksagan and Sagar; Inferno's two sons, Imam and Islam; and Kokas's son Kagul.

During this initial period, the breed's evolution was shaped by three factors: breeding conditions, herd maintenance and testing. First, the long tradition of little or no human interference with breeding the large herds pastured in the Don region was replaced by human-assisted live cover. Stallions were bred to assigned mares and breeding records became much more systematic. Second, young stock was separated from the general mare herd (called "tabun" in Russian) and exposed to extensive contact with humans and to the domestic rhythms of barn life. Third, the most valuable among this young group underwent training and testing in flat racing to help determine the role they might play in the breeding program.

The first official record of the future Budenny breed was published in 1934, in a section entitled "Anglo-Don" of the first studbook of the Don breed. (The name "Anglo-Don" left several other breeds out of the equation, notably Arab and Trakehner, that played a role in the formation of the breed.) Although bred and raised in a somewhat controlled environment, these horses spent much of their lives living in nature. The result was a horse of a strong constitution and tolerant disposition. Furthermore, bad-tempered mares who disturbed the tranquility of the herd were weeded out of the breeding program. By the end of the decade equine specialists were persuaded that the Anglo-Don cross was ready for refinement and breed status.

War, however, once again intervened. The threat of occupation by Germany prompted a massive evacuation of horses to the west, beyond the Volga to the Kazakh steppes. Of the five breeding farms originally organized in 1926, two whole herds--with their distinctive genetic traits--perished, but the herds of the First Horse Army and S.M. Budenny Farms survived virtually intact. At the conclusion of World War II the Budenny breed was officially recognized. The first studbook was published three years later, in 1951.

Ironically, peace threatened the nascent breed in another and even more ominous way. The Red Army cavalry was officially disbanded in the early fifties, a long overdue acknowledgment that the horse could no longer compete against the machinery of modern warfare. Thus, while outstanding individuals were used for military parades, the Budenny - a breed expressly designed for the cavalry -- no longer had a significant role to play in the Soviet army. It was temporarily reduced to the valuable, but unimpressive role of improving agricultural stock. But the very qualities required of a good cavalry horse and bred into the Budenny -- including skills in jumping, dressage, endurance, cross-country -- found a more illustrious venue just a few years down the road in equestrian sports.

When the Soviet Union began actively to participate in international competition in the early 1960s, the Budenny was initially overshadowed by the more popular Russian-bred Thoroughbred and Trakehner breeds. Nonetheless, the success of horses like the 8-year-old Budenny Rebus, known abroad as Pass Op, who partnered with Nelson Pessoa in the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico in jumping, gave hope to advocates of the breed. Throughout the seventies, the Budenny made gradual inroads on the Thoroughbred and Trakehner dominance in Soviet equestrian sport. More recently, for the period 1985 to 1990, the percentage of Budenny horses used in competition in the USSR rose from 14 to 24%; during that same period the participation of Thoroughbred and Trakehner horses remained relatively stable at roughly 26% of all participating breeds. Indicators suggest that this trend has continued to this day.

The future of the Budenny breed seems brighter than it ever has been, but "cautious optimism," as the saying goes, may be the order of the day. Wealthy Russians now have the option to import sport horses from western Europe; at the same time Budenny horses are being exported in increasing numbers. The continued success of the Budenny -- or, in fact, almost any other Russian horse breed -- is now increasingly dependent on supply and demand economics and on the growing number of private breeders, some of whom lack the superb training and ferocious commitment that have been a hallmark of Russian horse breeders. For the breed to thrive, responsible breeding practices must look beyond "the bottom line" to what is best for the breed: preserving the integrity of the gene pool, holding back from sale the best mares and stallions and maintaining breed standards.

Breed Characteristics

From the Thoroughbred the Budenny has acquired its elegant appearance and agility; from the Don it has received substantial bone and an undemanding nature. The Budenny has grown significantly in size and substance over the years, primarily as a result of the infusion of Thoroughbred blood. Since 1952, for example, the average measurement for stallions at the withers has increased by over 8 centimeters. Most specialists concur that the breed has now reached optimum size. The 1999 measurements in centimeters for stallions were 169.9 (withers), 198.7 (girth) and 21.5 (cannon bone), and for mares 166.5 (withers), 196.2 (girth) and 21.0 (cannon bone).

The Budenny stud book is technically open, but several restrictions apply. There is an upper limit of 3/4 on Thoroughbred, Arab and Trakehner blood. Before WWII there was a fairly balanced distribution of Thoroughbred, Don and Anglo-Don mares, but subsequently the preponderance of breeding mares have been Anglo-Dons. In effect, that has meant that the percentage of Thoroughbred stallions within the breed has dramatically declined. In the period 1991-1995, for example, 33% of Anglo-Don mares had 9/16 to 5/8 of Thoroughbred blood and 49% of mares had 11/16 to 3/4 Thoroughbred blood. In terms of current pedigree, the breeding of a Thoroughbred stallion to an Anglo-Don mare is no longer the norm.

The predominant color is chestnut, and among the various shades, the golden cast (which traces back to the Don, and, some would argue, further back to the Akhal-teke) is especially admired. Bay and black are less common. White markings are acceptable.

Breed Organizations

The Budenny breed has yet to acquire in Russia the conspicuous following (breed clubs, conferences and breed-restricted competitions) enjoyed by the Orlov Trotter and Akhal-teke breeds. But, as with almost all native Russian breeds, expert evaluation, breed certification, passports and a regularly updated studbook are maintained by independent specialists from VNIIK [the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of the Horse]. M.I. Kibort and A.A. Nikolaeva, Senior Fellows at VNIIK, currently lead the research team working on the Budenny breed. In 2000 they published a superb, comprehensive book on the Budenny breed, Budennovskaia poroda loshadei [The Budenny Horse Breed], with information that will appeal both to the general reader and to the specialist, including detailed information and pictures of current breeding stallions.