History of the Kabardian Breed


Kabardian breed has evolved from many eastern breeds of steppe horses (Nogai, Kalmuk, Bashkir, Don), Mongolian breeds and then was enhanced with best purebred breeds of that time (Karabakh, Persian, Akhal-Teke).

Arabian breed also was used in the process of forming the Kabardian horse. One of these lines, especially well known for its speed was called "Shagdi" ("faster than a bullet"). Careful human selection over more than 500 years has taken the best features of all the breeds to produce an excellent army and work horse.

Traditional methods of breeding in harsh, mountain region utilised the nature itself to produce a horse which is extremely tough and resistant to difficul environmental conditions.


Name "Kabardian horse" is name given to the horses by people from outside, because country of Kabarda (part of Circassian lands) was most popular place to breed horses thanks to its excellent pastures.

Circassian nations (nowadays Kabardians, Circassians, Adygeans, Abkhaz and others) call themselves "Adyge" (АДЫГЭ) and their own name for their breed of horses was always "Adygash" (АДЫГЭШ), which literally means "Adyge horse". Nowadays however the official breed name is "Kabardian horse".

Ancient origins

The Kabardian breed was mentioned in historical sources for the first time around XVI century. They were mentioned by Italian writers, travelling to Caucasus. There are also documents describing intensive trade between Circassian princes and Poland in XVI-XVII century. During that time one of the most priced goods were Circassian horses and saddles.

Kabardian culture itself is very old, dating back to Hettes, and their breeding of horses was always outstanding and widely known. Along with this went great skill in horsemanship.

Oldest historical sources mentioning specific horse breed from Caucasus are Hette clay tablets, Greek and Caucasian myths (Nart sagas). Also informations about Cherkess Mameluke dynasty who ruled Egypt from XIV-XVI century mention their excellent horses and advanced horsemanship skills.

Middle ages

Up to XVI century the Circassian nations have ruled major part of Western Caucasus and the horses were important part of their culture and military strength. For this reason, a lot of effort was put into breeding the horses and improving the breed.
Almost each prince had his own line, which was famous all around the country for its features. The following lines are mentioned:

  • sholoh (kab. ЩОЛЪЭХЪУ, rus. шолох), described as "war horse able to bring down enemy horses by hitting them with their breast",
  • shagdi (шагди), "horse faster than a bullet", very fast thanks to addition of pure-bred Arabian blood,
  • abuk (абук)
  • bechkan (бечкан)
  • zhirasht (жирашт)
  • kundet (кундет)
  • kharundoko (хагундоко)
  • shedzheruko (шеджеруко)
  • esinei (есиней)
  • egan (еган)
  • krym-shokal (Крым-шокал)
  • achatyr (ачатыр)
  • tram (трам)
  • khuare (хуаре)

At the end of XVIII and beginning of XIX century Russian expansion to the south started bloody and prolonging conflict which led to extermination of many local nations together with their horses. Even in the middle of XIX century, number of
Kabardian horses was estimated to be around 200'000 heads. The following pacification of Caucasus by Tsarist armies led to significant reduction of the number of horses.

Dramatic twentieth century

The Communist Revolution in the beginning of XX century led to next extermination of the horses, which were part of the "old order" and symbol of Caucasus' independence. And, of course, part of Circassian army power that had to be destroyed.

Between the two World Wars the Red Army also noticed usefullness of the Kabardian breed for the army and the work of marshall Budyonny led to reviving of the former Kabardian type. Later work of Soviet horse farms in Caucasus (especially Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria) was putting focus on Anglokabardian horses, because army requested taller horses. Endurance and ability to survive in harsh environment were not that important.

In 60's breeding work done by stud farms in Karachai-Cherkess Republic (western neighbour to KBR) resulted in creating new breed of Karachai horses. Main difference was that Karachai horses were heavier and more massive than Kabardians. In the beginning Karachai breed was described in breeding literature as subtype of Kabardian horses. The dispute is being continued up to now - Karachai breeders claim a completely new breed that has little connections to Kabardians, others see no difference between Karachai and massive type of Kabardian horse. This dispute will undoubtly continue until some form of organized breeding starts.

The result of Soviet era was around 5000 horses described in five stud books released since 1920. The last Russian studbook of the Kabardian breed was released in 1993. Since then all attempts to coordinate breeding efforts in the republic were failing, mostly because of lack of funding or lack of interest of the local authorities.

Latest history

The end of XX century was catastrophic for the breed - Soviet collective agricultural farms (Kolkhoz - kollektivnoe khozyaystvo) were running against any economic sense and their existence was based completely on funding (sponsoring) from the central budget. When the stream of money from the federal budget stopped suddenly during USSR collapse (Perestroika, 1989-1991 and official end of USSR in 1991), the farms started sending hundreds of horses to slaughterhouses to get any funding. The money earned on horse sausages only prolonged the agony of Kolkhoz, it didn't stop their collapse. Some of the people associated with this bussiness are still present in Russian horse sport unfortunately.

In the face of financial problems and especially inability to pay salaries to workers many citizens of KBR either got horses instead of money or were able to buy them very cheaply from the farms. Private people almost never sent horses to slaughterhouses because of very important position of horse in Kabardian tradition and culture. This way many very good breeding horses have been saved.

The only govermental farms specialising in Kabardian breed left were Malkinskiy and Chegemskiy, but due to poor funding the number of horses they maintain is small and they don't seem to have any concrete breeding target. The federal government of Russian Federation and autonomous government of Kabardino-Balkaria don't pay too much
attention to the horse, which was symbol of Kabarda for the last several hundreds years.

Currently most of the breeding work is being done by private farmers and breeders. Almost every family in the villages like Nartan, Chegem and others has one or two horses. They walk freely and graze everywhere in the village. Some people have more horses - usually 5-10 heads and they use them for riding. Interest for endurance sport is growing and so is number of people who try to train the horses for competitions. Many people keep horses just because they love them and shy (kabardian word for "horse") plays great role in their tradition and personality.

Farmers usually own from 1-10 horses. The biggest private herd in Kabardino-Balkaria is around 150 heads and belongs to Ibragim Yaganov, known from his presence on European endurance competitions. In general number of horses in KBR is growing
quickly. Much progress has been made when Kabardians started to be seen in international endurance competitions and people in the republic - carefully watching their neighbors taking horses to Europe - realized that there's new potential in these horses, that has been previously unknown.

The progress has been little organized however. Breeding is chaotic. Recording of family lines is based mostly on individual breeder's memory.

Endurance in Russia

Endurance riding has long history in Russia. There always have been long trails made by individual sportsmen for different occasions. For example in 1994 a group of three Kabardian horses went from Moscow to Sankt Petersburg (700 km) in only 6 days. Three years earlier other group rode from Moscow to Ivano-Frankovsk total distance of 2063 km. These were done by private persons. First documented race was performed in 1931 when Kabardian mare Aza finished distance of 100 km in 4h25m with average speed 22,2 km/h. In winter 1935-36 a group of 15 Kabardians and 8 Anglokabardians went 3000 km in 47 days making average 64 km per day with maximum one-day distance of 120 km. One month later the same riders roder 550 km on muddy roads from Pyatigorsk to Rostov-na-Donu in only 5 days with maximum one-day distance of 150 km. These records were set by army riders and though impressive, they had littlle to do with nowadays endurance.

There were numerous endurance races performed in Russia in the end of 80's and beginning of 90's. Since end of 90's number of endurance competitions compatible with FEIstarted to grow and almost each year there was Russian Endurance Championship. Results from these competitions are not, however, very much respected in the endurance community outside of Russia. People quote numerous abuses in the veterinary and organizational procedures observed on the competitions in years 2002-2005.

Situations where winner of Russian Championship wins 160 km race with average speed close to 19 km/h (unusual even in most prestigeous European championships where average is around 17 km/h) cause questions about real distance of the race, especially when the same horse gets eliminated for metabolism after first gate on international competition just a few months later. Very poor results of Russian winners in European competitions also result in doubts about judging and veterinary standards held in Russian championships.

On Championship of Russian held in June 2005 in Nalchik organizers have registered more than 40 horses belonging to themselves. Most of these horses were bought from KBR farmers in February 2005. So preparation of completely fresh horses to 160 km championship (2x80 km) took four months. Result was that some horses were not even allowed to start and over 30% were eliminated after first circle.

Another problem in Russian competitions is that there rarely are competitions shorter than 90 km and since 2004 the only competitions were championships on 160 km. In result horse owners don't treat any distance shorter than 160 km as serious and even if they did - they have no possibility to run horses on shorter distance.

Questions about horse's health and proper development are rarely raised in this case. And we've seen examples of Russian horses physically ruined after starting their endurance career from 160 km and then racing only on this distance over only two seasons.

The result of this situation is a dead loop - if you're interested in racing your horse in endurance, you have no choice but race 160 km. If you think your horse is not ready for that, you don't have any possibility to get necessary experience and training in shorter races - because no-one makes them. In spite of these problems we believe Kabardian horses have future in endurance racing. What makes us think so is that they had some excellent results in the recent years, which proves that
they have the potential to compete with practical monopolist of nowadays endurance - Arabians. Most notable results were first three places in Championship of Poland (2004), 16 place in Championship of World 2004 in Dubai and especially second place in Championship of Germany 2004.

But all horses which got these results were trained in Europe since 2002 and every effort has been made to train them by world recognized standards about proper body development and horse's well-being.


No doubt that breeding horses requires funding. This funding can be provided by goverment or by private people. In case of Kabardian breed chances for local or federal authorities funding the development of the breed are little in he perspective of the next few years. Money which is sent from federal budget for development of farming is being mostly stolen at local authorities level in highly corrupted Caucasian republics.

There are hopes associated with long awaited change of regime of Vladimir Kokov, who has been "democratically electing" himself for president of Kabardino-Balkaria three times already. No-one is able to say however who will become new president (since last year not elected but indicated by president Putin) and will he show any interest about horses?

So far only funding has been provided by private people both in Kabardino-Balkaria and from abroad. Kabardian horse lovers from all Europe and other countries where Circassians live (Turkey, Jordania) are supporting horse breeders in Caucasus. But sponsoring individual persons won't solve the global problem - organisation of now chaotic breeding in Kabardino-Balkaria. However there's new chance for the Kabardian horse breeders - the endurance racing. Endurance racing matches almost perfectly the old (pre-Soviet) profile of Kabardian horses. Endurance and Circassian chivalry - these two terms have very much common points.

However successful entering the endurance market requires defining proper breeding target which will can compete on the international races. International breeders have developed new types of Arabian horses which are almost invincible in endurance races. Competing with them will be very difficult but can be done, as the results Kabardians got so far show.

Taking into account that it was done with very little resources, we can imagine what results can be achieved with professional training and - in longer perspective - professional breeding.

Second chance is recreational trail riding - profile of this sport perfectly matches Kabardian horses. Most of the Kabardian horses now sold in Europe are bought just for that - for weekend recreation or for holiday trails. People love calm and stable character of Kabardian horses. The owners love even more that they don't have problems with health and aren't picky about food.

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