Everything you wanted to know about Yakutian horses, but were afraid to ask

Yakutian horses are well adapted to harsh conditions. Photo courtesy of Egor Makarov

Scientists have described the five clear types of Yakutian horses, famed for adaptations that allow them to withstand the climate extremes of Siberia, in a paper translated from Russian.

Yakutian horses are natives of Yakutia — the Siberian Sakha Republic. They can survive without shelter in temperatures that plunge to minus 70 degrees Celsius. They have the ability to effectively forage in deep snow for vegetation to eat.

Professor Ivanov Revory Vasilievich, a doctor of agricultural sciences, chief researcher and head of the Laboratory of Horse Breeding with the Yakutsk Research Institute of Agricultural Sciences, has provided descriptions of the breeds in a report published by the Long Riders Guild.

The work was carried out with fellow researchers Pak Maria Nikolaevna and Hompodoeva Uygulana Viktorovna, also with the Laboratory of Horse Breeding with the Yakutsk Research Institute.

The report, translated from Russian into English by the guild, describes five types of Yakut horse within Yakutia.

Several researchers who have studied the breed believe it arises from the interbreeding of horses brought from the south by ancestors of the Yakutian people with wild white tundra horses that had survived since the last Ice Age in the region.

The Yakutian horse’s breeding area extends far beyond the Arctic Circle into the forest-tundra, where vegetation can lie covered in snow for 7-8 months of the year.

The breed has significant socio-economic significance alongside its ridden capabilities. Its ability to feed itself in trying conditions is valued, and it is also a source of meat and milk.

Horses in Yakutia fall into the following breed types:

The indigenous type of Yakutian horse is the most common in the Yakutian republic. Photo: А.N. Ilyin

The first, the indigenous type, represents the largest proportion of Yakutian horses, preserving the characteristic features of the native stock. This type has generally avoided being crossbred with other breeds, which was typically undertaken by some breeders to enlarge the local horse.

These horses are short but well built, and are not much different in body type from local breeds of Mongolian heritage. In autumn, after feeding and putting on condition for winter, they stand out for their massiveness and stockiness.

The head is of medium size with a straight profile. The neck is short, thick, the withers low and wide. The back is of medium length, the croup wide. There are horses with shortened and drooping croups.

Their chest is deep and relatively wide. Legs are short and strong, with a hoof horn strong without cracks. The coat of these Yakut horses is mainly gray, of different shades, savras, mousy, bay, red, piebald and less often Chubara.

The genetic potential for live weight varies. Stallions can be 430 to 490kg, mares 415 to 470kg.

The number of indigenous Yakut horses as of January 1, 2018, amounted to 101,755, including 62,541 mares aged 3 years and older. The proportion of the indigenous type representatives 55.3% of the total number of horses in the Yakutian republic.

The Kolyma type of Yakutian horse. Photo: A.N. Ilyin
The Kolyma type of Yakutian horse. Photo: A.N. Ilyin

The second form of the Yakut horse is known as the Kolyma type. In 2016, their numbers totalled 3745 horses, representing 2.1% of the total number of horses in the republic. Stallions typically weigh 440 to 530kg, mares 430 to 520kg.

The Kolyma type is also a purebred Yakutian horse, descending from the indigenous breed. They were bred as a result of many years of selective breeding.

These are typically northern horses, the researchers say. The northern regions of Yakutia are among the most favourable for herding and breeding horses. In the Kolyma region, horses are kept under covered canopies in the summer, where smoke pots are arranged to protect horses from countless mosquitoes and midges.

From time to time, horses go out to graze and then go back under the canopy, escaping from the attack of blood-sucking insects.

Horses of the Kolyma type are distinguished by a strong constitution, and good feeding and fat-gaining ability. Their head is massive, with a straight profile, with a neck of medium length with well-formed muscles. The withers are medium and wide. The back is straight, of medium length, the croup is long, slightly deflated and rounded. The chest is deep and wide. Its legs are strong and correctly set. The coat is predominantly gray, in different shades, right down to snow-white.

In order to maintain the genetic purity of the Kolyma type of horse, a breeding programme is in place. Breeding zones of horses of the Kolyma inbreed type are located along the valleys of the Kolyma and Alazey rivers, in the Srednekolymsky, Verkhnekolymsky and Abyysky districts.

The Yansky type Photo: А.Н. Ильин

The third variety is the Yansky type. As of 2016, there was 18,631 head, representing 10.5% of the total number of horses in the republic.

Stallions can reach 450 to 520kg. Mares reach 420-480 kg.

The Yansky type is a purebred Yakutian horse, its ancestors deriving from the indigenous breed. It is the result of many years of selective breeding.

This type is similar to its original ancestors, but are bigger. The Yansky type is distinguished by the strength of its constitution and high adaptability to winter cold, when there is scarce vegetation under the snow. A specific feature of horses of this type is their ability to intensively fatten over a short autumn-summer period.

The head of this type is of medium size, with a straight or concave profile. The forehead is wide. The neck is short and thick, the withers wide and low. The back is medium length, the croup relatively long and wide. The chest is typically wide and deep. Its legs are strong and correctly set.

Like all northern horses, representatives of the Yansky type are dominated by light colors: gray and furry of different shades, and savras.

The Megezhekskaya breed. Photo: А.Н. Ильин
The Megezhekskaya breed. Photo: А.Н. Ильин

The next type is the Megezhekskaya horse. As of the start of 2016, there were 23,198 head in the republic, 13.1% of the total number of horses. Stallions typically reach 470 to 610kg, mares 450 to 580kg.

The Megezhekskaya breed owes much to the Kuznetsk horse, bred by selection in Siberia in the second half of the 19th century. Horses of the Megezhekskaya type developed into a meat animal, characterized by large growth, size and an elongated body. In the 1950s, a limited input of blood from Russian heavy horses occurred.

The horses’ head is relatively large and broad-faced, with a straight or slightly hunch-faced profile. The eyes are lively, ears are short, the neck is of medium length, straight and massive. Withers are of medium height and sufficiently long. The back is wide, straight and long.

The croup is long, wide with well-developed muscles. The chest is wide and deep, the ribs rounded. The limbs are strong, with well-defined tendons. The coat is diverse in colour.

An example of the Prilenskaya type. Photo: А.Н. Ильин

The Prilenskaya type numbers about 13,190 horses, being 7.5% of the total number of horses in the republic. Stallions typically weigh 450 to 560kg, mares 450 to 530kg.

The horses of the Prilensky type were bred by crossbreeding horses of the Yakut breed with representatives of the likes of the Orlov trotter and the Russian heavy horse. They are larger and heavier compared to the other horses in Yakutia. They require more maintenance, having reduced adaptive ability. They are not able to put on fat reserves before winter like the other Yakut types.

A characteristic feature of the Prilensky breed is their long, wide back and relatively high withers. The head is relatively large, and the neck is of medium length. The loin is long and straight, the muscular croup long and wide. The legs are set correctly. The hoofed horn is strong. The coat is mousy, bay, roan, red, piebald, and gray of different shades.

The researchers spoke of the potential of Yakutian horses for the production of organic food, supplying products to other regions and countries.

“On the world market, there are no analogues in the production of medicines and biologically active food additives derived from the fat and blood of Yakut horses.

“The republic has real opportunities to occupy a worthy niche among exporters of meat and (processed) products.”

There are, they say, vast pasture lands that can minimize production costs.

“The Yakut horse is our living story, witnesses of ancient times and an interesting page of animal husbandry in the Far North.”

They are undemanding to keep and put on a lot of condition easily.

“The digestive apparatus of the local Yakut horse is capable of digesting a large amount of roughage,” they say, adding that they can do much work without the need for feed concentrates.

The full English translation can be read here.


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6 thoughts on “Everything you wanted to know about Yakutian horses, but were afraid to ask

  • June 27, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    Fascinating article and thanks for this. I understand the Yakutian horses are part of the rewilding going on in Pleistocene Park in Siberia by Dr. Zimov, along with musk oxen and Saiga antelope. This is more serious situation now than ever with the Arctic heating up in many places over 100 deg. F. and burning also in many places as just reported last night on various networks.

    • June 28, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Yakutian horses are natives of Yakutia. Yakutia has a vast territory of 3 mln km2 and a great history in which there is a leading role of Yakutian horses. The selection and scientific work as long as all research and study of Yakutian horse are implemented by the Yakutsk Research Institute of Agricultural Sciences. Dr Zimovs project is not related to it although it seems rather interesting.
      Climate change and fires of course, can affect the wildlife of Yakutia, including the habitat of the Yakutian horses since most of their lives they are on free pasture.

      • December 23, 2020 at 8:47 am

        I was interested in the unique gait of the ancestral Yakut horses. It seems this unique gait is well adapted for horses moving over slick ground and even over ice. The was absolutely nothing written here about the gaits of these horses and thus I must assume that their unique and easy way of moving is of no priority in this breeding program. That is too bad for the soft-gaited horses like the Icelandic are in high demand. The Yakut horse may cross into other breeds of horses more easily than the Icelandic and pass on their valuable gaits to the crossbreds. Perhaps this should be tested.

      • December 27, 2021 at 1:15 pm

        In November 1994 my wife and I visited a native village north of Yakutz and had the opportunity of getting close to not only the wild horses in the Lena valley, and close meant having a herd gallop either side of us as we stood by our car but to also examine the horses breed by the villagers for their milk and meat.

        The fat layer on these horses is about 25 mm Thick. The villagers will kill a horse and hang the carcus outside their houses in a type of screen porch. Every part of the horse is used for subsistence but they also breed horses for racing

        We adopted a young girl from Yakutsk and before we took her to her new home in Alaska she was blessed by the local sharman who said she would be “As one with the horse”

        Such a true prophecy. She is now a Grand Prix dressage rider

  • March 1, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    Ive heard claims these horses go into “standing hibernation”. Just what does that mean?

  • December 28, 2021 at 9:02 am

    I am interested in the unique four-beat that served those horses so well in their far north habitat. Did the people favor that wonderful gait and select for it or do the horses adopt that gait to gain better footing of frozen lakes or streams as well as frozen ground. True horse lovers should like to see these horses valued for their wonderful unique characteristics and not just for their meat.


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