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Tersky basic information

The Tersky breed is a warm-blood breed with a very limited open book. For horses to be considered pure-bred their pedigree may not contain more than 1/8 of thoroughbred blood, ½ of Arabian blood or 1/8 of Trakehner blood. In appearance the Tersky horse has a great deal in common with the Arabian horse -- even down to the dish-faced head --, but with the important difference that it is a larger and more sturdily built horse The Tersky horse has been selectively bred for color; more than 70% of the Streletsky breed is gray. A recent memoir about military horse parades on Red Square describes the splendid horses flying by the reviewing stands: golden chestnut Budenny horses followed by the silvery gray Tersky horses. In the early 1940's two sons of Tsilindr, Tselebes and Tsvetok -- like their father, polished silver in color -- were among the pedigreed horses especially trained for the festive equestrian pageants that Stalin so adored.

One drawback to the reputation of the Tersky horse has been excessive concern with its size. (That same issue plagued its predecessor breed as well: For a short time -- until the results proved injurious -- the Streletsky horse was intensively crossed with thoroughbred horses to "grow" the breed.) In 1945, for example, Stalin insisted that Marshall Zhukov ride a gray horse in the parade to celebrate the victorious conclusion of the war; Tselebes and Tsvetok were passed over, however, because they were considered too small for the general's imposing figure. More recently, perhaps under the influence of the (hopefully now past) dressage world's obsessive fascination for humongously sized warmbloods, Russian breeders experimentally crossed Terskys with thoroughbreds and Trakehners; the result was a more scopey horse, but at the cost of the essential typiness of the breed.

Nonetheless, the Tersky horse has grown in size. In 1948 the average measurement for the mares and stallions was 150.3 cm at the withers, at least 5 centimeters shorter than current measurements. Specialists now divide the breed into three types, eastern (shorter), basic and heavy (taller), but almost 60% of Streletsky horses belong to the basic type. Average measurements for stallions of the basic type are: 155.7 cm at the withers, 175.5 cm at the girth and 18.99 cm at the cannon bone. Average measurements for mares of the basic type are: 153.6 cm (withers), 174.6 cm (girth) and 18.59 cm (cannon bone).

In spite of this growth in size, the Tersky horse has changed very little in appearance from that of its Streletsky forefathers. When photographs of living specimens of the Tersky breed are set along side a lithograph of Ibragim, a renowned Streletsky breeding stallion born in 1888, what is most striking is the close similarity; their proportions are virtually identical.

A more serious drawback to the future of the Tersky breed is the lack of depth in the genetic pool. In 1988 the entire breed was estimated at about only 1700 horses. Volume II of the Tersky studbook appeared only in 1990 (almost 40 years after the initial record was published), a strong indication of neglect of the breed. Even though Volume III was published only two years later, support for the breed since privatization of the Russian economy has been lackluster. Currently the largest and best site for breeding stock is still the Stavropolsky Farm, home to about 120 pure-bred Tersky mares and about 100 crossbreds, mostly Anglo-Tersky and Trakehner-Tersky. The Tersky breed is obviously threatened by its small numbers. The most recent published recommendations (1999) by breed specialists have recommended an increase in numbers by selective crossing to Lipizzaners, Andalusians, and Anglo-Arabs

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