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PetMD Editorial
Published: December 01, 2009

A fairly common horse breed, the Altai is one of the oldest breeds that can be found in Siberia today. It is named after the Altai Mountains where it was reared and cared for by the local nomadic tribes centuries ago. Due to its harsh environment, the Altai is also one of the hardiest breeds that exist today.


Physical Characteristics


The Altai is typically muscular with a powerful croup, short yet strong legs, and a fleshy, stout neck. It stands about 13 to 14 hands high (52-56 inches, 133-142 centimeters) and has a slight indentation midway its back, which causes it to be susceptible to over-sloping and hock-bowing.

The common colors for an Altai coat are black and gray, bay and chestnut. However, some rare Altai have the chubary pattern or "leopard spots." In addition, efforts to improve the Altai stock have led to the loss of the Appaloosa pattern.


Personality and Temperament


The Altai has an exceptional ability to adapt to harsh climates and conditions. Even crossbred Altai horses exhibit this characteristic, although they are typically larger and more massive than pure Altai breeds. The Altai breed is also very easy to maintain and manage. It requires little special care, especially when allowed to roam freely in year-round pastures.


History and Background


The Alta’s Kaya, commonly known as the Altai, is named after its place of origin, the Altai Mountains. These horses were mainly used by nomadic tribes as mounts and pack horses centuries ago. Seeing as their area of origin is bleak, cold, and generally harsh, Altai horses had to have a very strong and hardy constitution. Their human masters -- the nomads of the Altai Mountains -- did not give them any special treatment or care. They were mostly allowed to fend for themselves.


This led to the selection of the fittest in the Altai breed. Only the sure-footed, muscular and brawny horses with hardy feet and strong lungs, heart and tendons were able to survive in the mountains and were taken on by the tribes as their riding and pack horses. As such, the Altai is one of the hardiest horse breeds in the world, used as these horses are to very harsh climates and environmental conditions.


In the early 20th Century -- specifically after the Revolution -- the Soviet Government thought of improving the Altai breed. After collecting many Altai horses, the Russians began a concerted effort to crossbreed the Altai with other existing Russian breeds such as the Orlov Trotters and Don, as well as half-bred horses.


The result of the crossbreeding experiments is the still-hardy, but larger Altai horse. After getting the right mix of form and endurance, the breeders then moved on to breeding more of the hybrid Altai. In other words, the result of the cross-breeding -- the improved Altai breed -- was then bred with other Altai horses that were also a result of the cross-breeding experiments. In the 1970s, the results of further breeding were surveyed and the best among them were collected. Nearly 700 mares were herded in breeding farms and used to perpetuate the best Altai stock.


Today, this breed also still exists in its aboriginal form. That is to say, thousands of the native and pure Altai that have not been subject to the extensive crossbreeding experiments done in the 20th century can still be found in the Upper Altai Mountains.