Although as small as a pony, the Altai or Altaiskaya is a small yet strong horse. It is unknown just how old this breed is. The Altai is named after its place of origin in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. There is a theory that this may have been one of the breeds introduced to North America that may have lead to the development of the Appaloosa,a lthough this has not been proven.
Altai horses are generally raised in the traditional Soviet “taboon” method, where the horses were never kept in a barn and never fed hay or grain. Over the centuries, this has created a hardy, surefooted little horse that can survive on little food. Even today, they are often allowed to grow until they are three or four years old before they are used for riding, pack or slaughtered for meat.
Altai horses average 13 hands high, with 14 hands being the tallest that they tend to reach. However, they can carry the weight of a full grown man. They have a lightly muscular body, a square but handsome head, small ears, a short back and hindquarters higher than the withers. They have exceptionally sound legs and hooves. According to Oklahoma State University , when they do have leg problems, it is with bowed hocks or long sloping pasterns.
Altai horses mostly comes in common solid colors of bay, dark bay, chestnut, light chestnut with a pale mane and tail, black, grey and the most prized color of all, “chubary”. This is a white base coat with black or brown spots all over the body, identical to the coat pattern of a leopard spotted Appaloosa. “Chubary” is also the rarest color among the Altai.
According to Bonnie Hendricks’ “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press; 1995), there is a heavier type being developed in the former Soviet Union with the express purpose of being raised for meat. Horse meat for human and canine consumption has been common in Siberia since ancient times. This type is an Altai crossed with a draft horse. Whether this type is still being developed is currently unknown.
Those lucky few not destined for the dinner table often are used in the tourist industry. The Altai also has cow sense and is used for cattle work. Native Siberians also still use the Altai for riding and for carrying heavy loads.
Throughout Russian history, the Altai was a popular breed to cross with other breeds in order to get a larger horse or a horse with more carrying capacity. According to Hendricks, crossbreeds were so popular that there were only 680 purebred mares left around 1975. Breeds used for crossbreds included the Don, Russian trotters and half-Thoroughbreds.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
The EquiNest. “Altai.” http://www.theequinest.com/altai/
Tereza Huclova, Equine Photography. “Altai Horse, Zirecka Podstran.” 22.08.2007. http://www.terezahuclova.com/en/news/altai-horse-zirecka-podstran