Although named the Byelorussian Harness , this is a good all-around breed also used for riding, milking to make the fermented drink koumiss and, unfortunately, eating. As their name implies, they originated in what is now called Belarus, which used to be known as Belorussia or Byelorussia when it was part of the Soviet Union. Belarus is close to Norway, although not on the coast.
Also known as Byeloruskaya uprazhnaya, this is a sturdy, medium sized horse developed to handle the often swampy farms or sandy areas. Bonnie Hendricks, author of International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds (University of Oklahoma Press) states that they are a very common breed in Belarus, but that book came out in 1995. There were over 27,000 in 1980. After the political unrest in Belarus, it is unknown how many are left and how many of them have pedigrees. One impressive dun stallion is featured on YouTube.
Hendricks notes that Belarus was home to a “native forest horse”, which was most likely a Tarpan – a now extinct breed which helped give rise to most of the world’s horse and pony breeds. This “native forest horse” was crossed with a sturdy breed from Norway, the Dole. Even today, the Dole and the Byelorussian Harness look a lot alike. Other breeds added to the mix include the Ardennes and Brabancon draft horse breeds that originated in Belgium.
Like most horses bred in the former Soviet Union (as well as Asia), the Byelorussian Harness is usually raised in “taboons”, or large herds kept outside. They are rarely stabled and rarely given any hay or grain. They mostly have to scrape up enough food from the immediate landscape.
There are two types of Byelorussian Harness, one slightly larger than the other. Both types are descended from six stallions and four mares, but this writer could not find the names of these particular horses. Occasionally the Byelorussian is referred to as the White Russian carriage horse. This does not mean the horses were white, but rather this was a breed favored by White Russians, who were on the losing side of the Russian Revolution of 1918.
This is a thickset horse with a thick mane and tail. The head often has a straight profile featuring a brad forehead tapering to the muzzle. The ears may seem a little large on some horses. The shoulders contain a lot of power but flat withers, so it may be difficult to keep a saddle in place on some horses. The highest point of the hindquarters is often the same height as the withers.
They come in all solid colors including bay, brown, dun, grey and chestnut. White markings are allowed, usually appearing on the head and on the legs below the knee. Hendricks notes that the legs and hooves are very strong. This may be due to their living conditions. They can live until thirty and many remain fertile until their late twenties.
These good-natured horses still work on farms and the tourism industry in Belarus. They may be the only moving transportation in times of bad weather, including deep snow.
Encyclopedia of Meat Sciences. Carrick Devine, et al. Academic Press; 2004.
A Standard Guide to Horse and Pony Breeds. Elwyn Hartley Edwards. McGraw Hill; 1980.