The Kustanai, Kustanair or Kustanaiskaya horse breed gets its name from the stud where the breed originated. Kustanai Stud in Kazakhstan was run by the government when it first opened its doors in 1888. However, they didn’t start developing the breed until the 1920’s. By 1951, the breed was well established and recognized by the Soviet Union.
The original goal was to create a large, stylish but tough saddle horse that could survive the harsh winters and severe summers of the steppes. Ideally, the breeders wanted to make the horse look like a Thoroughbred but have the toughness of the small Russian and Asian steppe horses.
According to Horseman Magazine , Maikulski stud was the one that originally tried to breed the Kustanai in 1887 but ran into difficulties with their harsh climate. Kustanai also encountered the same difficulties but were able to introduce creep feeding to help the foals grow as large as wanted. They crossed Don, Kalmyk-Thoroughbred crosses, Orlov-Rastopchin crosses, the now extinct Stretlets Arabian (which also gave rise to the Orlov Trotter) and what International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995) refers to as “half Thoroughbreds”.
In Kazakstan, stabling horses was rare. There just weren’t enough resources to stable a horse or to feed hay and grain (except for certain special occasions). Usually, horses are raised in what is called the “taboon” method. The horses are kept outdoors in large herds in all weathers and usually have to make do on whatever native vegetation they could find. The stallions and mares mated at will.
Unfortunately, there is very little information about the Kustanai after 1997. It is assumed to be a very rare breed, even in Kazakhstan. In a 2003 report released by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture , the Kustanai is listed as a current breed and as being “big enough and frisky”. After cruising YouTube, this writer discovered a video of an elegant and famished bay mare scavenging from garbage bins which may be a Kustanai.
The ideal Kustanai does indeed look like a Thoroughbred. They have long legs, longer necks than many other native breeds and a back that slopes upward from the withers to the hindquarters. The back of the hindquarters are generally sloped like a Thoroughbred’s and the tail is set low. They also have the Thoroughbred’s deep chest and coloration. Fortunately, they have the tough legs and hooves as a gift from the other breeds in their ancestry. Some bays and chestnuts have a metallic sheen to them, which is a gift from the Don breed.
Two types were bred – one for saddle and one for meat. In order to crate the large Thoroughbred- derived horses for saddle, there was no choice but to stable the horses, hand-mate the chosen parents and give extra food in the form of hay and grain. These horses grew to be just over 15 hands high and were good athletes.
A second, smaller but sturdier Kustanai type was derived at the same time called the steppe type. These were for meat, milk and mounts for breeders of taboon herds. They also could carry packs in areas where roads were impassible or in hilly, rock-strewn areas.