A Nova Scotia couple is helping to protect and preserve a rare breed of Russian horse.

At one time, the Orlov Trotter was the favoured breed of the Russian aristocracy, but now breeders around the world are working hard to keep Orlovs in the race.

Orlov Trotters are named after a Russian count from the late 18th century and were once mainly used by Russian nobility for riding and harness racing. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the future of the breed seemed unclear: there was not enough money to feed the populace, let alone the horses.

As a result, the horses fed the populace and the Orlov herds dwindled.

However, in 1997 the International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter was established.

Jeannie and Lyle Telstad were introduced to the breed while living in Calgary. Soon after, they decided to make saving the horses their mission.

“A lifetime of horses did not prepare me for the honesty and integrity of this breed,” says Jeannie.

“They bond very deeply to their owners. They are smart and easy to train.”

The couple started Black River Orlovs in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County.

“Once we had our first two geldings, we didn’t want to be without one. So we thought, the only way to do that is to bring some more in and as long as we’re doing it, we might as well start breeding so somebody else can enjoy them as well,” says Lyle.

“Ten, twelve maybe in North America, and there’s six of them right here on this farm, so, as a whole, we have a good proportion of the Orlov Trotters here in North America.”

There is plenty of space for the large, long-legged horses that are bred for endurance at the Telstad’s farm.

Three-month-old Keejee is the first registered Orlov to be born and bred in North America.

The couple wants people to learn more about the breed.

“We hoping that he’s going to go out into the world and be someone’s sport horse and best friend and convert a whole bunch more people to Orlovism,” says Jeannie.

The Telstads say their goal is simple: they want to encourage other breeders to join them in their efforts to protect and preserve the Orlov breed.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Dan MacIntosh