The hortaya borzaya (Russian: Хо́ртая Борза́я; IPA: [ˈxortəjə bɐrˈzajə], Ruthenian and Ukrainian: Xopт, Lithuanian: Kurtas, shorthaired sighthound) is an old Asian sighthound breed originating in the former Kievan Rus, later Grand Duchy of Lithuania (later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) and Russian Empire. It is a dog of large size, of lean but at the same time robust build, of considerably elongated proportions. In its everyday life the hortaya is quiet and balanced. It has a piercing sight, capable of seeing a moving object at a very far distance. In spite of its calm temperament the dog has a very active reaction to running game. Hortaya are excellent, enduring hunting dogs endowed with a good, basic obedience and completely lacking aggression towards humans.
The breed is late in development, very vigorous and long-lived. It is not rare that older dogs, retired from active hunting, start their breeding career at an age of 8 or 9 years in perfect health and without any impairment. Breed-specific illnesses or hereditary diseases, such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, are so far unknown. The life expectancy of the hortaya borzaya largely depends on its use.In regions where they are hunted on large prey, especially predators, there may be quite some dogs killed young during the hunt. If you subtract these dangers, 14-15 healthy years as an average is not uncommon.
However, great care has to be taken in not over-feeding the hortaya pup and juvenile. The breed was formed on a meagre, extremely basic and low diet with but rare and small amounts of meat, especially high quality meat.
Most of the year hortaya get little more than the scraps from the table, a gruel of oats, bread soaked in milk and whatever rodents they can hunt for themselves around the house. Only during the spring slaughter/lambing season and the main hunting season they get more meat: the innards and offals from what they hunt for their masters. As a result this breed has practically no tolerance for high quality, high protein dog foods and supplements, and especially the young, still growing dogs will suffer irreversible and lethal damage to their bone structure and cartilage when faultily fed.
Contrary to the practice of Western breeding and breeders of other dog breeds, the hortaya is not regarded as an unfinished breed which still needs any amelioration or even formation.
The shorthaired sightdog of the southern Eurasian steppes, which today trades under the name of hortaya borzaya, was bred in this habitat for thousands of years, is a breed as old as the Tazi/Saluki and only marginally younger than the Bakhmul/Afghan. For newcomers it would be unwise to be deceived by the relatively recent standard.
Analogous to the oriental and Asian breeds of thoroughbred horses the original breeders of hortaya consider it rightfully as firmly consolidated. An improvement into any direction therefore is not part of breeding hortaya. This is an important and massive difference to the western way of dog breeding and it has far reaching, very positive consequences for the breeding practice.
As no changes are striven for the breeding methods used among other breeds to achieve them, like incest, inbreeding or linebreeding, are practically non-existent. These methods are seriously frowned upon among hortaya breeders. It is extremely rare that ancestors appear twice among the first 4-6 generations of a pedigree. In fact, hortaya breeders try hard to achieve the farthest possible outcross. This is one important reason why the breed is so healthy in spite of its relatively small population.
Another consequence is the application of the breed standard. It does not describe any "ideal dog" which should be bred for, as it is with other dog breeds. Instead the hortaya standard is a standard of exclusion: it only and very simply describes the boundaries outside of which a dog would not be considered acceptable. Anything else would be pointless, as it is the active endeavour of hortaya breeders to preserve the large variety of types and sub-types of the breed, which may seem being totally different breeds to the layman.
Additionally, with the hortaya it is its hunting ability which is the measure of everything, anything else is quite secondary regarding selection.
Looking at all this it also becomes clear, why an international acceptance of this breed by the FCI is not regarded as being very desirable by the majority of hortaya aficionados. The breed's breeding practice, its consolidated state and its truly extreme phenotypical diversity do not really fit into the actual breeding and judging practices of today's FCI or of any other major kynological federation. Any international FCI acceptance which would not result in immediate harm to the breed needs major, important groundwork and decades of preparation. Currently the direct and immediate consequence would be the undesirable separation into show and work lines, and into western and original hortaya.
The hortaya is an Asian dog breed, which developed over the centuries in the steppes north of the Black Sea, after spreading slowly from the mountains of Afghanistan westwards. Dogs of this type were bred by various peoples of this region, which extends from modern Ukraine and the south of Russia to the westernmost regions of Kazakhstan. Therefore it is not possible to attribute this breed to a specific people or country. In the east and southeast of its geographical spread it connects to the oriental rsp. Central Asian sight hounds, while it is considered the link to the western sight hound breeds close to the Polish frontiers.
In the year 1951, the USSR laid down the first standard for the breed. Nowadays the Russian Kynological Federation (RKF), the national Russian FCI member association, officially maintains the standard. Currently there exist an estimated 2500-3500 hortaya borzaya worldwide, with less than a few dozen outside of the boundaries of the CIS.
An international recognition by the FCI does not exist so far, however the breed is nationally recognized by all FCI member countries within the CIS and by many other middle European nations. In some of these states the studbook is maintained directly by the national member organisation of the FCI, in others the hortaya is registered by specialized hunting dog associations.
The owners of these dogs are mostly local hunters, who live in remote, often isolated villages in the steppe. Few of them have any interest in shows. For them the hortaya is a valued co-worker who puts food on the table in winter. In the steppe a good hunting hortaya can be worth as much as a good riding horse.
The hortaya borzaya belongs to the extremely rare sight hound breeds, which - up to our modern times - has been selected exclusively on its hunting abilities and qualities.