Reflections on Borzoi Type

We breeders, judges and exhibitors are entrusted with preserving Borzoi, a breed that was created centuries ago. To do this we need to know and understand the history and function of Borzoi.

This article is not going to discuss and debate individual aspects of a Borzoi’s conformation, but rather look at some historic pre-revolutionary hunting Borzoi and modern day Open Field Coursing (OFC) Borzoi. Modern day OFC Borzoi were selected as very few judges and breeders get to see modern Borzoi doing work as it was originally intended.

Pictured Below: From the original Borzoi book, Observations of Borzoi by Joseph B. Thomas pub. 1912 (Left): Ancient type dog;  (Right): Ancient type bitch

Anne Rogers Clark once said to beware of a drag in breed type, a drift in breed type. A past Borzoi Club of America Member Education presentation was about “Changing the Breed through Stealth”. Three highly respected breeder judges, Nadine Johnson—Rising Star Borzoi, Pat Murphy—Oaklara Borzoi, and Helen Lee—Savladai Borzoi presented. Both Annie and our respected mentors were highlighting the importance of staying true to breed type and not drifting into flavor of the month.

It’s back to the old form versus function debate. Looking at Borzoi in a ring or in your backyard, can that Borzoi, do the function for which it was created? Borzoi are one of the fastest, most agile, strongest and graceful dogs ever created. Are you looking at one?

Pictured Below: Gold Medal Hunting Team (Wolf) Korotai, Zarladi and Kassatka. Korotai was rated as a Gold Medal dog. Very few golds were awarded. This is a typical hunting team of two dogs and one bitch.

The AKC Borzoi Standard states: “The Borzoi was originally bred for the coursing of wild game on more or less open terrain, relying on sight rather than scent. To accomplish this purpose, the Borzoi needed particular structural qualities to chase and hold his quarry. Special emphasis was placed on sound running gear, strong neck and jaws, courage and agility, combined with proper condition. The Borzoi should always possess unmistakable elegance with flowing lines, graceful in motion or repose. Males, masculine without coarseness; bitches feminine and refined.” Does the Borzoi in front of you fit this description?

Pictured below: Bringing the Gatchina Borzoi to the Meet

Historic paintings and a limited number of historic photos and videos show Borzoi alongside horses participating in various stages of hunts. One description of a hunt describes the Borzoi traveling for twelve verst to the hunt site. A verst is .67 miles. Although there are some paintings showing Borzoi traveling in sleds, most Borzoi most likely trotted for the majority of those eight miles. Then after a short rest the Borzoi did their real work of galloping after and taking down the game, with the courses running from an estimated ¼ mile to multiple miles. Upon completion of the hunt the Borzoi then reversed course and returned to their kennel. Remember, the game was not waiting at the kennel gate, saying “Chase me”. A Borzoi was expected to be physically able to get to the game, catch it, bring it back to the hunter then return to the kennel, an expenditure of many miles in a day.

The Borzoi Club of America list the game of Borzoi as wolf, fox and hare (in that order). But history shows the majority of the hunting was for hare. These three different types of game created a very versatile dog, nimble and agile enough to capture a hare but strong enough to bring down and hold a wolf. There were very few solo wolf killers. Borzoi were expected to work in teams of threes, with multiple teams being released at a time. The teamwork between kennel mates during a course is beautiful and fascinating to watch. Most often one will be behind the game, pushing it, while the other two flank it, with each trying to turn it into one of the others.

Before the advent of the Czarist hunts, with the wildly extravagant 100s of dogs participating, the Borzoi were originally expected to be multi-functional hound, working alongside huntsmen.

It could be said for most, that life was difficult and Borzoi were expected to assist you. They fed you, clothed you and protected you. If you grew crops, you or the hare could eat them. Borzoi helped keep their numbers under control, besides giving you meat of the hare kill to eat and they provided you with fur pelts for clothing. If you were raising ducks, chickens, sheep, goats or other food sources that were subject to prey by foxes, lynx or coyotes in America, once again the Borzoi kept the predators under control and again provided you with fur. If wolves were eating your cattle, horses and, yes, even your serfs, the Borzoi were once again expected to hunt them and kept the populations under control. Remember, Borzoi were around a long time before the advent of firearms.

Today, live game coursing is prohibited in most parts of the world, but included are some photos of live game coursing from Kazakhstan. This coursing was not for sport, but to feed the family of the hunters. As the pictures show these Borzoi were more than capable of doing what they were bred to do. They are putting food on
the table.

Borzoi, both in historic Russia and contemporary times are subject to ancestral and regional style variations. Please remember the purpose of Borzoi when breeding or judging and not get lost in regional type or flavor-of-the-month type.

Select the best combination of elegance, balance and power. Faults negatively affecting movement and ability to perform the Borzoi’s function are vastly more important than faults of bite, expression or color preference. Please select the Borzoi with the most virtues, not the Borzoi with the
least faults. 

About the Author

Prudence Hlatky has been breeding and exhibiting Borzoi since 1971. Breeding, owning and handling many champions, BIS, BISS, #1 Borzoi, Top Producers, ROM and BIF winners. She is also an AKC judge, BCOA Delegate and Chair BCOA
Member Ed.

Thank you to Yvonne McGehee and Karen Ackerman for providing the photos of modern Open Field Coursing (OFC) Borzoi and
Yvonne for the Kazakhstan hunting photos. For additional Borzoi information and mentors: Borzoi Club of America

Publications AKC Gazette Columns

Judges Mentor list

 Below: One-year old bitch Valeska I Lightly Sparkle. Matured to win 2014 & 2016 NACA Borzoi Fall Classic (OFC) – Classic type, nothing overdone

Below: CH. Ah-Gwah-Ching Snow Falcon. One of the top open field coursing athletes ever. Borzoi Spring Cup Winner -1990. Multi group placer.

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