Memories of a Borziatnik (General Zhikarev)


Excerpts from a story “Small memories of a borziatnik” by V.F. Péléchevski, published in the “Hunting Magazine” in January 1876.

General Zhikarev

A group of “small hunters” (not from the Zhikarev hunt). After the hunt

The name and first name of the General cited in the story are not specified, but it is almost certainly that of the famous Borzoi breeder, General Alexander Vasilievich Jikharev (1790-1881) (Zhikharev) who lived in the village of Krasnoselie, in the Tambov region. 

In the region where the author of these memoirs lived, there also lived a hunter, a veteran of the old fashioned hunt: General J.A.V.(1). This distinguished gentleman had reached the age of 68 years, which did not prevent him from participating in the hunting season, spending every day in the saddle from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. A true huntsman, this honourable old man portrayed the image of the last of the Mohicans, like those of the late 60’s (2), while other hunters of his generation had retired, realising that they could no longer satisfy their passion. The General was a confirmed bachelor. He had a beautiful property in the Tambov region where he bred high quality saddle horses and trotters. He also had a hunting kennel of up to 100 hunting dogs, including many Borzoi who were his pride and joy. 

Whatever the weather, the General received a daily report of everything that was happening at the kennels. The old man, dressed in a fox fur coat, would go to see if everything was well at the kennel. All the people working in the kennel were his former serfs; everyone loved him and did their utmost to serve him, because he was, above all, a good-hearted man.

Crimean sighthound

Three types of Borzoi were the pride of the General and, without doubt, they were something to be proud of. All three types were worked very carefully to avoid mixing. The Krymki were gigantic, of excellent constitution and had a silky coat. They were particularly fast and enduring but did not take the wolf.

Gustopsovaja borzoi

The Gustopsovy (dense-haired) were very tall, carefully bred and trained, aggressive and powerful. They were lightning fast, but not at all enduring. The third type, Kourtinki, had points in common with the Kalmuks except for the psovina (3), the broad chest and the rump, as broad and solid, spoke of the endurance of these dogs, indeed, they were irreplaceable on the wolf.

The General was a knowledgeable amateur; it was almost impossible to get a puppy from him, except by special favour he could give an old toothless male to improve the pack. The old man was afraid someone would get ahead of him in the selection. Before the whelping, the female was taken to the apartments of the General, where there was a part of the dwelling used for the purpose of whelping. Each pup of the litter was examined by him in person, then he chose a pair and the others were drowned in a basin under his supervision.

The General was never wrong in his choice. He was very generous to his people, but would never have forgiven the deception if he learned that someone dared to pass one of his puppies to someone else without his consent. The servants liked to work for the General and they could not be bribed. The only deception practiced from time to time was secret mating with the males of the General and, even so, it happened very rarely and was very expensive.

Nasmeshnik – mountain sighthound of General Zhikharev. Drawing by A Martynov from the “Hunting magazine” Oct. 1876

Three of four of the best specimens lived permanently in the General’s apartments and were free to do as they wished. The General was generous by nature and when he received guests at home, he would allow them to do whatever they liked except if they were unkind towards the dogs. But since the dogs were not very friendly and looked stern, the guests were not looking for trouble.

On September 30, the General celebrated his birthday with a big bachelor party for his hunting friends. There was horse racing, prey was prepared in numbers for the “sadki” (4); each guest felt at home, most stayed at the General’s house and the following day, everyone went on a hunting expedition, far away to other areas, hunting wherever possible and they returned home with their trophies on November 1st.

The General’s mount was an old horse of his breeding, calm and sure. The General never rode too fast, however, his 17 year old groom would ride on at a frantic pace to his heart’s content. The hunters, about a dozen people, were mounted on the magnificent grey horses which came from the General’s stables and were dispersed in the fields.

Kyrgyz Horse in 1894, illustration from Les races chevalines – avec une étude spéciale sur les chevaux russes
Created: 1894

The people accompanying the hounds were riding Kirgiz horses. Each hunter had two horses, so that the horses rested every other day. The dogs were also divided into two groups. Only the men had no break, unless the weather was bad. The hunt consisted of about forty horses, a veterinary van, two vans with oats for the dogs, in case it might be impossible to find oats on the spot, a kitchen van, and a light caravan hitched to a troika for the General who, on the rare occasions when he was a little tired, would dismount from his horse.

Whenever the hunt changed village, the General’s Estate Manager would precede him by one day to prepare for the arrival of the hunt. He reserved two houses for everyone and prepared oats for the dogs and 4-5 horses for their food (4). All the dogs, especially those which were hunting, had a portion of meat. He was also preparing for the arrival of men and horses. Sometimes, if the prey was abundant in the vicinity, the hunt would stay in the same village for 3-4 days, sometimes it was only for one night and then they moved to another village.

The hunters joined him after the day in the fields. The dog’s feet were washed and smeared with bacon, laid in straw in a barn, fed at will, and left to rest the next day. It is obvious that thanks to such care, the dogs were always strong and fresh. The groom, Sachka, took care of the general’s personal svora. He cleaned and brushed them every night. However tired the General was, he would always see the dogs in the evening at mealtimes.

Once, during our hunter discussions, I asked him :
“Tell me, Alexander Vasilievich, are your annual expeditions expensive ?”
“For me, it’s essential,” he answered. “I put aside 4000 rubles before September 1, and that’s enough for the expedition until we return in early winter; for me, my dear, hunting is sarsaparilla (6), the cure for all ills. Thanks to the hunt, I do not need doctors. I do not know any apothecary or have hemorrhoids. I do not visit capitals, nor go abroad, I get paid 13-14 thousand rubles a year and I spend them here, at home, in Russia and not somewhere abroad. I am saddened to know that wealthy Russians spend money abroad but do not have a hunt.”

General Zhikarev is mentioned in Sabaneev’s report on borzoi in Russia:

” In the 60s   and 70s,  Zhikarev hunt was known mainly for mountain greyhounds, which had a small mixture of sighthounds.   The mixture was Krymskaj  since their ears were loose, but also a mixture of Courland dogs, expressed in the curl of the  coat of some  dogs  (Nagradaye N.  A. Boldareva et al.).  Zhikharev himself never exhibited his dogs, but their blood is still valued in some hunts.  Zhikharev dogs in our time were no longer distinguished by beauty and  thoroughbreds,  but they were very vicious and quite frisky, although not to  the same extent as  earlier, in the 50s  and  60s.”

Russian – French translation: Elena Gerasimova
French – English translation : Linda Worthy



(1) In the text, the General is simply mentioned with his initials.
(2) 1860’s. In 1861, there was abolition of serfdom in Russia. Gradually many hunts (kennels) disappeared, for lack of means to maintain them.
(3) Psovina: the fur.
(4) Sadki: training dogs on released prey (hare, fox or wolf).

(5) Horses to be slaughtered to feed the dogs (weak, old or sick horses).
(6) Plant that purifies the body.


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