Traditional troika back on track

Cars may be skidding and sliding their way through the wintry snap, but there is one Russian mode of transport that is galloping ahead once again – the Russian troika.

It is not often that a type of horse carriage becomes a symbol of an entire nation, but that is exactly what has happened with the troika – a true symbol of Russia and probably the world’s most exciting form of transport.

The reason the troika is so famous is probably that it looks like it should not work – but it does. Troika means “three” or "trio" in Russian, so the carriage or sled is pulled by three horses. The most amazing thing is that they use different steps at the same time. The horse in the middle is trotting and those around it are galloping.

A troika can develop speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour. Even those who control how the troika operates sometimes have to struggle with it. It is a skill that requires years of training.

My father used to ride the troika and he taught me what to do. After serving in the country's main cavalry regiment, I was sent to the Communist Party leaders' dacha. I've had all the party officials in the back of my carriage, even Brezhnev. He loved to go fast. But now, there is no one to take the reins from me,” says troika driver Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov.

If you think about how different Russia is from Western Europe, with longer distances and a harsher climate, you can see what was needed were horses that could travel long distances at high speed, while maintaining their stamina.

That is exactly how the troika developed. First it was used for the postal and fire services. After a while it became almost a symbol of decadence and luxury. Later the troika stopped being associated with aristocracy alone and became a symbol for the country itself.

Wild, untainted, going somewhere really fast. But where and why? When the Soviets came to power in 1917 they rejected a lot of the symbols of old Russia, but the troika was one of the symbols that were kept. During the time of the Soviet Union troikas were given to foreign dignitaries, much like pandas are presented by the Chinese government.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the tradition of troikas began to decline. But quite soon they made a big comeback as a sort of status symbol for the nouveau riche.

Read more about the Russian troika in Russiapedia