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The Akhal-Teke

Since the time of the earliest domestication of the horse, the Golden Horse of Central Asia has been prized before all other breeds. Bejeweled and decorated in gold and silk, he was ridden into battle by nomads and emperors and buried with honor in the tombs of kings, shamanesses, and warriors. Directly descended from the wild steppe horse, the Turkoman or Turkmene is the legendary horse from Fergana and Bactria where it was called the Bactrian or Turanian horse and used by the great leaders Darius and Alexander. In Chinese legends he was known as "the Heavenly Horse" and the "horse that sweats blood" and the Han Chinese felt it well worth 80,000 soldiers to obtain only 20 of these horses, such was their reputation . Five successive empires - the Scythians, Parthians, Ywati, Huns and Turkmen- invaded the area, laying waste to

everything before them, but each carefully preserving these magnificent horses. Each of them kept and trained the horse with the utmost care; and in time this beautiful animal became the central figure in every culture into whose hands it came. There were excellent reasons for the horse’s many stewards to carefully preserve him. There was no other horse who could run faster, or go greater distances at speed and on little or sometimes no food and water for days on end. No other horse was more intelligent, or more devoted to its rider. No other horse had the glittering colors that helped earn it the name "The Heavenly Horse".

A Unique Beauty

The Akhal-Teke is a true desert bred horse with a light, elegant build and a distinctive conformation: long tapering, aristocratic face; beautifully shaped mobile ears; wide nostrils and large expressive eyes having a proud fiery gaze. The neck is straight, long and often thin, set high on excellent sloping shoulders. The Akhal-Teke is long, lean, and, typically, narrow through the chest, making him an extremely comfortable ride. A characteristic feature is the sparse, short mane and forelock and absence of feather on the legs. The skin is very thin with a short, fine and silky coat. The overall effect is of the long, lean grace of a greyhound. Magnificent action, free and flowing; in all paces a soft, gliding, elastic stride. Quiet temperament, but easily aroused. Bold, alert and intelligent; responding well to sensitive training. Normal height is between 15 and 16 hands, with horses both larger and smaller, weight between 900 to 1100 pounds.

The Akhal-Teke was created in Southern Turkmenistan by the "Teke" tribe at the "Akhal" oasis. Located away from the trade routes, bordered by the Kara Kum desert and Kopet Dag mountains, the Akhal oasis is in an area not subjected to continual conquest or occupation. This isolation, along with the great pride the Teke tribesmen took in the purity of their horses has produced a breed of ancient lineage and great purity.

As the chief mount of Turkoman warriors for centuries, the Akhal-Teke developed endless stamina and, from the harsh desert environment, the ability to withstand great extremes of temperature. With fresh forage available only three months of the year in the arid desert, the Teke tribesmen developed their own special methods of horse management. Kept in small bands, tethered to stakes and blanketed, the Akhal-Teke were fed pellets consisting of alfalfa, barley and mutton fat. This type of management resulted in a horse that can subsist on small amounts of food and water, becomes devoted to its master and is suspicious of strangers. The blanketing also enhanced the metallic sheen of their coat which is a source of great pride for their owners.

And yes, they really do glow like metal. The Teke has a unique hair structure which refracts light, giving colors from blazing palominos to electric black with gold as a prevailing color.

This magnificent animal has now come to us, intact in all his glory after 10,000 generations of breeding on the Central Asian steppes. Today’s Akhal-Teke retains every quality of endurance, speed, economy, intelligence and beauty that was so prized throughout the centuries by so many different societies.

An Endearing Companion

In a fast paced world where a horse is often little more than a living vehicle or a piece of sports equipment, the Akhal-Teke offers a refreshing change. For three millennia, the Turkmen bred their horses to be part of their families; to live tied to the tent; to be ridden in search of a living; to be a young bride-to-be’s means of testing a would-be suitor; to be fed by hand by the entire family, and counted as the family’s wealth.

The Akhal-Teke of today is very much a horse who seeks to bond with a ‘person of his own’, for whom he will perform amazing feats. Akhal-Tekes are as loyal as dogs in their devotion to their regular rider, and while many are friendly toward everyone, some still retain the old Turkmene indifference to - if not downright suspicion of - strangers. While some recent writers have chosen to see this peculiarly Teke trait, so necessary on the  steppes, as "stubborn-ness" or "bad-temper", the Akhal-Teke is anything but! To his regular rider and trainer he is joyful andpleasant, eager to please and be part of a team. You may start out owning an Akhal-Teke, but in the end, he will own you.

A Perfect Sport Horse

Today his role has changed, from war horse to sport horse and his unique character suits him well to a variety of disciplines. Akhal-Tekes have won Olympic Gold and Silver in Dressage and been jumping champions throughout Europe. In Germany, Akhal-Tekes compete in Reining and follow the hounds. In the United States, they are making their mark in Eventing, Dressage, Jumping and Endurance: 

 the Akhal-Teke’s exceptionally efficient heart and lungs help with the ‘equine radiator’ effect. Akhal-Tekes show some of the quickest cardiac recovery scores of any breed at vet checks on endurance rides.
Early in this century the purity of the breed was threatened as thoroughbred stallions were introduced in some lines in an attempt to improve the breed’s racing speed. Fortunately, in 1935 the purebreds proved their endurance and stamina in the famous 2700 miles trek from Ashkabad to Moscow which they covered in 84 days. At one point they crossed 225 miles of desert in 3 days, virtually without water. This convinced the authorities the Akhal-Teke should be preserved in its pure form and all outcrossing was stopped. The Russians and Turkmen now consider the Akhal-Teke part of a genetic fund of exceptional value, a remnant of that precious fund that gave rise to the breeding of saddle horses throughout the world.
It is interesting to speculate about the role the Akhal-Teke played in the development of the Thoroughbred. Careful study of what is known of the Byerley Turk indicates he was probably an Akhal-Teke and that the Darley Arabian was of the Muniqi strain of Arabians and carried a large portion of Akhal-Teke blood.

Today the Akhal-Teke is quite rare by modern breed standards, with around 3000 horses world-wide. The major population is in Russia and Turkmenistan, with around 200 in Germany and around 225 here in the United States.

The United States is very fortunate to have an ever increasing number of breeders dedicated to preserving the very best of this ancient and valuable blood. Nowadays, it is possible to see examples of this marvelous breed all across the country, in competitions and on breeding farms - and best of all, with a wide choice of superior stallions available at reasonable fees, this ancient blood is now available to everyone. As their numbers in North America increase, we believe the Akhal-Teke will distinguish itself as an elegant all purpose athlete and with its linebred prepotency, make a major contribution to North American sporthorses through crossbreeding for performance. Please visit a breeder near you: you will see horses that will stick in your memory for the rest of your life - and perhaps you might bring home your new best friend.

Akhal-Teke Association of America Homepage