Divine horses, equine aristocrats, fabled steeds, effulgent diamonds - such flowery epithets have been lavished upon that unique equine breed - the Akhal-Teke. Prized by Alexander the Great, Darius the Great, Genghis Khan, Roman emperors, Marco Polo, and many others, the Akhal-Tekes have served people for over 3,000 years.
Absolutely everything about this horse is unique, outlandish and stunning. It is the most ancient breed on earth. It is one of the most beautiful, elegant and proud horses in the world. Its endurance and resistance to heat are second to none.
Todays Akhal-Teke is a race, sports and endurance horse, and a riveting circus performer. Smaller Akhal-Tekes make great Western horses because of their quickness.
The Akhal-Teke takes its name from a Turmenian tribe Teke that lives at the Akhal oasis. It is one of the most distinctive horses in the world. Nearly everything about it is exotic and outlandish. Experience of Russians, themselves a race with an Asiatic mentality, shows that some Westerners have a difficulty perceiving the unusual nature of everything about that fiery steed born to challenge the wind of the desert and catch the fancy of Alexander the Great and a long line of historic figures of Greece, Rome, and the Levant.
But the horse is not exactly meant to grace with his presence fancy air-conditioned stables, and to be fed in a way that suits German or Swedish warmbloods. Russians will never understand the European possessors of ex-kings of the desert who proudly parade in front of them overfed underexercised creatures hot-ready for Hanover or Holstiner show rings.
The Akhal-Tekes exterior makes it very different
from other breeds. Some authorities maintain that the Akhal-Teke incorporates
almost every conventional conformational failing... and, nevertheless, he is
amazingly beautiful and divine, an arrogant equine aristocrat. This confusion
comes from using conventional yardsticks to judge an extremely unconventional
Its body is tube-like; the breast
is narrow; the back is long; the rib-cage is shallow; the
loin is long and unpronounced. The quarters are narrow, and would
be a nightmare in another horse, but they are spare and sinewy; the
croup is quite long, muscular and with a normal sloping angle.
Head and neck
The head is fine and elegant, in harmony
with the body, with wide cheeks. The nose line is
straight or slightly dish-like, and the big eyes give an impression of
boldness. The nostrils are wide, thin and dry, and there is width
between the long, beautifully shaped alert ears. The head joins the
long, lean neck at an angle of 45 degrees. The neck is set very high and
almost vertically to the body. The forelock and mane are not very
Legs and feet
The legs are long, clean and
dense with clearly defined sinews. The forelegs are usually set close
together and are straight; the forearm is long. The hindlegs are
long, the hocks are carried high off the ground. The feet are
small but regular, the heels are set low, the hoofs are small and
hard. Fetlocks have little to no hair.
The Akhal-Tekes movements are unique,
like the horse itself. The way he carries his body, turns his head, shifts his
sensitive ears, rears, etc., is absolutely fascinating.
Temperament and attitude towards humans
The Akhal-Teke horses are vigorous, excitable,
and restless. Thousands of years of selective breeding have left their mark not
only on their physical appearance and efficiency, but also on their behavior.
These horses are not only sensible but also very sensitive; they are even able
to respond to mental suggestions of humans. Their intelligence is not
comparable to any other breed.
They are not suited to nervous or irritable humans. They not only need a sensitive rider, but a human being who can share their feelings when they gallop over vast areas just for the joy of movement. They are not suited to the limitations of modern stables, which kill their spirit. They are horses belonging to wide open spaces.
Hardly any breed can compare with the
Akhal-Teke in variety of colors, which include chestnut, bay, gray, palomino
(isabella) , raven black, dun. All the colors, except for raven black, are gold
iridescent (the gray ones are silvery). This makes the Akhal-Teke horses very
Among 250 equine breeds known today in the world the Akhal-Teke horse
is universally considered one of the most ancient ones. Many researchers regard
it as the most ancient one. Of ancient noblesse, older than that of the
Arabian or the English Thoroughbred, the Akhal-Teke is a full-blooded horse
that is second to none.
Most interesting archaeological evidence was
unearthed in famous Pazyryk ancient man-made stony hill in Altai (Southern
Siberia). The hill was a burial place of a Scythian chieftain. A permafrost
layer at the foot of the hill had almost perfectly conserved equine remains,
dated at the 6th century B.C. The horses discovered were very close to the
modern Akhal-Teke breed.
Since ancient times the heavenly
horses were a political issue. The Persian emperor Cyrus married a
daughter of King of Medes Astyages to gain access to the Bactrian horses, which
he was unable to secure by force. Alexander the Great, through his marriage to
Roxane, the daughter of a Bactrian king, acquired the fastest and most gallant
horses of his time. It is to them he owed much of his successes on the
battlefield. The Chinese, under Emperor Wu, in 103 B.C., even started a war to
acquire those horses.
Like Arabs, Turkmen have been guarding the purity of their thoroughbreds for centuries. They helped the Akhal-Teke pass on his nobility through millennia. Professor Vitt, an expert in and the author of books on the Akhal-Teke horses, pointed out that the Akhal-Teke horse managed to preserve in itself the last drops of the source of thorough blood that generated the world riding horse-breeding.
It took Turkmen centuries to perfect the breed. The horse has been virtually produced by the humans, to live with the humans, to fight with the humans, and to die with the humans. Turkmen, those denizens of the desert, needed a companion horse that would survive in the red-hot sands, carry a warrior with his weapons and supplies for days on end. The very existence of the Turkmenian tribes was to a large measure dependent on the possession of the superior horses.
A horse has always been the best friend of the Turkman. Each horse was looked upon as the dearest member of the family. Such a treatment allowed the perfect selection of the best individuals for continuous improvement of the breed. The Turkmen have a saying: After you have visited your father, see your horse.
The Akhal-Teke horses were never allowed to graze in a free herd. Instead, each horse was individually brought up and taken care of.
However, this did not spoil the horses. On the contrary, skilled seises trainers helped the horses develop extraordinary stamina and speed. The Akhal-Tekes can stand hunger and heat. They can also do without water longer than other breeds.
Turkmen used to hand feed Akhal-Tekes with a high-protein diet of dry lucerne, pellets of mutton fat, eggs, barley and quatlame, a fried dough cake.
In the 20th century a few English horses have been taken to Turkmenistan to upgrade the breed. Fortunately, it was understood quite soon that that could destroy the unique characteristics of the Akhal-Teke horse. The experiment was discontinued. It is safe to say now that the Akhal-Teke is the worlds purest breed.
The Akhal-Teke has a huge potential in classical sports that should be developed.The Akhal Teke and Other Breeds
The ancient Turkmenian horse was so much superior to other contemporary breeds, that the horse was very much sought after. The Turkmen did all they could not to allow uncontrolled spread of their treasured steeds. It was not that easy, since Turkmen were taking part in numerous campaigns, not only in Central Asia, but also in Iran, Arabia, Egypt and even Spain. Nevertheless, Turkmen did manage to preserve the superior qualities and beauty of their national horse.
The Akhal-Teke and the Arabian
There is an historical evidence that proves
that the Arabian thoroughbreds appeared much later than the Akhal-Teke ones.
For instance, Herodotus pointed out that warriors of the Arabian origin in the
army of Xerxes used camels, and not horses as a means of transportation. A
cuneiform script dated 733 B.C. says king Taglatfalassar seized in Arabia 30
thousand camels and 20 thousand cattle. Though the operation is described in
much detail, no horses have ever been mentioned.
Hence, the Arabs were not been using horses in the early centuries of A.D.
Thus, it is safe to assume that it was the
ancient equine breeds of Iran and Central Asia, the noble Turkmenian breed
included, that have contributed to the Arabian breed. So, the broadly accepted
notion of the Arabian breed being the worlds elder, and the Akhal-Teke
horse being its offspring, is not supported by historical data. The body of
historical evidence testifies quite to the opposite.
The Akhal-Teke and the Thoroughbred
During the Protectorate, Oliver Cromwell, who
was ardent lover of horses, purchased Darcy White Turk, recorded as the most
beautiful southeastern horse ever brought to England. Then followed Helmsley
Turk (1675), Acaster Turk, Belgrade Turk (1675), Johnsons Turk and
Piggots Turk, to name but a few.
The Akhal-Teke and the Trakehner
Outstanding Akhal-Teke Individual horses
reached various countries of Western Europe. Some of them are still remembered.
For instance, a stallion by the name Turkmen-Atti became a founder of a highly
valued and the most widespread line of Trakehners early in the 19th century.
Karl W. Amman, the manager of the Trakehner farms, strongly suggested in 1834 the utilization of the Akhal-Tekes in a program to ennoble the European warmblood lines. His views were echoed by J. Russel Mannings in 1882: The Akhal-Teke is, of all breeds, the best suited to improve the warmblood riding horse.
The Akhal-Teke and Oriental & Russian breeds
The Akhal-Teke thoroughbred significantly
influenced the development of cultured horse-breeding in Iran, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, India, and other counties of the East. Among these are the Karabair,
Lokai, Naiman, Karabach, and Kabardin.
Names of Horses
Turkmenian names of Akhal-Tekes horses often contain information about their colors: the word Mele means dun; Kara, black; Dor, bay; Al, chestnut.
If a horse has an ermine above the hoof, the horse will be called Ak Toinak (White Hoof). If a horse has a white sock, it will be referred to as Ak Bilek (White Forearm).
Turkmen like white markings on their horses legs. In olden days they said, one white leg means one denga (local money unit), two white legs mean two dengas, and three white legs mean three dengas. But four white legs are believed to be too much a suggestion of no money. Quite similarly, Turkmen believe that white stains on the stomach are a poor sign. They have a saying: A man riding a piebald horse would not conquer a mountain.
A white star on a horses forehead is called Depel. Thats why some horses are called, say, Ghyrdepel (a gray with a star), Dordepel (a bay with a star). Horses with a white muzzle are named Burnak. Turkmen adore that marking.
Inche is the name given to horses with a white stripe. And so, Inchedor means a black with a stripe, and Inchegara means a sorrel with a white stripe. White-faced horses are called Akmanlai.
Horses with a white tail and a white mane are known as Akial. Akials body may be dun or gray. Turkmen believe Russians prefer Akials, especially for circus performances. Turkmen like them, too.
For Turkmen the least favored color is Chakhan, whitish with red eyes albinos. Red eyes cannot stand bright sunshine. Aksakals (the elders) believe those horses harbor vicious ghosts.
The color most favored by Turkmen in dun with black knees and the tail. The forelock is raven-black. If you take a good look at the head, you could see some tiny eyebrow-like stripes above big black eyes. Thin ears have black fringes. A marvelous combination of colors!
Purely gray horses are believed to be beautiful as well. When adorned with national Turkmenian silver decorations, gray horses look stunning.
It is not only colors and markings that are reflected in Akhal-Tekes names. Turkmen like to compare their mounts to birds, hence one finds the word Kush so often in horse names. For instance, Mele Kush means a dun bird.
Fraser writes about this: The endurance of these horses is indeed incredible. When Turkmen start on one of their plundering raids the horses are not only burdened with the riders' weight, but have to carry a supply of provisions as well; and despite of that, they cover 80-100 English miles in 24 hours, and often can do this for several days in a row. When Turkmen plan to make a raid requiring strong effort and speed, they make their horses run a distance of many miles daily, feed them sparsely with barley and wrap them up with blankets during the night. They continue to do this until all superfluous fat disappears and their muscles become hard as marble. They check the desired condition of the flesh by examining the neck muscles and thighs. After thus being prepared, the horse attains incredible speed and endurance, and he will run almost as long as his rider demands without losing strength or getting tired. Horses which are well nourished before starting on such a sortie seldom can withstand exertion of such kind.
Muraviov in his book Travels Through Turmenistan and China (1820) wrote: It is hard to imagine what these horses can endure, in eight days they cover about 143 German miles through waterless, bare deserts, eating only small quantities of Gogan (millet) and sometimes going without water for four days in a row.
In the 1880s when the Russians came to Turkmenistan they were amazed by the performance of the Akhal-Tekes. Colonel Artsyshevsky wrote in the Magazine of Horse Breeding (1882, No 2): I had at times to cover 160 kilometers a day switching horses, whereas the Turkmenian jighits who accompanied us were riding on their horses, and were even sent out on outriding and scouting missions. In addition to the rider and the saddle, the horses carried at all times huge felt coats and various supplies.
Major Spolatbog in the same Magazine (1881, No 12) recounts an episode of the Gheok-Tepin battle: An Akhal-Teke stallion with three Teke warriors and two heavy felt coats aboard and wounded by a saber escaped the pursuit of Cossacks over shifting sands and reached Merv (500 km away).
In 1945 a 500-km endurance race in Moscow of eight breeds was won by the Akhal-Teke Tarlan. Further rides were in 1983 and 1988, and again Akhal-Tekes were winners.
A Turkmenian team will take part in the Nissan World Equestrian Games at Punchestown, Ireland. They have high hopes of winning the 160 km, eight-hour endurance event
Here is one legend:
Turkmen have many beliefs and superstitions concerned with horses. Hence the trappings of their horses may include many exotic omens and charms.
Turkmenian like to be aware of the ancestry of both people and horses. So, when two men meet for the first time they greet each other this way: Whats your clan? or Whom do you belong to? Much like the Arabs, the Turkmen had no written records of their horses pedigrees. But the masculine line has always been remembered. Fathers used to pass this data on to their sons in story-telling. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every Turkman knows the names of the best Turkmenian thoroughbreds and sires.
Nowadays, any Turkman, even though he is not involved in breeding or training, let alone professional seis (trainers), would recite the lineage of celebrity stallions in detail.
Turkmen have traditionally valued superior horses. That is why they used to take their mares to extraordinary stallions, no matter how long the distance was.
The owner of Bek-Nazar-Dor, the stock sire of a line that is still highly valued, was riding his Akhal-Teke stallion between settlements during the breeding season.
Now the data on all stallions and broodmares is recorded in properly kept stud books. The data is based on verified archives, and inquiries among horse-breeders.
Documenting the breed begins only since 1885, the year of the birth of Boinou by Lelyaning Chepi, Karamchis grandson, Kutly Sakars great grandson just so generations could remember the illiterate Turkmen.
The first proper study of the breed was conducted in 1927 by an expedition headed by K. Gorelov, to whom goes much of credit for the analysis of word-of-mouth pedigrees and the construction of the genealogical structure of the breed.
His findings, supplemented by further studies, laid the foundation for the State Stud Book of Central Asian Equine Breeds published in 1941. It contained information about 287 stallions and 468 mares of Akhal-Teke origin.
The Akhal-Teke Society of Great Britain
Asphodel Rock Wadebridge Cornwall, PL27 6NW
Tel. +44 (0) 1208 862226
Fax: +44 (0) 1208 862226
Contact person: Sue Waldock e-mail: SWALDOCK@compuserve.com
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Updated: October 2005.