The Ancient Akhal-Teke - The Horse with the Metallic Sheen
The Akhal-Teke is a hot-blooded horse from the southern region of Turkmenistan, in northern Iran. Its name identifies the Teke tribe from the Akhal oasis located in the arid plains on the Northern slopes of the Kopet-Dag Mountains.
It has been assumed that the Akhal-Teke is descended from the ancient Tarpan Horses and Przewalski Horses of southern Asia or from the ancient Turkmene Horse that was developed in Russia from Asiatic stock that was originally thought to be an ancient Scythian type and one of the four original horse "types" that crossed the Bering Strait from North America during prehistoric times.
The Scythians were nomadic people and among the earliest people to master the art of riding in 8th and 7th centuries B.C. As early as 700 BC they had huge cavalries and the Akhal-Teke horses were originally bred as war and raiding horses and renowned as cavalry mounts and racehorses for nearly 3,000 years.
From the Scythians, the nomadic Teke people descended and regularly traveled to summer or winter ranges. This meant that they often came in conflict with other nomadic tribes doing similar travels. This led to the Tekes invading these tribes to take what was necessary and then ride off on their swift horses. So they bred animals of incredible stamina and fiery temperament to withstand these long-distance raiding journeys.
Eventually the fame of the Akhal-Teke spread throughout the ancient world and they became highly desired. In 141 B.C., Chinese Emperor Wu Ti sent an expedition with large amounts of gold to exchange for these horses, but his offer was refused so several years later, he sent 60,000 soldiers and was finally presented with 10 of these elite horses.
The lineage and breeding of the Akhal-Teke was kept pure by an oral tradition of maintaining bloodlines and also because of their relative isolation. The Teke people were very proud of their horses and were highly devoted to them. Horses were brought into the family tents, blanketed against the cold; and given the best foods that could be found such as grains, animal proteins and fat such as butter and eggs mixed with barley, which is low in bulk, but high in protein. Horses were valued as the single measure of true wealth and were highly prized.
When Russia's takeover of Central Asia regions prevented raiding, the Turkmene focused on racing their prized Akhal-Tekes instead. But the saddest period of the breed came as a result of the Bolshevik revolution and Communism when thousands of horses were slaughtered. This tore at the very soul of the Teke people and rather than allow their prized horses to be slaughtered, they either disappeared into the deserts with their horses or turned their horses loose.
During the long history of the breed, it established a reputation of great endurance and courage. In 1935, the amazing stamina of the Akhal-Teke was demonstrated when 15 horses were required to participate in a 2,600 mile forced march from Ashkhabad to Moscow that took 84 days on minimal feed rations and included traveling 255 miles across the Kara-Kun desert for 3 days without water. This feat was repeated in 1988.
Today the Akhal-Teke horses are bred throughout the world. The first Akhal-Teke Horses in the United States were imported in 1979 after being purchased at Moscow auction in 1978. The Akhal-Teke Association of America was started in 1982 and 20 years later, in 2002, there were 189 purebred Akhal-Teke Horses registered. To keep the breed pure, the Akhal-Teke foals are registered on the basis of parentage only.
The Akhal-Teke stands between 14.3 and 16 hands high although the average is 15.1 hands. The overall impression is of length, without showing weakness or frailty and lithe athleticism without excessive musculature. The Akhal-Teke should be longer than it is tall, which gives it a rectangular silhouette. The Akhal-Teke has a small, long, narrow head with long thin ears, a long thin neck. The expressive eyes are often hooded and have an oriental appearance. The horse has a short, silky, sparse mane, or none at all with little or no fetlock and a low-set sparse tail. Native to an arid, barren environment, the Akhal-Teke is a true desert horse; hardy with a long, fast stride and lots of stamina. .The hooves are small, round and extremely hard. The Akhal-Teke has superb natural gaits and is among the most elegant of the world's horses.
The skin of the Akhal-Teke is very thin, with the coat and unusual hair structure being quite fine. The Akhal-Teke has a fantastic metallic glow to this thin coat and it is a much desired characteristic. The glow is caused by the structure of the hair in which the opaque core is very small in size and may in some areas be totally absent. The transparent part of the hair, called the medulla, takes up this space and acts like a fiber-optic tube with bending light through one side of the hair and refracting it out the other side, often with a golden cast. Few horse breeds can claim the variety of colors that are found in the Akhal-Teke and are no disallowed colors or markings in the Akhal-Teke breed although roan appears to have died out. Akhal-Tekes typically have white markings and sabino pinto markings are not at all uncommon. Rabicano or roan is also seen. Grays are fairly common in the breed and are often beautifully dappled and may turn completely white with age. Here is just a sample of the more distinctive colors to be found in this breed.
Black, also called Electric Black and Raven Black, is very common in the Akhal-Teke and when added to the famous Akhal-Teke Glow these horses glitter with a blue or purple sheen. This color is so special it has its own name in Russian, voronaya. Cremello is also a common color in the Akhal-Teke and the glow to the coat is so strong it is visible even in a darkened barn.
Golden is the archetypical color of the Akhal-Teke horse and is called bulanaya in Russian. Because of the unique structure of the hair, Golden horses may be quite dark in color and may even be confused with Bay. In the sunlight, the Golden versions of Bay, Dun and Buckskin coats glitter with gold in a way that a camera simply cannot capture. The Akhal-Teke produces some spectacular Bays with coats that glitter with reds and golds, and the Mahogany Bay has a special gene modifier that gives a black tipping to the hairs and produces many lovely variations. The breed also produces some truly stunning palominos that usually have plenty of chrome, which is a term for lots of facial white or high white on the legs.
The Akhal-Teke is very spirited, stubborn and bold which makes it an outstanding sport horse and the breed is currently competing in endurance, jumping, dressage, eventing, and western events, as well as being used as pleasure horses. Racing Akhal-Tekes and the maintenance of the breed itself is a principal source of national and cultural pride.