The Akhal Teke horse originates from and is the national emblem of Turkmenistan. It is considered one of the oldest breeds of horses that still exists today, the most beautiful, and resilient. They were highly esteemed and appreciated by their owners for their agility, swiftness, and loyalty. In fact, a number of leaders and historic personalities considered this breed remarkable, including Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, and a number of Roman emperors.
History and Origins
Ancestors of the modern Akhal Teke horse, the Nisean horses, are thought to have lived about 3,000 years ago in Asia. Akhal Tekes were the most valuable possession of a Turkmenistan tribe. Given they were used for raiding, the whole tribe’s survival depended on them. They selectively bred the Ahalteke as they call it and orally recorded their pedigrees. High attention was paid to the way these horses were cared for and trained. Even then, the Akhal Tekes’ short and shiny coats were protected with 5 or more layers of felt.
These horses were highly appreciated by other tribes or people for their agility, stamina, endurance, and loyalty. Russians named them Argamaks, which translates to divine/sacred horses and Chinese emperors sacrificed whole armies just to get their hands on a few Argamaks.
At the end of the 19th century, Turkmenistan lost to the Russian Empire and became part of it. A Russian general grew fond of these horses after seeing them in battle and founded a farm shortly after the war came to an end. He named this breed Akhal Teke after the Teke tribe that lived by the Akhal oasis.
The Akhal Teke horse is closely related to Arabian, Barb, and the now-extinct Turkoman horse. Whether they have a common ancestor or if one derived from the other is still highly debated. However, one thing is clear: Between the 14th and the 19th century, Arabian mares were used to refine the Akhal Teke breed. At the beginning of the 20th century, the breed was crossed with Thoroughbred to create a fast long-distance horse. However, the resulting specimens were significantly weaker than pure bred Akhal Tekes. Therefore, this practice was soon discontinued.
The Akhal Teke horse is most known for its athleticism, speed, endurance, intelligence, and their coat’s unique metallic shine. This is the reason why a warm-colored Akhal Teke is also known as the golden horse. However, Akhal Tekes are much more than a pretty sight: They are among the most resistant to harsh environmental conditions like extreme temperatures or drought.
Physical Characteristics of the Akhal Teke Horse
The Akhal Teke horse is slim and supple, with lean and graceful features. It stands between 14.2 and 16 hands high and has well-defined muscles which tightly hug the bones.
An Akhal Teke’s head is long and thin, with elegant and discreet lines and a refined profile. Its eyes are expressive and can be almond-shaped. The straight nose line leads to 2 wide nostrils that are thin and dry. The Akhal Teke has swift and alert ears, highly responsive to the slightest audio stimuli.
The neck of an Akhal Teke horse is long and straight, its chest is narrow and lean, and the withers are high and prominent. Their long shoulders slope down elegantly towards a clean and firm shoulder bed. Akhal Tekes have a shallow ribcage and long, but unpronounced loins. Their quarters are narrow and sloped, and croups are long and well-defined. Akhal Teke horses have long, slender legs. Apart from the noticeable tendons, their legs are otherwise smooth.
Akhal Teke Horse Colors
Another particularity of the Akhal Teke breed is its coat aspect. Short and shiny, the coat of these horses is most likely acquired through evolution to make them more resilient to the harsh desert conditions. Their manes and tails are silky, but also short. The 3 basecoat colors (black, bay, and red) lead, in time, to amazing variations.
Black can derive into anything from raven black to smokey black or cream. The latter is one of the rarest, but most appreciated nuances; Horses with cream coats often have blue, gray, or hazel eyes. Bay variations include black, mahogany, or light golden Akhal Teke horses. Genetic modifications can lead to bucksin or perlino (another rare and cherished nuance). Red basecoat in parents can lead to palomino, cremello, liver chestnut, or apricot chestnut.
Gray is not a basecoat color, but is common among foals after a few months or even years from birth. Some might even fade to completely white.
Akhal Tekes are prone to developing a series of harrowing genetic diseases:
Hairless Horse Syndrome, or Naked Foal Syndrome, is caused by a recessive gene in the Akhal Teke breed. Foals are born without a hair coat, mane, or tail and suffer greatly throughout their short life because of sunburns or cold. Other symptoms include diarrhea or other digestive disorders, scaly and inflamed skin, or lung infections. Foals do not usually live more than a few weeks, although some have been reported to live up to 4 years with this condition. Nevertheless, this syndrome is always fatal and causes great pain and suffering.
Hereditary cryptorchidism is another genetic disorder Akhal Tekes are prone to be born with. This causes a series of health complications and can also lead to behavior problems. Cervical vertebral malfunction, also known as CVM or Wobbler syndrome, can affect horses no matter their breed; However, Akhal Tekes are more susceptible to developing it. Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis, or DSLD in short, is believed to be related to CVM.
An Akhal Teke Horse’s Temperament
Akhal Teke horses have a proud, elegant attitude and are considered the most intelligent horse breed. They are able to respond to discreet or even mental suggestions by their owner. They are highly sensitive and should be treated with great care and soft-spoken commands. Shouting or punishments can lead to negative responses and defensive moods even for weeks at a time.
No matter what they are used for, they need permanent attention and affection to truly thrive. It is thought that selective breeding and permanent companionship with humans made them addicted to bonding with us. Therefore, an Akhal Teke is definitely not suitable for impulsive or irritable owners. in fact, they need much more than a simple owner: For an Akhal Teke to thrive and lead a happy life, it needs a human friend that understands its need for affection and gentleness. They should also not be limited to stables, but allowed to roam freely on wide open pastures.
Common Uses for an Akhal Teke Horse
Akhal Tekes have a unique way of carrying themselves. Naturally athletic, they show great results in dressage, endurance riding, racing, eventing, or jumping.
Akhal Tekes are exquisite horses with a multitude of unique physical and temperamental traits. Although seemingly frail, they can easily adjust to harsh environmental conditions. Nevertheless, their delicate appearance is more representative of their personality: They are extremely susceptible to both negative and positive emotional stimuli from their owner.