Akhal-Teke Horse Breed [the horses of Turkmenistan!]
Akhal-Teke horses are a specialized, rare breed of horse originating from Turkmenistan. Originally bred as long-distance racers, these horses are easily recognized by the metallic sheen of their golden color coat, which earned them the nickname ‘golden horse’.
Keep reading to find out everything you want to know about the appearance and history of these beautiful animals!
Akhal-Teke Horse History
The Akhal-Teke is one of the oldest domestic horse breeds in the world.
Where Do Akhal-Teke Horses Come From?
Originating in Turkmenistan, Central Asia, this ancient breed can trace its heritage all the way back to the original Turkoman horses, which first appeared around 3000 BC!
Origins of the Akhal-Teke Breed
The Akhal-Teke breed is greatly influenced by the extinct Turkoman horse. It also shares ancestors and pedigree lines with the well-known Arabian horse breeds.
What Does the Name Akhal-Teke Mean?
The name originates from the Akhal Oasis in the Kopet Dag mountains. This oasis is home to the Teke nomadic tribe, who produced the first official Akhal-Teke horses.
Akhal-Tekes were bred for traveling long distances in the desert. They were highly prized by their owners and often treated as members of the family.
What is a Nisean horse?
The Nisean horse is long extinct but was once a highly prized animal in the ancient world.
Originating in the Nisaean Plains area of Persia (now Iran) it is thought by many that the Akhal-Teke is a descendant of the Nisean horse.
Russian Involvement in the Akhal-Teke Breed
In the 1880s, Turkmenistan was annexed by the Russian Empire. The horses of the Akhal Oasis were officially named Akhal-Tekes at this time.
Russia also opened the first stud book for the Akhal-Teke horse. Prior to this time, pedigrees were transmitted through oral traditions among nomadic families.
Russian breeders were the first to begin cross-breeding Akhal-Tekes with other horse lines. Many modern breeds have been influenced since by the infusion of Akhal-Teke bloodlines.
Russian examples include the Orlov Trotter and the Don breeds.
Akhal-Teke Crossbred Horses
In 1932, efforts were made to crossbreed the Akhal-Tekes with English Thoroughbreds. The results proved somewhat disappointing.
The crossbreed horses were less able to handle the harsh conditions Akhal-Tekes were known for. To this day though, there are still several Akhal-Teke lines with Thoroughbred influence.
The fall of the Russian Empire and the establishment of the Soviet Union endangered the Akhal-Teke breed.
Today, Akhal-Teke horses are mostly found in Russia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Switzerland, and Italy.
In 1936, the studbook for Akhal-Tekes was officially closed. All horses with cross-breed lines born after 1936 are considered to not be purebred Akhal-Tekes.
Akhal-Tekes in Europe and the United States
The first Akhal-Teke horse came to Britain in the 17th century as part of a breeding program. This program produced many founding lines for modern racehorses.
Prior to that time, Akhal-Tekes were highly sought after as a status symbol among the aristocracy.
The first Akhal-Teke horses came to America in 1979, brought to the Shenandoah Farms in Virginia by Phil and Margo Case
In 1982, the Akhal-Teke Association of America was founded.
Akhal-Teke horses are an easily recognized breed due to their unique coat and sleek body. However, years of breeding have given these horses many other identifiable characteristics.
The Akhal-Teke’s appearance is simply stunning and when you see the horse for the first time you will instantly know how special they are!
The Akhal-Teke breed is known for its slender conformation, a result of breeding for speed and desert adaptability.
- Body: They have a slim body with sleek lines and a small narrow chest giving them great agility and speed.
- Head and Neck: Long, narrow head atop a slender long neck.
- Eyes, Ears, and Nostrils: The Akhal-Teke has long ears that are narrow. Their eyes and nostrils are large. These traits help with sensing and evading danger in the desert.
- Legs and Hooves: Long legs and small, hard hooves. Despite their delicate appearance, they have strong legs and sturdy feet.
- Height: Generally between 14-16 hands in height. Not incredibly tall, but respectable.
- Lines: Long back, prominent high withers, and solid shoulders with a narrow deep chest.
- Mane and Tail: Akhal-Teke horses tend to have thin, fine manes and tails. Though they seem sparse in comparison to other horses, they have a silky texture.
- Skin and Coat: The skin of the Akhal-Teke breed is fairly thin, due to its adaptation to the desert. Thin skin keeps the horse cooler and lighter for the harsh conditions.
- Hair: The coat of the Akhal-Teke is short and fine. The hair, however, has an interesting structure.
Why are Akhal-Tekes So Shiny?
According to equine experts, scale patterns, small cuticles, and a certain degree of flattening all contribute to the bending of light through the hairs.
This refraction is what causes the trademark Golden Horse sheen Akhil-Tekes are known for.
Akhal-Tekes come in many different colors, despite their nickname of the golden horse. White markings are also common to see on them.
Here is a list of Akhal-Teke horse colors.
What Is The Most Common Akhal-Teke Color?
The Akhal-Teke horse is probably most thought of having a golden buckskin color or palomino cremello color but they often come in black as well.
The horses with the lighter colors lend themselves to the nickname ‘Golden Horse’.
The Akhal-Teke is known to be an energetic, highly intelligent breed. They are friendly and take instruction and training well.
Are Akhal-Teke Horses Good for Beginners?
Despite their friendly nature, the Akhal-Teke is not recommended for beginner riders. Their high energy can make them difficult to control.
Famous Akhal-Tekes and Historical Events
- Also spelled as Byerly Turk, this horse was found in Budapest and brought to England in the 1600s and plays a role in the Akhal-Teke notaritiy.
- Byerley Turk became the warhorse of Captain Byerley, and fought in King William’s War.
- Byerley Turk was introduced to and bred with English mares in later years.
- Byerley Turk was one of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred line.
- It is uncertain as to whether he was an Arabian, Turkoman (ancestor to the Akhal-Teke), or an Akhal-Teke, but is recognized for bringing attention to the Akhal-Teke breed.
The Endurance Race of 1935
- A group of Turkomen riders made an 84-day endurance race to prove the value of their Akhal-Teke horses to former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin.
- They went from Ashkabahad, the Turkmenistan capital, to Moscow.
- Total length of the endurance race event was 2,580 miles which included a 225 mile stretch of desert to be crossed in 3 days.
- This race is what many consider to be responsible for the removal of thoroughbred crossbreds from the Akhal-Teke studbook as they did not perform as well as the purebreds.
Almila and Laurence Bougault:
- Laurence Bougault was a French poet and in 2009 he rode his Akhal-Teke, Almila, from Ishfan, in Iran, to Paris, France.
- The total journey was 4,000 miles.
- Akhal-Teke horse Almila and Laurence Bougault made the long trip in under six months.
Absent is the Most Famous Akhal-Teke Horse
- Absent – Sometimes spelled Absinth or Absinthe.
- Absent was a black Akhal Teke stallion and often called the ‘black swan’ and most beautiful horse in the Olympics.
- 1960 Grand Prix Dressage Olympic gold medal winner for the Soviet team at Summer Olympics.
- Also Earned individual Medals in the 1964 Olympics.
- Earned a gold medal for Soviet Team in the 1968 Olympics.
- Totaled six Olympic medals during his career as an Olympic competitor.
- Absent set the record for individual horse awards.
- Sired several lines known for their abilities in dressage and show-riding.
Care and Breeding of Akhal-Teke Horses
In the harsh conditions of the desert, horses were an important part of the tribe. They were necessary for travel, trade, and raids.
Akhal-Tekes were also a status symbol among tribesmen.
Early Akhal-Teke Care:
- Bloodlines were passed down in oral tradition for generations.
- Stallions were covered in felt and blankets to keep their coats short and shiny.
- Prior to raids or long rides, horses were fed a sparse diet. This was intended to prepare them for harsh travel conditions in extreme heat with very little water and food.
- The key to the Akhal-Teke’s stamina was a protein-rich diet.
- Lean builds allowed them to travel much easier without any extra weight.
- Horses were raised singly and kept with family. This resulted in raising horses with extreme loyalty, to the point that they are often considered one-person horses.
Akhal-Teke Care Today:
- Akhal-Tekes are generally found in the care of reputable breeders.
- Akhal-Tekes need only basic care in terms of grooming. Their short, fine hair lends itself to fairly easy maintenance.
- Akhal-Tekes still thrive on a high-protein diet. Some trainers and livestock experts recommend a regular amount of barley mixed with eggs and butter.
- Most Akhal-Tekes today enjoy a diet of high-quality grass and hay, with supplements to meet their nutritional needs.
- Akhal-Teke horses enjoy being active. Experts say they prefer to spend most of their time in a space where they can get plenty of exercise.
Akhal-Teke Health Problems
Due to the relatively small genetic pool for the breed, Akhal-Tekes are at risk for certain genetic conditions.
Naked Foal Syndrome:
Causes foal to be born hairless
Often accompanied by dental issues and jaw deformations
Can result in digestive issues and pain later on
Cervical Vertebral Malformation – Wobbler Syndrome:
Results in a stiff and uneven gait
Caused by neurological deficiencies
Treatable with medication and therapy
Causes testes to not present in the scrotum
Makes neutering and other health-related tasks more difficult
This can result in a more temperamental horse
What Are Akhal-Teke Horses Used For?
Akhal-Tekes are highly intelligent and athletic horses. Today they excel in many forms of competitive sports, including jumping, individual dressage, and racing.
Long-distance racing is where the Akhal-Teke horse truly shines. Their stamina and endurance make them ideal for just about any racing condition.
Long-distance flat races are still held in Turkmenistan today, in the Ashgabat Stadium. These races are specifically for Akhal-Tekes, meant to show off the best of the breed.
Akhal-Tekes have a graceful carriage, ideal for dressage, due to their unique method of trotting.
According to experts, Akhal-Tekes don’t use the traditional two-step trot, which involves stepping simultaneously with diagonal hooves. Instead, they take individual steps with each foot.
The result is a smoother, easier, and more efficient gait. It’s also more comfortable for the rider.
Experienced riders and judges have described it as a ‘fluid, light and elegant movement with the appearance of floating above the ground’.
Akhal-Tekes excel at jumping. However, they have not earned the notable distinctions in this field that they have in racing and dressage.
How Are Akhal-Teke Horses Trained?
- Akhal-Tekes have a high level of intelligence and loyalty. As such, they prefer to work with one person, ideally their rider.
- Akhal-Tekes require an experienced trainer to handle their active natures.
- Experts recommend being gentle but firm. Akhal-Tekes are reported to work poorly with very strict or harsh trainers.
- Positive enforcement and encouragement are said to be the best way to train an Akhal-Teke.
- Akhal-Tekes need plenty of exercise. They prefer to spend a minimal amount of time in a stall or enclosure.
Where are Akhal-Teke Horses Found Today?
Although rare, purebred Akhal-Tekes are still mostly found in Turkmenistan and Russia.
Turkmenistan takes great pride in the Akhal-Teke. The horse is even featured on their coat of arms, their currency, their stamps, and their national emblem.
Other locations to find Akhal-Tekes include North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe.
Related Akhal-Teke Questions
How Much Does an Akhal-Teke Horse Cost?
Akhal-Tekes are a rare horse breed and hard to find. That fact makes them expensive!
Depending on age, gender, and pedigree, an Akhal-Teke can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000, and sometimes more.
Is the Akhal-Teke Horse Breed Endangered?
The Akhal-Teke is considered an endangered breed.
How Many Akhal-Teke Horses Are There?
Currently, there are about 6,600 Akhal-Tekes registered worldwide. However, many of these are not considered purebred Akhal-Tekes, due to cross-breeding.
How Many Akhal-Teke Horses are in the United States?
It is thought that there are only about 500 purebred Akhal-Teke horses in the United States.
Where Can I See an Akhal-Teke?
The best way to come in contact with an Akhal-Teke today is through the Akhal-Teke Association of America, or by traveling to Turkmenistan.
If neither of these options is available, you may need to consult your local breeders.
Does the Name Akhal-Teke Require a Hyphen?
Great question! As you search around the internet you will see Akhal-Teke spelled with a hyphen and sometimes without a hyphen! It appears to be used both ways.
However, when you look at official Akhal-Teke websites such as The Akhal-Teke Foundation, The International Association of Akhal-Teke Breeding (MAAK), and The Akhal-Teke Association of America (ATAA) they all use the hyphen (most of the time!).
Does the Akhal-Teke Horse Have Blue Eyes?
Yes, the Akhal-Teke horse can have beautiful blue eyes adding to its already enchanting look!
Is the Akhal-Teke Horse Fast?
Yes, the Akhal-Teke horse is known for being a very fast horse. Some say they can rival the Thoroughbred horse in how fast they can run.
In Turkmenistan, the Akhal-Teke horse participates in what they call flat racing. This type of horse racing event features the Akhal-Teke and is considered the nation’s favorite sport by many.
How Do You Pronounce Akhal-Teke?
The Akhal-Teke is a beautiful and rare horse. It has many unique traits, from its coat to its conformation to its gait, that is found in no other breed.
Along with the Arabian and Barber horses, the Akhal-Teke is one of the last remnants of the famed Turkoman horses of ancient times.
This, along with its many contributions to the modern horse breeds, makes it one of the most historically relevant horses in existence.
You may not want to own an Akhal-Teke if you’re not a dedicated rider or dedicated competitor in equine sports. However, they are certainly worth seeing in action.
Should you have the opportunity, you will find that interaction with them is an experience you will remember for a long time to come.