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Akhal-Teke is a breed known for its resilience, intelligence and spectacular fur. Horses of this breed are considered complete equestrian athletes and are the ideal companion for horsemen who adore long walks in the saddle.
The Akhal-Teke hails from what is now the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, a land bordered by the Caspian Sea and the countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Much of the area is covered by the vast and unforgiving Karakum Desert, which heavily influenced the development of the Akhal-Teke breed. The isolation of Turkmenistan has kept the Akhal-Teke a fairly pure breed for thousands of years, and the horse is a national emblem, featured on the country's coat of arms, stamps, and currency. Early breeders of the Akhal-Teke were Turkmenistan tribesmen, who used their horses to raid neighbouring territories. It is believed that both the Persian Emperor Xerxes and the Macedonian king Alexander the Great rode Akhal-Tekes.
Akhal-Tekes in the old days were not kept in herds but rather tethered outside their owners' houses or tents. They were covered in felt, which helped develop their short, glistening coat, and hand fed a bare diet that included a small amount of grain and mutton fat to encourage a lean, muscular body. These horses were also given a minimum amount of water, and they grew into a breed that was easily able to travel long distances without needing to stop for hydration.
In 1881, what is now Turkmenistan was subsumed by the Russian Empire, and the Akhal-Teke became a popular Russian horse. It was at this time that the breed acquired its current name: "Akhal" for the oasis at which it was first developed and "Teke" for the Turkmenian tribe that raised the horses. A now famous race in 1935 from Ashgabat (the capital of modern Turkmenistan) to Moscow showed that purebred Akhal-Tekes outperformed their half-bred counterparts. In perhaps the most demanding endurance race ever, the horses crossed 2,580 miles (4,152 kilometres) in just 84 days, including three days with no water at all.
Upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan became a sovereign nation, and pure Akhal-Teke lines were once more mixed with Thoroughbred blood, mostly for flat racing. Because of these attempts to produce faster horses with mixed breeding, DNA testing is now used to evaluate the purity of Akhal-Teke lines. Turkmenistan is still considered a major Akhal-Teke breeding and auction centre, as is Russia.
What makes the Akhal-Teke appearance and conformation unique?
Thousands of years in a harsh environment have developed a one-of-a-kind look to the Akhal-Teke.The face and head are built to withstand fast running and sandstorms, with almond shaped, often hooded eyes, tall, slim ears, and large nostrils in a usually convex profile. One of the most noticeable and desirable traits of the Akhal-Teke is the luminous, metallic sheen to its coat, which may have afforded camouflage in the desert. Akhal-Tekes can be found in a wide range of colours: black, bay, red and liver chestnut and grey.
Akhal-Tekes have a long back, flat croup, shallow rib cage, and narrow chest, with slim hindquarters as well. The forelegs are extremely straight, and the rear legs are frequently sickled (cow hocks).
What kind of dispositions do Akhal-Tekes have?
It should come as no surprise, given how they were raised for millennia, that Akhal-Tekes tend to be one-person horses, making them less than ideal for rentals and family swapping. Spirited, proud, and highly intelligent to the point of being opinionated, Akhal-Tekes can be excitable and challenging, even for experienced riders and trainers.
However, their willingness to work hard and their loyalty win them big points, and they perform best for someone who offers them regular strenuous exercise, attention, and variety.
Some Akhal-Teke owners say their horses even protect them like guard dogs, placing themselves between their owners and strangers or trying to bite people they believe are a danger to their riders. While Akhal-Teke horses of course excel at endurance riding, they are tremendous all-around athletes. In addition to Thoroughbred-style flat racing, Akhal-Tekes have had great success in other disciplines, including Dressage, Jumping, and naturally, Eventing.
One of the most famous non-racing Akhal-Tekes was the black Absent, who competed in three Olympic games. Absent won the Dressage Grand Prix in 1960 in Rome and the bronze in 1964 at Tokyo, both times under Sergei Filatov. In Mexico City in 1968, Absent was a Soviet team gold winner, ridden by Ivan Kalita.
Clearly, the Akhal-Teke is one of the smartest, sturdiest, and most versatile horse breeds. There are numerous Akhal-Teke organisations around the globe today, as these equine ambassadors from Turkmenistan have become popular worldwide. These groups can supply excellent advice about the breed in general and help find the perfect bloodline for any rider's equestrian interests and abilities.
Photo source and article: F.E.I. and internet