A photograph of a horse that recently went viral is captioned “the most beautiful horse in the world.” Beauty, of course, is subjective—and whether this caption rings true for you depends on whether you admire Akhal-Teke horses.
Known as “the gift from the desert,” this breed was developed for endurance and speed. Some equestrians find the breed too weedy, with conformation that does not meet the standards of a good riding horse. Others consider them the art piece of the horse world—elegant and graceful in appearance and stride. Whatever your opinion, the Akhal Teke is among the rarest, most exotic full-sized breeds in the world, and it is growing in popularity. Until very recently, they were unknown outside of their native homeland of Turkmenistan. Now, however, an estimated 3,500 Akhal Teke horses exist worldwide, with several hundred in North America alone.
Akhal-Teke History and Origins
The Akhal-Teke is an ancient breed, possibly descended from some of the same common ancestors as the more well-known hot-blooded breed, the Arabian. It developed in the Kara Kum desert that covers most of the country of Turkmenistan, where these horses had to tolerate sparse water and food supplies as well as extremes of heat and cold. The Akhal-Tekes lived closely with their nomadic humans, each being essential to the other’s survival.
The first official breeding farms of Akhal-Tekes were started in Russia, which Turkmenistan joined in the late 1880s. Thoroughbreds were introduced into the bloodlines with the intention of improving the breed, but the effort was unsuccessful.
Interest in this breed (and in horsemanship in general) waned during the turmoil that marked the early days of Soviet Russia, and numbers dwindled. With the free-market environment of the last few decades, however, more Akhal-Tekes are being bought and bred in an increasing number of countries.
The breed’s name refers to both its origins and its breeders. Akhal is an oasis in the Kopet Dag Mountains; the Turkmen warriors who bred the horses were called the Akhal-Teke. The breed’s closest relatives were known as Massaget, Parthian, Nisean, and Turkmene.
The Akhal-Teke is distinctively fine-boned and flat-muscled. Its body—with its thin barrel and deep chest—is often compared to that of a greyhound or cheetah. The facial profile is flat or slightly convex, although some appear to be moose-nosed. It can have nearly hooded or almond-shaped eyes. It has long, slim ears, a long back, sloped shoulders, a flat croup, and a long, high set on a neck that can appear inverted compared with most other breeds. Its mane and tail tend to be sparse and fine-haired, and it may have no forelock. Overall, this elegant horse gives the appearance of raciness and wiry endurance. In fact, being thick-set or very weedy is considered a fault.
Akhal-Tekes were originally used by nomadic tribesmen of Turkmenistan for transportation; their speed and endurance were prized during raids. Nowadays, they are used for dressage, show jumping, long-distance racing, and pleasure riding. In modern-day Russia, an Akhal-Teke is a status symbol, signifying wealth and standing.
Color and Markings
Akhal-Tekes are thin-skinned, and their coats are very fine. Many carry a gene for the cream dilution—which can result in palomino, cremello, and perlino coat colors. Some horses even have pale blue eyes. All colors and patterns are accepted in the breed registry.
This article was originaly published in: https://www.thesprucepets.com/meet-the-akhal-teke-1886116 and was written by Katherine Blocksdorf
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