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AKHAL-TEKE, THE TURKMEN HORSE

Horses were first domesticated in central Asia between 3000 and 4000 B.C. These animals were kept for meat, milk and later as pack animals. The Akhal-Teke is the only remaining pure strain of ancient Turkmen horse, a breed whose common ancestors bear a succession of different names over time: Massaget, Parthian, Nisean, Persian, Turkmene and finally, Akhal-Teke. Arguably the oldest surviving cultured equine breed, the Akhal-Teke acquired its extraordinary physical powers and sensitive personality from the highly specialized conditions, which characterized its partnership with Central Asian nomads. Akhal-Teke blood has influenced the development of several modern horse breeds, yet its own unique features have remained largely undiluted for centuries.

Excavations in southern Turkmenistan have uncovered skeletal remains of tall, fine-boned horses dating back to 2400 BC. The breed name, however, dates back only to the end of the nineteenth century. It consists of two words: "Akhal," the long oasis nestled in the foothills of the Kopet Dag Mountains in Turkmenistan and "Teke," after the Turkmen tribe, the dominant nomadic people who inhabited the oasis and for centuries raised the Turkmene horse. This ancient breed belongs to the hotblood category and it contributed significantly to the Arabian and English thoroughbreds.

Geography contributed to the unusual characteristics of the breed. Akhal-Tekes are perhaps best known for their extraordinary aptitude for endurance riding. The volatile waves of human and equine movement throughout much of Central Asian history (wars, raids, trading), often bypassed the isolated Akhal oasis. The Caspian Sea to the west, mountains on the south and desert to the north created a protective barrier to the Teke tribe and contributed to the relative genetic stability to their prized horses. The region's harsh desert conditions -- the sandy Kara Kum desert occupies 90% of Turkmenistan -- favored survival of a horse that could tolerate extreme heat, the cold and drought. Additionally, fresh grass, essential to the high bulk diet required by horses, was available for only a few months of the year, thus, the domesticated Turkmene horse learned to survive on meager rations. They ate mostly a low-bulk diet of high protein grains mixed with mutton fat.

The cult of the horse was a common and essential part of the nomadic and warring Turkic tribes. A good horse could make the difference between life and death for its rider. More than that, the Akhal-Teke were a source of great personal pride to its owner and an esteemed part of the human family to which it belonged. They were often blanketed in cold weather, fed by hand and decorated with neck and chest ornaments. To this day Akhal-Tekes often bond closely with their human partners; they are usually sensitive to the way they are treated. Responsive to gentle training, they can be stubborn and resentful if treated rudely. The biggest number of Akhal-Teke horses are in Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Many Akhal-Teke horses were imported to Germany during the Soviet Union time. The number of purebred and partbred Akhal-Tekes in Europe and America has been increasing.

Breed Characteristics

The Akhal-Teke's appearance is unique; no other breed of horse shares its distinctive features, which are embodied in words like dry, thin, straight, high-set and lean. The head is long and chiseled, often with a broad brow. Their eyes are large and expressive and sometimes almond-shaped. Their ears are narrow, high-set, swivel on their axis, and move when alerted to sound and movement. Their long neck is set high and straight relative to their shoulders, their withers are quite prominent. Their chests are narrow, their body is long and lean, the muscling well defined, but smoothly hugging the bone. The legs are slender, with strongly sculpted tendons and long and flexible pasterns. The skin is thin, the hair is silky and the mane and tail are spars. Several coat colors are possible for these horses, but the most common include, bay, black, dun, chestnut, gray and palomino. A distinctive feature is a pronounced metallic sheen, and a glossy golden polish overlaying the basic coat color.

Reference: The Akhal-Teke Association of America (ATAA), founded in 1983, keeps registries for pureblood and crossbreeds.

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