Akhal Teke Horse Breed

Zachary

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Akhal Teke HORSE BREED

With its golden metallic sheen and graceful athleticism honed over thousands of years, the Akhal Teke stands out among horse breeds for its exotic beauty and spirited nature. This ancient “Celestial Horse” is a national emblem of Turkmenistan, where it evolved in the harsh landscape of the Karakum Desert. Prized for its speed, endurance and intelligence, the Akhal Teke continues to captivate horse enthusiasts around the world. However, with an estimated global population under 6,000, this rare breed requires careful conservation to preserve its unique genetic heritage.

History and Origins

The Akhal Teke’s lineage stretches back over 3,000 years to the arid plains of Turkmenistan, where nomadic tribes like the Teke people relied on their horses for transportation and warfare. These tribal breeders passed down oral traditions of bloodlines generation after generation, selecting their best warhorses as foundation stock. The result was a lean yet powerful horse suited to long treks across the desert without food or water.

References to the Akhal Teke’s ancestors can be found as far back as 2400 BCE. Skeletal remains resembling the modern breed have been unearthed in southern Turkmenistan, once inhabited by ancient nomadic cultures. Historians believe the Akhal Teke descended from the Nisean horses of ancient Persia, prized by civilizations across the region and known to Greek writers as “heavenly horses.” For millennia, the breed remained confined to the desert oases of Central Asia, guarded zealously by the Turkic tribes.

Akhal Teke Stallion - Magnatli

The arrival of the Russian Empire in the 1800s threatened the Akhal Teke’s future. As the Turkmen people fought against tsarist forces, their cherished horses were targeted. However, a Russian general named Kuropatkin developed an admiration for the breed and established the first formal Akhal Teke stud farm after defeating the Turkmen. Horses from the Teke tribe’s homeland near the Akhal oasis gave the breed its current name.

Breed numbers dropped dangerously low during the upheavals of early Soviet rule. But with the establishment of the Turkmen SSR, concerted efforts restored the Akhal Teke population through careful breeding. Strict records were kept to preserve bloodlines free of foreign influence. The breed regained international fame when the stallion Absent claimed the dressage gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Today the majority of Akhal Tekes remain in Turkmenistan, where they are considered a national symbol. But export restrictions have been eased in recent decades, allowing the spread of the breed to Russia, Europe and North America. Global breeding programs aim to protect this rare genetic treasure for future generations.

Akhal Teke Characteristics

The Akhal Teke stands out immediately with its distinctive lean physique. Rather than being heavily muscled like many riding horses, this breed has evolved a slender profile that maximizes speed and endurance. The Akhal Teke typically stands between 14 and 16 hands high, weighing 900 to 1,000 pounds.

With its small, narrow head, long ears, slim neck and lithe limbs, the Akhal Teke appears refined and delicate but hides surprising strength and tenacity. Its short silky coat allows comfortable movement in desert heat, while the springy gaits are perfectly suited to traveling long distances without tiring.

The famous golden glow comes from the cream gene dilution, which can produce palomino, buckskin and cremello coats. When sunlight hits the thin hair coat at certain angles, it creates a dazzling metallic sheen. But all Akhal Tekes have a certain radiance to their presence, emanating the spirit of their desert origins.

Equally prized is the breed’s reputation for intelligence, courage and devotion to its owner. Various tales describe Akhal Tekes returning to find their people across vast distances. But their lively nature also requires patient and sensitive handling. With proper training, these clever horses shine in many pursuits.

Uses

The nomadic Teke people relied on their exceptional horses for both raiding and everyday transportation across the deserts of Central Asia. Later the Russian tsar prized Akhal Tekes as fine cavalry mounts. But the breed’s most famous calling has always been as a long-distance runner.

In 1935, a group of riders set out to prove the incredible stamina of the Akhal Teke by galloping over 2,500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow. The horses carried their riders across the punishing Kara-Kum desert sands for three days without water. This epic journey helped establish the Akhal Teke as one of the great endurance breeds.

Today Akhal Tekes compete in endurance races worldwide, as well as excelling in dressage, show jumping and eventing. Their slender build produces smooth, elastic movement ideal for equestrian sports. Of course, many Akhal Tekes also serve as pleasure riding horses. The breed’s exotic prestige has also made it a status symbol among Russian and Central Asian elites.

One famous Akhal Teke, Absent, claimed three dressage Olympic medals across three Games for the USSR under rider Sergey Filatov. Absent sired a long line of champion horses that demonstrated the Akhal Teke’s world-class talent.

Breed Status

Despite its historic fame, the Akhal Teke almost faded into obscurity during the turmoil of modern times. After surviving for thousands of years in the obscurity of the Central Asian deserts, the breed now confronts the challenge of low population numbers. Estimates place the global Akhal Teke population at between 5,000-7,000.

The largest Akhal Teke population remains in Turkmenistan, which claims approximately 4,000 horses. But limited genetic diversity poses challenges for the breed’s health and vigor. Strict policies govern the export of horses from Turkmenistan, although these restrictions have recently been loosened somewhat.

Russia boasts the next largest population at around 1,500 Akhal Tekes. Breeding farms across Europe likely account for another 500 horses, with an estimated 300 in North America. Rare and expensive, the Akhal Teke remains largely unknown outside of equestrian circles. Continued outcrossing is necessary to support the breed’s survival.

International registries carefully track Akhal Teke bloodlines and work to build global breeding programs. Expanding and sharing the breed’s narrow gene pool will keep the Akhal Teke’s spirit alive for future generations.

Choosing an Akhal Teke Horse

When considering an Akhal Teke horse, the first step is honestly evaluating your experience level. These spirited, intelligent horses are best matched with riders who have an established foundation in horsemanship skills.

Beginners may become frustrated with the breed’s sensitive nature and high energy. Intermediate and advanced riders who use gentle, consistent training approaches will find success with Akhal Tekes. Their keen intelligence allows them to form close cooperative partnerships with patient handlers.

It’s also essential to identify your goals for owning an Akhal Teke. Are you looking for an endurance mount? A horse to compete in dressage or eventing? Do you want to focus on breeding these rare horses? Your intended activities should guide you in selecting an individual Akhal Teke that is well-suited for that task.

When researching the breed, pay close attention to the various Akhal Teke horse bloodlines. Most living Akhal Tekes today trace their ancestry back to the stallion Boinou, foaled in 1885. Lines tracing to Boinou are prized for excellent stamina and speed. There are also a few rarer lines descending from other foundation sires.

Reaching out to Akhal Teke breeders is the best way to learn about promising bloodlines and available horses. Breeders often have in-depth, multi-generational knowledge of the pedigrees and qualities of their breeding stock. They can provide guidance on which lines produce horses with traits that match your interests and experience level.

Evaluating Prospective Akhal Teke Horses

When evaluating an Akhal Teke horse for purchase, there are several key attributes to look for beyond bloodline. Assessing conformation, gaits, and temperament will provide insight into the horse’s potential and suitability for your needs.

Conformation

The Akhal Teke breed standard calls for horses with correct conformation including:

  • Refined, well-proportioned head with large nostrils and almond-shaped eyes
  • Long, slender neck set high and arching proudly
  • Prominent withers transitioning smoothly into the back
  • Long, sloping shoulder
  • Deep, narrow chest
  • Long, straight legs with dense, strong bone and small hooves

Look for an Akhal Teke prospect that closely matches these points. The long legs, neck, back, and refined head give the breed its distinctive appearance. Sound, strong legs and feet are particularly important for a horse bred to cover long distances.

Temperament

As herd-bound horses originally kept in close proximity to people, Akhal Tekes are very sensitive and form intense bonds with their owners. They are spirited, energetic, and highly intelligent. At times they can be stubborn, emotional, and excitable.

When evaluating temperament, look for a horse that seems eager to cooperate and connect with people. Signs of interest and engagement are positive. Wariness, indifference, or excess anxiousness may signal challenges in training and handling.

Akhal Teke foals and youngsters benefit greatly from early gentle handling. This allows them to become comfortable with human interactions and being led. Prospects that have received regular, thoughtful handling from birth will often have more amenable temperaments.

Gaits

The Akhal Teke is renowned for its endurance and speed. At race distances, they are capable of sustaining speeds up to 35 mph. The breed also has natural agility and light, athletic paces well-suited for dressage and jumping.

When evaluating prospective purchases, pay attention to how they move at walk and trot. The strides should be long and sweeping, with impulsion coming from the hindquarters. Look for flexibility through the shoulders and hips. Their movement should appear balanced and efficient.

Free lunging or observing the horse being ridden are good ways to assess gaits. Keep in mind that young or unbroke horses may need time and training to strengthen and coordinate their movement to reach their full potential.

Vet Exam

Before finalizing your purchase, it is highly advisable to have a trusted veterinarian conduct a thorough soundness exam. They will assess the horse’s overall health and identify any existing or potential issues.

There are a few conditions particular to Akhal Tekes to screen for, including:

  • Cryptorchidism – Only one or no descended testicle in males
  • Degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis – Ligament deterioration causing lameness
  • Wobbler syndrome – Compression of the spinal cord
  • Naked foal syndrome – Lack of hair coat at birth (genetic defect)

Reputable sellers will welcome a pre-purchase veterinary examination to verify soundness before purchase.

Making the Purchase

Once you have found the right Akhal Teke horse, it’s time to complete the purchase. This includes setting a budget, signing a contract, and arranging for transport home.

Budget

As a rare, selectively bred horse, Akhal Tekes are more expensive to acquire than many other breeds. The Akhal Teke horse price typically ranges from $5,000 to $35,000 USD. Horses with successful show records or excellent breeding may sell for even higher prices.

In addition to the initial purchase amount, new owners must prepare to budget for ongoing care and expenses. The annual cost of owning an Akhal Teke horse runs between $1,770 to $12,930 per year. Major costs include boarding, feed, routine health care, hoof care, and training.

Sales Contract

Reputable Akhal Teke breeders sell horses on a written sales contract outlining the terms, conditions, and responsibilities of both buyer and seller. Be sure to fully review the contract before signing.

Key points to review are the price, payment terms, who bears costs of transport, provisions for vet exams, and any applicable health or training guarantees. Registration paperwork will also need to be transferred to you if included in the purchase.

Transport

Akhal Tekes are best transported in straight load horse trailers with smooth suspensions to provide a comfortable ride. If hiring a professional hauler, be sure they are experienced in handling sensitive horse breeds.

Some sellers may be willing to assist with travel arrangements for delivered purchases. For local transactions, you may transfer the horse yourself using your own suitable trailer. Long distance transport will require appropriate rest stops and potentially overnight lodging for the horse and handlers.

Caring for your Akhal Teke at Home

Once your Akhal Teke horse arrives home, it’s time to focus on providing excellent care. Pay close attention to diet, grooming, hoof care, and health management.

Diet and Nutrition

The Akhal Teke developed in an arid environment on a diet of limited grass, hay, and some grains. They thrive best on a nutrient-dense diet without excess bulk and calories.

High quality grass hay should form the basis of the diet, supplemented by a fortified feed formulated for endurance horses or hard keepers. Support overall health by also providing a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Work closely with your veterinarian or equine nutritionist to develop an optimal feeding program. Monitor your Akhal Teke’s weight and energy levels, adjusting the diet to maintain excellent condition.

Grooming

The short, fine coat of the Akhal Teke sheds out readily. Daily grooming performs the dual function of removing loose hair and bringing out the breed’s prized metallic sheen.

Use a rubber curry comb first to dislodge dirt. Then gently brush the coat with a soft brush to stimulate shine and blood circulation. Pay extra attention when shedding the winter coat in spring.

Run a wide-tooth comb through the mane and tail to keep them tangle-free. Regular grooming provides essential bonding time and helps keep your horse’s coat gleaming.

Hoof Care

Akhal Teke hooves are naturally small, dense, and durable. Even so, consistent trimming or shoeing every 6 to 8 weeks is vital. This prevents cracks or flare-ups and keeps the hooves balanced.

Check shoes after each ride for any looseness. Remove shoes for winter turnout to allow the hooves to naturally wear down. Address any issues promptly to maintain soundness.

Health Care

Preventive health care is key to your Akhal Teke’s wellbeing. Follow your vet’s recommendations for annual vaccinations and parasite control. Horses that travel or board at facilities with other horses especially benefit from regular deworming.

Promptly address any injuries or signs of illness. Pay close attention to the horse’s energy level, appetite, and behavior as indicators of health. Building a relationship with an equine vet you trust is invaluable.

Training and Exercising your Akhal Teke

Proper training and exercise allows Akhal Tekes to reach their athletic potential while building the close bonds they crave.

Training Approach

The sensitive and reactive nature of Akhal Tekes demands trainers who are patient, intentional, and focused. Positive reinforcement yields excellent results. Harsh methods or equipment will cause the horse to shut down.

From the very beginning, establish clear boundaries and expectations paired with rewards for desired responses. For example, reinforce the young horse for accepting handling and loading into a trailer. Break tasks into small steps to ensure the horse understands.

Continue using positive reinforcement as training advances under saddle. Praise effort and correct responses, gradually asking for more as the horse’s skills strengthen.

Exercise

Regular exercise is key to keeping your Akhal Teke mentally and physically fit. Provide at least an hour a day of free turnout, hand walking, or riding. Gradual, progressive conditioning prevents injury.

For horse health and enrichment, utilize a variety of activities. Hand walk or ground drive your horse over cavaletti poles to develop balance. Free lunging and round pen work encourage movement and connection. Hacking outside on trails provides environmental stimulation.

Aerobic fitness is built through steady trot and canter work. Interval training that includes faster bursts also helps develop and maintain excellent cardiorespiratory function, essential for endurance.

Conclusion

The golden-coated Akhal Teke has mesmerized horse lovers for thousands of years with its exotic beauty and spirited nature. But preserving this rare breed remains an ongoing challenge. Close communication between international registries and dedicated breeders is necessary to protect genetic diversity.

As a living window into equestrian history, the Akhal Teke represents a cultural treasure as well as a unique genetic resource. The horses embody both the fiery courage of the Turkic nomads and the enduring mystique of the desert. By safeguarding this special breed, we honor the ancient bond between horse and human.