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The Akhal-Teke, formally the Akhaltekinskaya, is considered to be a Turkmene breed, although it is not from Turkmenistan but the surrounding region. This is, in fact, a modern representative of the ancient Turkmenian horse, even touted as a direct descendant of the famous “blood sweating” horses of old.
The Akhal-Teke is lean with a thin, sparse coat. Unlike the current standards, the Akhal-Teke has a long, dipped back, a low-set tail, a narrow chest, and large feet. Its long head tapers into an even finer but long muzzle, and its neck is angled rather than sloped.
While the Akhal-Teke doesn’t seem very impressive at first glance, its hardy feet and long, straight legs have striking form. When it walks, it appears to be gliding. This is probably a result of its longer pasterns at the hind legs that give it a very slight gait — an adaptation to its desert origins, no doubt. Also probably due to its origin, the Akhal-Teke has great endurance and stamina, enabling it to run fast during races.
The Akhal-Teke usually has white markings on its face and legs and can be found in different colors, including bay, black, chestnut, gray, and palomino. The most famous color is the pale, metallic buckskin — a gift from its Turkmen ancestors. The breed stands between 14.3 hands (57 inches, 145 centimeters) and 16.3 hands (65 inches, 165 centimeters) high.
History and Background
The Akhal-Teke is a descendant of the fierce and much-valued Turkmenian horse. The Turkmene breed was supposedly used by King Darius as a cavalry mount. Alexander the Great also used the same breed for his army; his father got the mounts from Fergana which is now known to be Turkmenistan. When the Romans came to the region, the Turkmene breed spread further and propagated, although it was heavily cross-bred to improve form and length. Parthian horses, for instance, are of Turkmenian descent. These propagated when the alfalfa was found to be edible as horse fodder. Parthian horses became so famous that the Chinese also wanted to possess the so-called “blood-sweating” horses; they made fine gifts for the Emperor.
While the ancient and original Turkmenistan breed has long been extinct, remnants can still be found today in the Akhal-Teke, which developed in the former Soviet Union; more specifically, in the Kara-Kum Desert as well as the foothills of the Kopet Mountains. In fact, the Akhal-Teke is confirmed as a direct descendant of the horses that the Chinese found so fascinating — the “blood-sweaters.”
The nomadic tribes, known as the “Teke,” were the Akhal-Teke’s original breeders. They had peculiar ways of caring for their horses. For instance, they made their horses sweat out their extra fat so that they would remain lean. Otherwise, the horses wouldn’t have survived on the scant feed available.
Through the years, the Akhal-Teke breed has been carefully maintained by its breeders. In fact, it has remained so pure that its physical attributes closely mirror those of its ancestors.