Elegant and loyal, the Akhal-Teke is the last purebred Turkmen horse. Studies at the University of Kentucky confirm the Akhal-Teke as the earliest domesticated breed of horses, dating from 4000 b.c. Descending from one of the four horse types that crossed the Bering Strait in prehistoric times, Akhal-Tekes evolved into a lean and graceful but hardy horse inhabiting Central Asia.
Longer necks, a higher head carriage, larger eyes and longer ears bettered the horse’s ability to see, hear and smell predators in Central Asia's open plains. The metallic golden coloring predominant among the Akhal-Teke provided camouflage against the desert landscape. Traditionally, Akhal-Tekes have lean proportions with long sinewy legs, a narrow chest, a long back and flat ribs. The Akhal-Teke has a small thin head, long ears, large eyes with a short silky mane and tail. In appearance, the Akhal-Teke is similar to its descendant, the Persian Arab. In size, it is more comparable to another of its descendants, the English thoroughbred. Standing 13 to 16 hands on small unusually hard hooves that are rarely shod; the Akhal-Teke are known for endurance.
Historically, the ability of the Akhal-Teke to cover great distances of harsh terrain under extreme climatic conditions made them indispensable to their Turkmen owners. Turkmen tribesmen valued their horses above all else. As a nomadic people they faced enemy conflict and relied heavily on the strength, speed and endurance of their horses. Aside from their value as military mounts, Akhal-Tekes were also invaluable in assisting Turkmen nomads with their daily work.
Modern history of the breed began with Russian Empire's annexation of Turkmenistan in 1881. Russian general, Kuropatkin, who grew to love the horses he had seen while fighting the tribesmen, founded a breeding farm and named the horses "Akhal-Tekes," after the Teke Turkmen tribe that lived near the Akhal oasis. The rise of the Soviet Union brought an end to private ownership and the horses were placed in state-owned stud farms. Rather than surrender their horses, many tribesmen fled with them to Persia and Afghanistan. Post World War I famine resulted in a Soviet decree that the horses in the stud farms would be slaughtered for food. Consequently, breeders released many Akhal-Teke into the desert; preventing the annihilation of the breed. In 1935, fifteen Akhal-Tekes were ridden 3000 kilometers (2700 miles), from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Moscow, USSR in eighty-four days, to show Joseph Stalin the Akhal-Teke's endurance in the hope that he would permit breeding. The campaign was a success and the Soviet Union printed the first studbook in 1941, which included 287 stallions and 468 mares.
Upon achieving independence in 1991, the government of Turkmenistan defined horse breeding as a nationalistic concern and an art form. The Akhal-Teke has been declared a national treasure and its image graces the state seal of Turkmenistan.
Today private ownership of Akhal-Tekes worldwide is steadily increasing with a global population of 3500. Introduced to the United States in 1979, the current US Akhal-Teke population is approximately 300. The future of the Akhal-Teke is in its speed, endurance and grace. These characteristics combined with loyalty and elegance make the Akhal-Teke a coveted racer, show jumper and dressage mount.
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