The Akhal-Teke horses, the homeland of which is Turkmenistan, are one of the most ancient and beautiful breeds of riding horses. The legendary “heavenly” horses are a unique cultural treasure and invaluable contribution of the Turkmen people to the treasury of human values.
Akhal-Teke horse is a horse breed that was allegedly bred in the territory of modern Turkmenistan about 5000 years ago. It is the most ancient of the cultural breeds and influenced many breeds such as Arabian, Thoroughbred, English racehorse and others. The Akhal-Teke horse belongs, along with purebred and Arabian horse, to the purebred breeds because it is the standard saddle horse and for 5000 years had no crossbreeding with other horse breeds. The name of Turkmen horse was given to the breed after the place where these horses were preserved pure in the Akhal oasis stretching in a narrow strip along the northern foothill of the Kopetdag from Baharden to Artik, which was inhabited by the Turkmen tribe of Teke. Thus, literally, “Ahal-Teke” is a horse of the teke tribe from the Akhal oasis.
Since ancient times, Akhal-Teke horses have been considered a faithful friend, a companion in all campaigns and peaceful life. The beauty, grace, endurance and agility that are observed in the Turkmen horse, these qualities are not found in other breeds of horses. The thousand-year history testifies to it. It is not by chance that horse breeding played a very important role in the fate of the Turkmen people. The Turkmen ancestors did not consider horses as animals, they were faithful companions, and the names of horses were often similar to the human ones or reflected human qualities. The Turkmen people could not imagine their life without horses, and to this day, there is a tradition to celebrate all holidays in the presence of horses and organize races. In addition, riding on the horse they would meet the enemy troops attacking the homeland. At such moments, Turkmens considered horses a part of themselves. The glory of Akhal-Teke horse breed bred by talent and high skill of the Turkmen people have spread all over the world today. According to historical information, Akhal-Teke horses were used by such well-known historical personalities as Alexander the Great and Ivan Grozny. In addition, Akhalteke horses have been sung in the Turkmen literature since the early times. Turkmen horses were glorified in the epics of Gorkutata, Gorogly in the works of poets classical Makhtumkuli Fraghi, Seidi, Magrupy, Mollanepes and Mataji. The image of Akhal-Teke horse “Gayrat” is vividly brought up in Gerogly’s epos. Gayrat was a true Akhal-Teke horse, a loyal and faithful friend of Gorogly. Gayrat, like his master Gorogly, showed real courage in battle. He threw himself on the enemy without fear thereby ensuring the victory of his warrior.
Purebred Akhalteke horses are widely popular all over the world, are part of the order of unicycles, and belong to the mammal family of two hundred and fifty-four breeds of horses. Two breeds are bred in Turkmenistan: purebred “Akhal-Teke” and “Yomut” horses. They are mainly bred in Akhal, Mary, Lebap and Dashoguz regions of Turkmenistan. Akhal-Teke horses are mainly of white, black, sorrel and grey color, and all colors are characterized by bright golden or silvery glow of wool. The Turkmen horses are rather high. The stallions reach 160 cm at the withers and have dry and long legs. Because of their lean constitution, they resemble a cheetah or greyhound. Long lines dominate the appearance of these horses. The chest circumference of Akhal-Teke horses is 175-190 cm and the oblique length of the torso is 160-165 cm.
Horses of the Akhal-Teke breed have a peculiar shape of the head and neck. The front part of the head is thinned and somewhat elongated, the forehead is slightly convex, the head profile is straight, but can sometimes be hunched. The eyes are deep set, expressive, slightly slanting, elongated – “Asian eyes”. Akhal-Teke horses have thin skin, through which the vascular network shines through, and the hair is silky and delicate. The mane is not very long and thick, and some individuals do not have it at all, which is not typical of any other breed. They are adapted to the dry hot climate and perfectly acclimatizes in other conditions. Specialists believe that it is the conditions of viscous sands that Akhal-Teke horses owe their unusual gait. While walking, the horse seems to glide smoothly over the ground without touching it with legs. This way of movement helped Akhal-Teke horses to walk with ease even on quicksand. Despite their thin soft skin and very short wool, Turkmen horses can endure temperatures from -30 C to +50 C, as well as serious temperature fluctuations. In addition, this makes them able to frolic not only in Turkmen sands, but also in the Siberian snows. By the age of four, Akhal-Teke horses fully mature and give birth once a year.
In this ancient land, there is a wise saying that says, “Wherever there is a horse there will be celebrations”. Turkmenistan is the country of holidays and celebrations, and the decoration of Turkmen holidays are wonderful Turkmen horses. Nowadays, equestrian sport enjoys great popularity among the fans, because of which, young Turkmen people, who tied their lives to the Turkmen horses, continue traditions of their ancestors. Upbringing of professional riders requires great efforts. The growing generation is eagerly mastering subtleties and secrets of horses’ training. Young riders who tie their lives to this profession anxiously look after horses and make a true friend. Horse-racing is one of the popular national sports enthusiastically perceived by spectators. These competitions demonstrate the perfect harmony between man and horse. The regular holding of horse races allowed keeping the horses in constant readiness for long marches and, in addition, horse races became the school of courage and skill of Turkmen riders.
Akhal-Teke horses compete in short distance races, but they are also known for their distance abilities. One of the events related to the glorious Akhal-Teke horses, which became famous as heavenly horses, took place in the 20th century. In 1935 there was held Ashgabat-Moscow horse marathon. The Akhal-Teke horses covered 4,300 kilometers for 84 days and thus demonstrated the perfect example of agility and endurance. They were able to run for three days through the Karakum desert without water, which demonstrated once again the perfection of the Turkmen horses. Akhal-Teke horses have been included into the UNESCO World Heritage List and several times into the Guinness Book of Records. The horse of the Turkmen president held the last record. Akhan, a horse belonging to the Akhal-Teke Horse Farm of the President of Turkmenistan, entered the Guinness Book of Records as the horse that was the fastest to complete the 10-meter distance on its hind legs. Beautiful Akhan, on his reins, covered this distance in 4.19 seconds, which was additional evidence of the superiority of Akhal-Teke breed, its unsurpassed qualities nurtured for many centuries by the Turkmen horse breeders.
Since ancient times, Turkmens have decorated their incomparable heavenly horses with various ornaments. It told about the great love to the noble, beautiful and clever animals. Modern horse jewelry is a modern example of a kind of modified ancient equestrian outfit that protected the horse during battles. The horse harness and special jewelry give the Akhal-Teke a great brilliance and external splendor. The delightful jewelry enhancing beauty of horses is also a kind of amulet. Turkmen jewelers made graceful ornaments of gold and gilded with precious stones for horses. Articles made of pure silver covered with gilding are passed on from generation to generation.
Akhal-Teke horse is very sensitive he has a peculiar character. He has an ardent temperament and always feels the relationship of man to himself. It is necessary to find a peculiar approach to the horse. The horse senses the rider clearly and if he feels that the rider is a beginner, he starts to play with him, he tries to dump him, but if the rider is an experienced one, he easily obeys him. In addition, Akhal-Teke horses are distinguished by a subtle mental organization. They are proud, intelligent and never flaunt their feelings.
“Turkmen Horse Day” is a national holiday celebrated annually in Turkmenistan on the last Sunday of April. It is dedicated to the Akhal-Teke horse, the oldest of the cultural horse breeds. There are monuments to the Akhal-Teke horse in every city, and they are on banknotes and even on the coat of arms. The emblem of Turkmenistan depicts Yanardag, which became the world standard of the breed in 1999.
On the National Holiday of the Turkmen horse, festivities are held all over the country. Concerts, exhibitions, literary, musical and poetry evenings, folk festivals and honoring of horse breeders are organized. Nevertheless, the main part of the festival is held in the International Akhalteke Horse Racing Complex. Horse breeders from all over the world come to the festival because it is a real celebration not only for the experts and for connoisseurs of the breed, but also for those who are simply amazed by this heavenly beauty.
Real Akhal-Teke horses can be seen at the International Akhal-Teke Horse Racing Complex. The largest hippodrome in Turkmenistan is located in the Gokdepe etrap of the Akhal velayat on Kopetdag Avenue near the National Museum of Wildlife of Turkmenistan. The facility was built in two years and was inaugurated in honor of Turkmenistan’s Independence Day on October 29, 2011. Although the hippodrome is located on the outskirts of Ashgabat, it is easy to get there. There is a monument with a height of over 20 meters topped with sculptures of five horses at the complex entrance. The building is lined with white marble. On the side, arches there are also sculptures of horses. Another sculpture is located on the territory of the complex – in the center of the fountain, in the form of an octagonal star statue of six horses are installed. The whole interior of the complex is designed in the spirit of national Turkmen symbols. If you come to Turkmenistan, you have to visit this sport, cultural and entertainment complex because the Akha-Tteke horse is a real work of art, a well-deserved pride of breeders and a result of many generations of Turkmen horse breeders. Anyone who has ever seen an Akhal-Teke will never mistake it for another breed again.