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Distinguishing features: Riding horse bred for endurance; noted for 'metallic' coat of some individuals
Country of origin: Turkmenistan
Breed standards
Akhal-Teke Association of America: Breed standards
International Association of Akhal-Teke Breeding (MAAK): Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Akhal-Teke, Ahalteke in the Turkmen language, (pronounced ), is a horse breed from Turkmenistan, where they are a national emblem.[1] They are noted for their speed and for endurance on long marches. These "golden-horses" are adapted to severe climatic conditions and are thought to be one of the oldest surviving horse breeds. There are currently about 3,500 Akhal-Tekes in the world, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia, although they are also found throughout Europe, Australia and North America.

The breed became popular with the Russians, who established a breeding population at their state stud farms. Many Akhal-Tekes were bred at the Tersk Stud in the northern Caucasus Mountains, and later moved with the head breeder Vladimir Petrovich Shamborant to the Dagestan Studfarm.[2]


Breed characteristics

The Akhal-Teke typically stands between 14.3 and 16.3 hands. These horses are famous for those individuals who have a golden buckskin or palomino color with a distinct metallic sheen. However, a number of other colors are recognized, including bay, black, chestnut, palomino, cremello, perlino and grey. The Akhal-Teke's most notable and defining characteristic is the natural metallic bloom of its coat.[3] This is especially seen in the palominos and buckskins, as well as the lighter bays, although some horses "shimmer" more than others. The color pattern is thought to have been used as camouflage in the desert.[4] The cream gene that produces buckskin and palomino is a dilution gene that also produces the occasional cremello and perlino. Akhal-Tekes are not thought to carry the dun gene or roan gene.

The Akhal-Teke has a fine head with a straight or slightly convex profile, and long ears. It also has almond-shaped eyes.[5] The mane and tail are usually sparse. The long back is lightly muscled, and is coupled to a flat croup and long, upright neck. The Akhal-Teke possess sloping shoulders and thin skin. These horses have strong, tough, but fine limbs. They have a rather slim body and ribcage (like an equine version of the greyhound), with a deep chest. The conformation is typical of horses bred for endurance over distance. The Akhal-Tekes are lively and alert, with a reputation for bonding to only one person.

The breed is tough and resilient, having adapted to the harshness of Turkmenistan lands, where horses must live without much food or water. This has also made the horses good for sport. The breed has great endurance, as shown in 1935 when a group of Turkmen riders rode the 2500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days, including a three-day crossing of 235 miles of desert without water. The Akhal-Teke is also known for its form and grace as a show jumper.

Breed history

File:Akhal-Teke Mele Koush born 1909 2.jpg
The conformation of the Akhal-Teke

The ancestors of the breed may date back to animals living 3,000 years ago, known by a number of names, but most often as the Nisean horse.[6] However, the precise ancestry is difficult to trace, because prior to about 1600 AD, horse breeds in the modern sense did not exist; rather, horses were identified by local strain or type.[7]

According to some, the Akhal-Teke were kept hidden by their tribesmen. The area where the breed first appeared, the Turkmenistan desert Kara Kum, is a rocky, flat desert surrounded by mountains. However, others claim that the horses are descendants of the mounts of Mongol raiders of the 13th and 14th century.

The breed is very similar to the now-extinct Turkoman Horse, once bred in neighboring Iran. Some historians believe that the two are different strains of the same breed. It is a disputed "chicken or egg" question whether the influential Arabian was either the ancestor of the breed or was developed out of this breed. It is also probable that the so-called "hot blooded" breeds, the Arabian, Turkoman, Akhal-Teke and the Barb all developed from a single "oriental horse" predecessor (see Domestication of the horse, Four foundations theory).

Tribesmen of Turkmenistan first used the horses for raiding. They selectively bred the horses, keeping records of the pedigrees via an oral tradition. The horses were called "Argamaks" by the Russians, and were cherished by the nomads.

In 1881, Turkmenistan became part of the Russian Empire. The tribes fought with the tsar, eventually losing. A Russian general, Kuropatkin, developed a fondness for horses he had seen while fighting the tribesmen, founded a breeding farm after the war and renamed the horses "Akhal-Tekes," after the Teke Turkmen tribe that lived near the Akhal oasis. The Russians printed the first studbook in 1941, which included 287 stallions and 468 mares.

The Akhal-Teke has had influence on many breeds, possibly including the Thoroughbred through the Byerly Turk (which may have been Akhal-Teke, an Arabian or a Turkoman Horse), one of the three foundation stallions of the breed. Three other stallions, known as the "Lister Turk", the "White Turk" and the "Yellow Turk" also contributed to the foundation of the Thoroughbred breed.[8] The Trakehner has also been influenced by the Akhal-Teke, most notably by the stallion Turkmen-Atti, as have the Russian breeds Don, Budyonny, Karabair, and Karabakh.

The breed suffered greatly when the Soviet Union required horses to be slaughtered for meat, even though local Turkmen refused to eat it.[9] At one point only 1,250 horses remained and export from the Soviet Union was banned. The government of Turkmenistan now uses the horses as diplomatic presents as well as auctioning a few to raise money for improved horse breeding programs. Male horses are not gelded in Central Asia.

In the early 20th century, crossbreeding between the Thoroughbred and the Akhal-Teke took place, aiming to create a faster long-distance racehorse.[10] However, the Anglo Akhal-Tekes were not as resilient as their Akhal-Teke ancestors, and many died due to the harsh conditions of Central Asia. After the 2,600 mile endurance race from Ashkabad to Moscow in 1935, when the pure-breds finished in much better condition than the part-breds, the studbook management decided to consider all crossbred horses born after 1936 as not purebred. Horses with English Thoroughbred ancestors born prior to that date were allowed to remain inside the studbook (e.g. 044 Tillyakush, grandson of Thoroughbred Burlak or 831 Makh, granddaughter of Thoroughbred Blondelli and great-great-granddaughter of Thoroughbred Junak). Since 1973, all foals must be blood-typed to be accepted in the stud book in order to protect the purity. A stallion not producing the right type of horse can be removed. The stud book was closed in 1975.

Uses of the Akhal-Teke

Because of the genetic prepotency of the ancient breed, the Akhal-Teke has been used for developing new breeds, most recently the Nez Perce Horse (Appaloosa x Akhal-Teke). The Akhal-Teke, due to its natural athleticism, makes a great sport horse, good at dressage, show jumping, eventing, racing, and endurance riding.

One such great sport horse was the Akhal-Teke stallion, Absent. He was eight years old when he won the Prix de Dressage at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, ridden by Sergei Filatov. He went again with Filatov to win the bronze individual medal in Tokyo in the 1964 Summer Olympics, and won the Soviet team gold medal under Ivan Kalita at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.[11]

Genetic Diseases

There are several genetic diseases of concern to Akhal-Teke breeders. The genetic diversity of the breed is relatively low with an AVK of 30-50%, which raises concerns for dealing with an increase in carriers of these conditions, and even some risk of inbreeding depression.[12] To date, there are no DNA tests for these conditions.

  • Naked Foal Syndrome or Hairless Foal Syndrome is most likely an autosomal, lethal recessive gene, though the exact inheritance pattern has not yet been verified. It appears to be similar in clinical signs, though not identical to junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB) found in the Belgian horse and another condition of a similar nature identified in the American Saddlebred.[13] The defect causes foals to be born without any hair coat, mane or tail. In some cases, the front teeth are in at birth or molars grow abnormally from normal jaws. Other symptoms include persistent diarrhea, frequent digestive disorders and laminitis-like, treatment-resistant rotation of the coffin bones in the hooves. Due the lack of normal skin protection, secondary symptoms include scaly, dry and inflamed skin, as well as severe cases of sunburn in summer and frequent pulmonary infections during winter. NFS is always fatal, most foals die within weeks of birth, although some horses have survived up to the age of two years. Early demise is usually caused by digestive problems, whereas older horses need to be humanely euthanized because of severe laminitis-induced pain. Cases were recorded within the Akhal-Teke breed as early as 1938. In spite of the breed's limited population, naked foals have been born in every country in which the breed is represented, including the USA. Some 35 carriers have been ascertained, including 943 Arslan, 736 Keymir, 2001 Mariula or 1054 Gilkuyruk, but the estimated number of unknown cases is very likely much higher, as several Russian and Turkmenian breeders have acknowledged that many NFS foals are often just reported as stillborn or aborted.[14][15][16]
  • Hereditary cryptorchidism is very common within the Akhal-Teke breed and many cases exist where afflicted stallions can be traced through multiple generations. The influential foundation sire, 2a Boinou, was a cryptorchid according to experts of the breed. Other verified cryptorchids include 779 Peren, 1248 Orlan, 971 Khalif, and Garayusup.[17] 1069 Kortik produced three cryptorchid sons. Unlike most European and many North American breed organisations, neither Russia nor Turkmenistan bar cryptorchids from breeding. Cryptorchidism is said to be related to health and character problems, such as testicular cancer and malignant behaviour. Affected horses cause significantly higher costs when castrated.[18]
  • Wobbler syndrome, seen in a number of breeds, including the Thoroughbred, is thought to be on the increase in the Akhal-Teke. Of particular concern is the form known as cervical vertebral malformation (CVM), which may also be linked to Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) to a certain extent. There is a genetic component to Wobbler's, but factors such as breeding Akhal-Teke horses for certain conformation in the neck and management of young stock for forced growth and greater size may also play a role.[19]
  • The Akhal-Teke is one of several breeds that is prone to degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis (DSLD)[20] Some animals also have a condition known as "Kissing Spine."[12]

See also

  • Turkmenistan


  1. Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations, Country Facts. Web page accessed June 12, 2007 at http://un.cti.depaul.edu/public/Turkmenistan/1/English/
  2. Shael Studfarm, website accessed January 6, 2009 at http://www.shael-teke.com/web/shael.nsf/Articles/869C2D74525440F785257216003AC8C2
  3. Equine Color Photos, Akhalteke. Web site accessed June 12, 2007 at http://www.equinecolor.com/photos/akhalteke.jpg
  4. "The Akhalteke Horse of Turkmenistan" Embassy of Turkmenistan, Washington, DC. Web site accessed June 12, 2007 at http://www.turkmenistanembassy.org/turkmen/history/horses.html
  5. Akhal-Teke Standards, web site accessed June 12, 2007 at http://akhal-teke.org/standard.htm
  6. "History of the Akhal-Teke." International Association of Akhal-Teke Breeding (MAAK)
  7. "The Turkmenian," Akhal-Teke: A Differentiated View.
  8. Summerhayes, RS, “Horses and Ponies”, Warne & Co, London & New York, 1948
  9. Filipov, David. "A Long Way to Go." Boston Herald, April 5, 1998. Web site accessed June 12, 2007 at http://www.boston.com/news/world/asia/articles/1998/04/05/a_long_way_to_go/
  10. Shimbo, Fara. "The Akhal-Teke under Soviet Rule." Friends of the Turanian Horse, 1998. Web site accessed June 12, 2007 at http://www.turanianhorse.org/soviet.html
  11. "About the Akhal-Teke breed." Web site accessed June 13, 2007 at http://goldensandtekes.com/info.htm
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Genetic Defects and Diseases" Akhal-Teke: A Differentiated View. Access date=January 3, 2009
  13. "The Hairless Foal Syndrome" Akhal-Teke: A Differentiated View. Access date January 3, 2009
  14. "The Stavropol Sphinx", Akhal Teke Inform 2006
  15. e.g. "10th Studbook, tome II, page 160": 2860 Mriya, naked foal (dead) b.2000, by 1201 Kavkas, published in 2005 by VNIIK, Ryasan
  16. "Hairless Foal Photos", accessed May 8, http://www.ultimatehorsesite.com/info/hairless/hairlesshorsephotos.html
  17. http://www.maakcenter.org/ENG/Moscow2003/showres_p.html, accessed May 8, 2009, citation: Stallion Garaiusup, black, "Young World Champion 2002" , was granted a Special Prize for the most expressed breed type, but the jury had to move him to the 8 place because of unilateral cryptorchidism and spavin.
  18. "Stallion or Gelding?" Web site accessed May 7, 2009 at http://www.horsenaroundfarm.com/Articles/Article46.htm
  19. "Wobbler Syndrome" Akhal-Teke: A Differentiated View. Access date=January 3, 2009
  20. "DSLD/ESPA" Akhal-Teke: A Differentiated View. Access date=January 3, 2009

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