Experts say that nowhere in the world but in Turkmenistan nature and man’s efforts have succeeded in creating such a graceful, exceptional, tireless, sturdy, noble horse as the Akhal Teke. They are not only fast and of great endurance but also of peculiar royal beauty. These horses became one of the most striking illustrations of talent and mastery of Turkmen people. Turkmen are very proud of their horses.
Akhal Teke horses got their name from the Akhal oasis in the center of Turkmenistan, which is historically inhabited by one of the Turkmen tribes – the Teke. Through centuries the Teke were able to keep the purity of their horses, to polish their exterior, develop endless enormous stamina and the ability to withstand the extremeness of temperatures and harsh climate. Akhal Teke horses are notable for their dry constitution and well developed muscles of croup, a much longer neck than other horses, mobile thin ears, very expressive eyes, thin legs with strong sinews, tall and high withers, strong small hoofs and a unique golden-colored coating, possessing a brilliant metallic sheen, outstanding speed and highly developed nervous system.
This ancient breed helped to develop the Arabian, English, Orlov saddle horse, Karabakh, Donski, Persian, Pakistan, Indian and Afghan horses. The stallion Atti, born in 1784, occupies a central place in the history of Turkmen horse-breeding. In 1790 Atti was transported from Istanbul to Prussia, and used to improve horse breeds like the Trachen (Germany), the lonius (Hungary) and a few half-blood breeds in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.
The origin of Akhal Teke horses stretches back to ancient times. Chinese called them ‘Heavenly horses’ or Divine Horses. Ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Arab chronicles mention the desires to obtain one of these superior horses, for example King Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and various Chinese emperors and Arab rulers.
Akhal Teke horses have been immortalized in Turkmen traditional songs, proverbs and poems. Their intelligence, wisdom and attachment to human beings are all legendary. One Turkmen proverb says, “When you get up in the morning you must greet your father and your horse”. Turkmen horse-breeders (seys) had a special approach to their horses. Each Turkmen kept one horse. They were never herded and Turkmens kept them tethered. They fed them pellets of food that contained a mixture of alfalfa, barley and mutton fat. Historians noted that “The Turkmen do not only nourish tenderly their horses, but also with passion. To treat a horse badly is considered a sin among them. The whole tribe would scorn a person committing such a sin.” For this reason, of all Central Asian peoples, Turkmen are the only ones who never slaughtered a horse for its meat or drank mare’s milk.
After the Bolshevik Revolution the Akhal Teke horses experienced a very difficult period in their history. During collectivization efforts all Akhal Teke horses were registered with the new Soviet government and private ownership of horses was banned.
By the end of the 20th century this ancient and unique horse breed was in danger of extinction. The policy of Saparmurad Turkmenbashi - the first president of independent Turkmenistan, helped to prevent this. In 1986 he issued a decree permitting to keep Akhal Teke horses on private farmsteads.
The Akhal Teke is an excellent sport horse. It is perfect in marathon racing; dressage, breaking in and flat race conquer. In 1935 thirty Turkmen riders with their horses made a very long trek and covered 4,300 km from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days. All horses successfully overcame the difficulties of this trek, the major part of which run through the Karakum and other desert terrain. Shortly afterwards the Akhal Teke stallion Zenith set a record by covering 300 km in 19 hours. The Akhal Teke proved itself as an endurance horse. If necessary the Akhal Teke can stay without food and water for much longer than other horses and could easily endure terrible heat.
In 1960 at the Rome Olympics the Akhal Teke stallion Absent, ridden by Sergei Filatov won a gold medal in dressage and was called ’Horse of the century’. Later at the Mexico Olympics a new rider on Absent became champion in team riding. The whole world admires and applauds the circus ensemble ’Horsemen from sunny Turkmenistan”, which perform on Akhal Teke horses.
Nothing can really compare with the experience of horse riding. Each of us, at least once in our lives, has perhaps dreamt of riding a horse. This dream can easily come true in Turkmenistan, which is justly famous for its elegant horses. Both veteran equestrians and those less experienced will find a good possibility to ride well trained and mannered horses at private stables outside Ashgabat.
Our travel agency can organize a visit to these private stables or offer cross-country horse treks. You’ll ride under the watchful eye of highly qualified instructors and experience the solitude of the Kopetdag Mountains and the Karakum Desert. The peace and beauty of the nature will be one of the highlights of your stay in Turkmenistan.
Contact us for more details on horse riding tours, but also about attending horse races that take place every Sunday during spring and autumn at the National Hippodrome in Ashgabat.
The last week ending on the last Sunday of April has formally been devoted to the famous Turkmen horses. Contact us for exact program details during that week.