Akhal-Teke Horse Origin and Characteristics

Akhal-Teke Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Akhal-Teke horse is often thought of as one of the most beautiful breeds of horse that is in the equine world. It has a coat that tends to glisten in the sun, giving it an almost “metallic” appearance. It is also a recent addition to the global community, since much of the breed’s recent development occurred behind the curtains of the Soviet Union.

The Akhal-Teke is generally regarded to be a riding horse. It features a gait that is comfortable, a strong stamina, and better-than-average speed. This breed is highly intelligent, trains easily, and benefits from the development efforts that have occurred over the centuries.

History of the Akhal-Teke Breed

Although the recent history of the Akhal-Teke breed is sporadic at best, this horse could arguably be considered one of the most cultured breeds in the equine world today. Primarily developed in Turkmenistan and parts of Russia, these horses were the partners of the nomadic tribes that populated the region.

Excavations that have found the skeletal remains of horses with fine bones like the Akhal-Teke breed have been dated to 2400 BC.

They were required to travel long distances, endure difficult conditions, and be willing workers. Akhal-Teke horses were often considered to be part of the family, sometimes even being invited into the tents of their owners. Breeding focused on the needed traits for each tribe, which helped to develop the modern breed that we see today over centuries of work.

It is thought to be the only remaining pure strain of Turkmene horse that exists today. Persians, Massagets, and Parthians all have helped to influence the modern breed. The name, however, came about in the 19th century.

The geography of its region also contributed to the development of the breed. With access to the Caspian Sea, mountain barriers, and deep deserts, horses had to withstand incredibly hot temperatures, periods of deep cold, and do so on food supplies that could be meager at best.


Russian Influences Began About 5 Centuries Ago

This breed was brought to Russia in the 16th century. Called Argamaks, the horse was highly sought because of its refined, tall look and above-average strength. These traits were continually developed within Russia to create a breed with a stamina that is almost beyond compare, considering the extremes that it can successfully survive.

It has created several different breeding lines, or sub-groups, within the breed as well. The Akhal-Teke breed may have been popular in Russia, but breeding lines were maintained outside of the Soviet Union as well. The conditions within the rural Soviet Union, however, helped to continue enhancing the traits of the breed and help it become what it is today.

There were many challenges within the Soviet Union for this breed as well. Many of the stud farms were not managed well, causing several horses to be sent to slaughter inadvertently. Some family farms were forced to use their horses as livestock because of a lack of local food supplies. Breeding stock was not protected.

The conditions which led to the development of this breed are difficult to find outside of the Turkmenistan region. Private efforts are underway to protect the breed and the various sub-types that are present.

What Are the Characteristics of the Akhal-Teke Breed?

There is some debate about what type of horse the Akhal-Teke happens to be. Many describe this breed as being warmblooded. An argument could be made that it is a hotblooded horse, like Arabians and Thoroughbreds. The Akhal-Teke has historically been used to help influence the athletic characteristics of Throughbreds. Most would place the breed somewhere between being hotblooded and warmblooded.

The appearance of the Akhal-Teke is completely unique. These horses are skinny and appear thin to the point where the untrained observer may feel like the animal is undernourished. The head is chiseled and quite long, with most having a broad forehead. The ears tend to be upright and expressive, with a somewhat almond-shaped appearance.

The neck of the Akhal-Teke is set high and quite straight on the shoulders. This gives the withers a very prominent look. The chest of the horse narrow, with lean muscling that stays close to the skeletal structure of the horse. The skin is very thin to deal with hot temperatures, but the coat can be thicker to withstand colder temperatures.

Most coat colors are possible with this breed, but bay, black, and gray tend to be the most common. There are Palomino and Buckskin Akhal-Teke horses that have been registered as well. Each has the metallic sheen that overlays on top of the coat color.


The breed itself has 17 different sub-groups that are currently recognized, but most of the horses are distinguished into three basic types.

  • Type 1 horses are what is normally seen and fits the generalized description of the breed.
  • Type 2 horses tend to be somewhat smaller than the average Akhal-Teke, but has more speed than its counterparts.
  • Type 3 horses tend to be stockier and a little slower, but has a superior stamina compared to the other types.

The various sub-groups have created a wide range of physical characteristics that are associated with this breed. A typical Akhal-Teke can stand anywhere from 14.2 hands to 16 hands and meet breed expectations. The quality of individual horses is determined by the manager of the studbook, who will assign a specific class to the horse being registered.

Health Issues with the Akhal-Teke Breed

There are several genetic diseases that affect the Akhal-Teke breed because the genetic diversity of the breed is quite low. Common diseases and disorders include having hairless foals, hereditary cryptocidism, and Wobbler syndrome.

The first studbook for the breed was created in Russia in 1941, with breed associations then moving to Turkmenistan and throughout the rest of the world. What makes this breed unique is that the Russian and Turkmenistan breeding programs for the Akhal-Teke do not exclude cryptorchids from breeding like most American and European breeding programs.

Ligament disorders and osteochondritis dissecans are also commonly found within the breed.

Because the skin of this breed is remarkably thin, the horses typically need a higher level of skin care to maintain their good health. They are more susceptible to sunburns and pulmonary infections as well. Blankets and daily skin care treatments may be necessary for some horses, especially if they happen to be living in difficult climates.

The Akhal-Teke horse has more than 3,000 years of history within its story. We may not have all the pages to complete its tale, but the equine world has joined the journey with this beautifully unique horse. Its characteristics, trademark coat, and overall intelligence make it a popular breed and that popularity shows no signs of stopping soon.

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