Metallic-coated horses - the Akhal-Teke

Most authorities cite the Akhal-Teke as having descended from the now-extinct Turkmene horse. It is highly regarded in its home country of Turkmenistan and is gaining an enviable reputation elsewhere too. Historically it is a true horse of the desert and comes from an arid region with vast expanses of steppes and deserts. In common with other desert bred horses such as the Arabian, the skin is very fine as is the coat. It has incredible endurance and toughness as do so many of the oriental breeds.

Akhal-TekeCredit: Wikimedia

The Akhal-Teke has some very unique features. Many have a highly sought metallic sheen to the coat. This feature is the result of the structure of the hairs of the coat. Each hair strand has a core and a medulla. The core is opaque and, in the Akhal-Teke, is either reduced in size or absent. This means the medulla is of great width than normal. Light passes through the medulla and is refracted resulting in a metallic shimmer. The amount of sheen varies according to the colour.

The Akhal-Teke may be any colour. The archetypal golden colours (bulanaya in Russian) may be buckskin, dun or bay based. Some of these gleam in the sun like a newly minted coin and are very striking. Not all have a dorsal stripe down the spine. Some have visible stripes which are lighter than the mane and tail. Most duns have black manes and tails. A blue or even purple shimmer occurs on black horses. These are called voronaya in Russian. Cremellos (isabellas in Europe) and perlinos are more common than liver chestnuts and grullas. The grulla has a black base under a dun-derivative shade. These are often described as mouse- or slate grey or smoky-blue. The head is dark. Unlike greys, these colours will not lighten with age.

There is some discrepancy between countries regarding the term isabella.  In the United States, a horse of a light palomino colour may be termed an isabella, while in Europe and Russia, an isabella may be cremello or perlino. A cremello has pink skin, blue eyes and a base colour of chestnut while a perlino also has pink skin, blue eyes but the base colour is bay.  The perlino has darker colouring in the tail and often on the legs.  These coats may have such brilliance that they may actually glow in the dark.

Akhal-Teke HeadCredit: Wikimedia

The perlino and cremello may actually glow in the dark. Both have blue eyes but the perlino has darker shading in the tail and often on the legs.

Bays come in some striking shades and may glitter with red and gold. Also seen occasionally is a mahogany bay with black tips to the hair. Palominos from light to dark are seen and generally have long stockings and a lot of white on the faces. There may also be a white patch on the stomach.

This breed is elegant but does not always conform to western ideals of conformation. Originally an oriental breed, he is the ultimate athlete, hard and tough. The second thigh has virtually no muscle causing him to be 'split up behind'. The head carriage is usually very high. Akhal-Tekes range from 14.3 to 16 hands. He is taller than he is long. The head and body are narrow and the ears long and slim. The eyes are almond-shaped and may be hooded. He has a straight or slightly convex profile. The nostrils are large, the throat fine and the neck long and slim. The prominent withers ease into sloping shoulders. The chest is narrow. The girth is deep giving plenty of room for heart and lungs. The mane and tail may be thin and wispy with little or no forelock. The legs are fine with large joints and no feathering above small, hard hooves. Long sloping pasterns give a smooth, elastic ride. The cannons are short and composed of good, hard, dense bone.

The Akhal-Teke is excitable and can be stubborn and rebellious. The breed is the national emblem of Turkmenistan and is greatly revered by the nation. The culture of the people embraces racing and horses are sometimes gifted to distinguished visitors. The relative isolation of the area has helped maintain the purity of the breed. The status of a family was judged by the number and quality of their horses.

In 1935, the Turkmenistans were desperate to convince Joseph Stalin of the worth of the breed as they were in danger of extinction. A group of Akhal-Tekes was ridden form Ashgabat to Moscow, covering 2500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days. The journey included 235 miles of desert which they crossed in three days with very little water. The ride was repeated in 1988.

The first stud book was printed in 1941. As the highly individual Akhal-Teke is increasingly used in international competitive sports, the breed is likely to change to better suit western conformation ideals. The Trakehner and several Russian breeds have been influenced by the Akhal-Teke. This unique and exotic breed will no doubt be seen more and more on the international equestrian circuit.