Akhalteke Horses: from Ancient Times to the Present Day
Turkmenistan – is the country of primordial civilizations and great traditions. The merciless time had ruined the once threatening fortresses and prosperous towns, but the wonderful alive monument of the nation’s glorious past – Akhalteke racer, appeared to be timeless. Despite the dramatic events, sometimes the tragic turns of history, like a priceless treasure the Turkmen people has preserved the worthy-of-admiration unique culture of the national horse-breeding husbandry, which attracts the closest attention of the best specialists from different countries.
Numerous historic facts and documentary evidences unequivocally point to the fact that the oases of Central Asia and, first and foremost the oases of Turkmenistan, the most ancient center of the cultural horse-breeding branch. Many of the specialists are agreed on the point that the horse was first-time domesticated by the faraway ancestors of Turkmen people.
The corollaries of it are the findings discovered in different times in the course of excavations of archaeological monuments of Turkmenistan. The Amyderya buried treasure may serve as an example, in which the images of horses take the first place. Nevertheless, to the sensational findings one can refer the recently found by the expeditions led by the outstanding scientist, professor V.I.Sarianidi in the Murgab River ancient estuary, in the imperial tomb of Gonur (the capital of the ancient country Margush), the remains of cart with bronze rims, a stone horse statuette with a clear-cut indications of a saddle, warning trumpets for forming up horse riders, and, first of the first, – a burial of sacrificial colt, most ancient in Central Asia and Near East. It testifies to the fact that the domesticated horse had already existed in the lifestyle of the ancient country Margush inhabitants at the end of III-early II millennium B.C.!
The glory of Turkmen horses, mentioned in ancient sources as «celestial», «heavenly», «horses of paradise», «noble», «supernatural», ascends already to the 1 millennium B.C. Alexander the Great and Chinese Emperors’ military expeditions had made attempts to conquer the horses; sufficient attention to the horses was also given by the antique authors, who had called the present Akhalteke hoses as «Nisei horses», by the name of Nisa – the royal residence of then powerful Parthia.
«By the beauty, the horses of Nesei leave all behind. These horses are worthy of powerful kings - beautiful by sight, soft stepping with the rider astride, easily bitobeying, bearing high the ached face horse, and with glory their golden manes are flying in the air» – writes Oppian. Xenophont echoes: «Before our eyes is an alive, full of movements picture: an abrupt, dry kick of a horse striking the earth, joyful neighing of horses, snoring of upturned nostrils, and witty look of the beautiful head captivate the soul with a wonderful impression understandable to those who had experienced all the force of these charms».
Already in the VIII century, the Arab author Al-Jahiz writes that «a Turkmen sat astride the horse more that at the surface of earth». Such a remark is quite natural, given the fact that in the VIII-X centuries Turkmen riders served in the lifeguard of Baghdad caliphs. Later, a great deal of Turkmen riders was among the Egyptian Mamluks and in the best horse troops of other emirates. But it must be borne in mind, without strong and hard horses, the Seljuk crusades would never have occurred, which resulted in joining the Minor Asia and establishing of the mighty Turkmen-Osmand Sultanate.
Five centuries later, the Italian Marko Polo, speaking of the regions bordering with Northern Persia, noted that there, they produce remarkable, tall horses, which cost a nice lot of money. He also writes about exporting the horses to India. In the XIII century, the historian of the French king Louis IX Saint described the story of the Embassy’s mission head in the East, who was present at the funeral ceremony of a prominent warrior when his best horse was buried together with the warrior.
And in the XV century, the Russian traveler Afanasy Nikitin in his «Wanderings across the three seas» tells about the unusual colt, which was paid for a great deal money. Since that time, via the Persian merchants and diplomats, Turkmen Akhalteke horses penetrate to Russia and beyond – to the countries of Western Europe.
Turkmen horse racers were now talked about; they become a cherished dream and pride of numerous reputable families and Royal Households. The Hungarian traveler A.Vamberi, who visited Turkmenistan in 1863, used the advantage of the opportunity to write the heartfelt lines about the wonderful horses, their beauty and significance for local people, their extraordinary playfulness and hardiness, having affirmed the reasonability of funds invested in the breed.
The name «Akhalteke», Turkmen racers received in the late XIX century based on the name of oasis «Akhal». Exactly the renowned Akhalteke horses the investigators consider to be the direct descendants of world-famous horses of the Nisei breed. V.O.Vitt, a splendid scientist known to several generations of horse-breeders and admirers of horses, said, «They are the last drops of the valuable blood that promoted creating of the world’s cultural horse-breeding art». He is also the author of words about the horse, which was found in one of the Pazyryk mounds: “It is a noble ridding horse, a war-horse of Central Asia, immortalized in the pictures of great masters of Assyria, Egypt and Hellas”.
Right the Akhalteke stallions fostered in the Turkmen land, via Persia and Turkey, had got to Europe to lay the groundwork for the English purebred horse. While in the West the Akhalteke horse turned into a prestigious value, in the Motherland it remained to be a companion-in-arms of Turkmen jigits. Long and complicated struggle of Turkmen for the political selfdetermination – there is the arena of military glory of «celestial argamaks» and their freedom-loving riders.
In those times, the notion about the breed from the point of view of zoological requirements placed on the purity of blood or purity of breed was not yet formed, but every horse owner looked forward to getting a horse with good work abilities and points. Throughout many generations, limitation and instability of food and range base in the arid habitat made the horse considerably dependent on man, inspiring in its own way the nature of their interrelations. Thus, in the person of horse, Turkmen warriors had a faithful friend and reliable companion the warrior’s life very often depended on. That is why, to earn fame, it was insufficient to have many thousand-herd flock of horses as the prosperous bays (rich men) in the region considered. In the Turkmen semi-deserts, it was sufficient to have one first-class runner to be countrywide glorified. Not in vain, the Akhalteke horse is regarded as the horse of one owner. The reciprocal attachment of a Turkmen and horse has become a byword and is distinguished by particular warmth and heartiness.
Of course, it was impossible to grow and breed such horses in flocks. They needed farm animal housing and special care. The horse used to live to declining years and then followed to the grave of its master, having no scars or whip marks on the croup. Thus, during the millennium-old rider-and-horse relations, the Turkmen people developed the outstanding qualities of horse, having endowed the world with undoubted masterpiece – the Akhalteke horse breed!
Horse breeders characterize the Akhalteke horse as an easy, flexible, hot, serviceable, smart, and … curious. Indeed, the character of Akhalteke horse is serious-minded, firm, respect-demanded. The experiences Turkmen seyises know well how to properly manage and use its proud and strong temper.
From the early XX century, the horses appear at the exhibitions in the cities of Russia and Europe, attracting attention and evoking general admiration. As Professor M.I.Pridorogin wrote, «Akhalteke horses – it is the feeling of haughty enthusiasm. They who saw the Turkmen horse have indeed enjoyed the true beauty».
The extraordinary hardness of Akhalteke horse was demonstrated during the Ashgabat-Moscow distance test in 1935, when 17 Turkmen riders during 84 days had overcome the distance of 4,300 kilometers, at that, 350 kilometers run through the waterless Garagum Desert. That day, when Marshall G.K.Zhukov, astride his beloved racer, took the Victory parade at the Red Square, the newsreels retained for the descendants the triumph of Turkmen horse-breeding husbandry.
Later, at the 1960-Olympic Games in Rome, the entire world applauded to the son of Arab – the handsome black Absent, that was a true furore, having won the gold medal for Sergei Filatov. The name of Absent literally rang out over the countries and continents. It evoked admiration; it was immortalized in the works of art in its multiple posterity. Over 10 years, Absent has become the father of 70 ‘children’, many of which were conferred high titles. If to attentively study the genealogy of horse, one can find the blood of Absent in the modern Russian horse-riding breed, in the selecting breeding of which Akhalteke horses had been used since the time of Ivan the Terrible. As far back as the middle of last century, they made over one-third of the livestock of the Russian horse-breeding farms.
However, in due course, the issue of the breed preservation was becoming more sensitive, for originally, the pedigree fund was pilfered and scattered in different countries. Besides, indulging in horse races sometimes entailed the cases of cross-breeding - inadmissible from the point of view of purity of the breed. Not always the relevant measures were a success, due to lack of understanding of the magnitude of the breeding work, farsightedness, but first of all, to lack of the political will and state support.
The true work on rehabilitation and increase of the Akhalteke horse breed as the national heritage started only after gaining by Turkmenistan independence. In its historical motherland, the Akhalteke horse – in the image of a real horse, world champion Yanardag – was placed in the center of the State Emblem of Turkmenistan, having forever become the symbol of freedom and independence. Since that moment, the targeted horse-breeding work started aimed at further increase of the elite population of the horse, spread and popularization of this unique breed in the world.
To this end, in 1991, the State Association «Turkmen Atlary» was established to coordinate the impressive body of work of specialists who devoted all their life to the recreation of the Akhalteke breed. Based on the age-old experience of many generations of Turkmen horse-breeders who passed on their horse-breeding knowledge and secrets from father to son, this work enabled to restore the number and purity of the Akhalteke horse, to revive the lost-in-the-past pedigree lines and horse-breeding traditions.
Today, these rich traditions, that found their reflection in the National Turkmen Horse-Breeding Museum of the State Association «Turkmen Atlary», received a new lease of life due to personal tutorage of the head of state over these issues.
Noteworthy, that a relative of President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – brother of his grandfather Aba Annaev – was one of the famous horse-breeder, who had contributed considerably to the cause of preservation and improvement of the Akhalteke breed. This fact, to the great extent, explains the inherited love and quivering attitude of the Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Akhalteke horse.
Today, a new lease of life is given to the sector. Due to the devoted activity of the leader of nation, unprecedented by scales and significance measure are taken in the country aimed at increase of the Akhalteke horses, popularization of equestrian sports and national horse-riding traditions. Annually, the state celebrates countrywide the national Turkmen Horse Holiday. Within the frames of the holiday, the Turkmen capital hosts the international scientific forum devoted to the horse-breeding issues. In every velayat of the country, the modern equestrian sport complexes have been built which meet international standards.
To motivate the national horse-breeding husbandry development, to increase world fame of Akhalteke horses, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov instituted a competition on the best representative of that legendary breed – a kind of show of superlative beauty of Akhalteke horses that have become a priceless treasure of not only the Turkmen people, but of the entire human civilization.
Besides, the building of the Turkmen State Circus was completely reconstructed and upgraded with modern equipment. The delightful and impressive performances of Turkmen jigits (riders) astride the beautiful Akhalteke horses incessantly surprising with their grace, strength and playfulness will donate to the spectators plenty of joyful and exciting emotions.
There is every condition in the country for fancying pure-bred horses. Undoubtedly, the high-class pedigree genofond will carefully be preserved and passed on to the grateful descendants as a priceless spiritual treasure. As a symbol that embodies the link of times and innumerable generations, aspirations and victories, labor and harmony…