Breed Characteristics

Breed Characteristics

The Akhal-Teke's appearance is unique; no other breed of horse shares its distinctive features, which are embodied in words like dry, thin, straight, high-set and lean. The head is long and chiseled, often with a broad brow. The eyes are large and expressive and sometimes almond-shaped. The ears are narrow, high-set and readily swivel on their axis, alert to sound and movement. The long neck is set high and straight relative to the shoulders, the withers are quite prominent. The chest is narrow, the body is long and lean, the muscling well defined, but smoothly hugging the bone. The legs are slender, with strongly sculpted tendons and long and flexible pasterns. The skin is thin, the hair is silky and the mane and tail are spars. Several colors are possible, but the most common include, bay, black, dun, chestnut, gray and palomino. A distinctive feature is a pronounced metallic sheen, a glossy golden polish overlaying the basic coat color. Within the breed, three types can be distinguished. Type 1, the most typical type and closely fitting the descriptions above, is well represented by the following lines: Gelishikili, Peren and Kaplan. Type 2, somewhat smaller and well regarded for its speed, is represented by the Karlavach and El lines. Type 3, a more massive body type and noted for its stamina, is best represented by the Arab and Dor-Bairam lines. At the present time, the breed is represented by 17 separate lines, 12 of which trace back to Boinou (1885-1908).The 1981 studbook (Vol. VI) records the following average measurements in centimeters for an Akhal-Teke breeding stallion is 157.6 (height at withers), 160.1 (body length/barrel, measured on the diagonal), 176.4 (chest circumference), 18.8 (cannon bone circumference) and for a mare are 157-159-175-18.7. Twelve years later, in 1993, statistics for stallions, based on an evaluation of 190 horses from 13 countries (including 88 from Turkmenistan, 51 from Russia and 21 from Kazakhstan), showed an increase in all measurements except body length: 159.2-160.0-177.5-19.18. Figures broken down by country indicate that horses in Western Europe are larger than the average, while those from America, often bred for endurance riding, tend to be smaller.

Outstanding Achievements of the Breed
Akhal-Teke blood has influenced several breeds. The Byerly Turk, one of the three founding stallions of the English Thoroughbred, is thought to be an Akhal-Teke. In support of the Akhal-Teke's influence on the Arabian breed, specialists cite especially the Syrian Arab. In the beginning of the nineteenth century the famous stallion Turkmen-Atti was used to infuse new blood into the Trakehner warmblood. Akhal-Teke blood also figured prominently in the formation of the Don and Budyonny breed. Akhal-Tekes are perhaps best known for their extraordinary aptitude for endurance riding. In 1935, their suitability for the cavalry was tested in a famous endurance ride from Ashkhabad, to Moscow, a distance of 4330 kilometers (2,600 miles). Twenty-eight riders, riding Akhal-Tekes, the related Yomud breed and Anglo-Teke crosses, covered a broad range of terrain, including a severe, three-day, 360 kilometer (215 miles) test under the scorching sun of the Kara Kum desert. From the desert, which though stressful, was familiar terrain, they then rode through mosquito infested swamps, over rugged, stony footing, through heavy rain and huge forests. Eighty-four days later they arrived in Moscow. The purebred Akhal-Tekes, notably Arab and Alsakar, arrived in significantly better condition than the Anglo-Teke crosses, impressive evidence for the superiority of the purebred Akhal-Teke for hardiness and endurance. Arab subsequently proved his exceptional talent in eventing and jumping, as well as prepotency as a breeding stallion. His son Absent, at the tender (for dressage horses) age of eight, won the gold medal in individual dressage under Sergei Filatov at the 1960 Rome Olympics with an astounding score of 82.4%. Absent went on to a bronze individual medal (again with Filatov) in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and in 1968, under Ivan Kalita, was a member of the gold-medal Soviet team in Mexico.

Akhal-Tekes have often been given as state gifts. In 1956, for example, Nikita Khrushchev presented Queen Elizabeth the bright golden-dun stallion Melekush. So the story goes, grooms tried to clean off what they thought was an unnatural polish, but Melekush glowed even more awash. More recently, the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurad Niyazov, has made gifts of an Akhal-Teke to heads of Russia, England and France.

Senetir, the first Akhal-Teke stallion to stand stud in America, was purchased at auction in Russia in 1978 and imported to Virginia by Phil and Margot Chase, Akhal-Teke enthusiasts who have long promoted the breed in this country. Senetir's passing in 1999 was noted by an obituary in the prestigious horse sport journal, The Chronicle of the Horse.


Breed Organizations
Traditionally, Akhal-Teke horses were tethered in small herds or individually, near the homes of their owners. The controlled conditions in which the breed was kept -- as opposed to the large free-ranging herds common to many other horse cultures -- promoted selective breeding; records of breeding history were maintaining orally long before written stud registries. Written records have been kept since 1885, the year that Boinou was born; as in the case of this famous stallion, it was not uncommon at the time for oral breeding records to go at least four generations. The first stud book for Central Asian breeds, which included 287 stallions and 468 mares of the Akhal-Teke breed, was published in 1941. In 1975, with the publication of the fifth stud book, the breed was recognized as pure bred and the book was closed. Since 1973, breed records have been maintained by the distinguished scholar, Tatyana N. Ryabova, of the All-Russian Institute of Horsebreeding (VNIIK). For 1994, 220 stallions and 1156 mares were registered. That number grew by 1997 to 290 stallions and 1164 mares. The best horses currently being bred in Russia come from the Stavropol Farm, Russia, 356321 Stavropolsky Area, Aleksandrov Region, Navokavkazsky Prospect. In Turkmenistan the Akhal-Yurt Farm, Turkmenistan, 744000 Ashkhabad, Makhtumkuli Prospect, 90-5, enjoys an excellent reputation. Up to date information in English on breeding farms throughout the world is available on the Akhal-Teke Network, a Swedish based website at Worldwide several organizations now support the breed; principal among them is MAAK, the International Association of Akhal-Teke Horse Breeding, founded in 1995. Saparmurad Niyazov, president of the now independent state of Turkmenistan, is president of MAAK; the Vice President is T. N. Ryabova of VNIIK. The stated goal of the organization is to improve communication among lovers of the Akhal-Teke horse, to preserve and improve the breed. Since 1998, the Russian organization, AATK (Association for Akhal-Teke Horse Breeding), has conducted a competition for Akhal-Tekes in Moscow, testing for dressage, endurance and eventing, and exterior evaluation. Beginning in 2000, jumping will be included in the competition. The AATK website can be accessed at The stud book for the Akhal-Teke breed is managed on behalf of MAAK by VNIIK. Registry in the studbook requires blood typing to confirm pedigree. The MAAK Center for Breeding and Selection is responsible for granting breed documentation and advising on breeding. VNIIK negotiates export passports for Akhal-Tekes purchased on the territory of the former Soviet Union.The Akhal-Teke Association of America (ATAA) was founded in 1983. It keeps two registries, one for pure-blood and one for crossbreeds. Akhal-Teke Registry of America 21314 129th Avenue, SESnohomish, WA 98296-7843

This entry has been prepared by Edwina J. Cruise, Professor of Russian, Mount Holyoke College, and includes information provided by Yulia Kuznetsova, research associate at The Museum of the Horse (Moscow) and Secretary of the AATK. The opinions are those of Ms. Cruise; she is responsible for any error of fact.