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There is a legend about the Akhal-Teke horse breed that states that in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev made Queen Elizabeth a gift of the golden Akhal-Teke stallion Melekush. Thinking that the horse had been polished to give it an unnatural shine, grooms cleaned it off only to discover that Melekush shone even more when clean.

Indeed, the Akhal-Teke is a breed with a long history of being prized by rulers. The first known evidence of the breed's existance is in skeletal remains from the 24th century BC, which were found in Turkmenistan. The breed first evolved to be light and quick to avoid the wolves which populated the Turan Steppes, between the Caspian Sea and the Altai Mountains. The first known breeders of the Akhal-Teke were the Teke tribe, nomads from Turkmenistan who roamed the desert with their horses as companions. They bred these horses to need little food and water, and to have the speed to cross great stretches of desert at a time. The horses first lived with the Teke at the Akhal oasis in the Kopet Dag Mountains.

The tumultuous early history of Central Asia did not destroy these horses, but rather led to their being used as cavalry and personal steeds by leaders of the Scythians, Parthians, Ywati, Huns, and natives of Turkmenistan. They appreciated the Akhal-Teke's predisposition for fast travel with little food, as well as its loyal yet suspicious nature developed over decades of living closely with nomadic families. The first recorded official name of the breed is the Massaget, and it was also later known as the Parthian, Nisean, Persian, and Turkmene before being named the Akhal-Teke in the late 1800s.

The Akhal-Teke's modern fame is mostly a result of a strenuous test the breed was put through in 1935 to determine if it was suitable to be used as a cavalry horse. Before this ride, many Akhal-Teke breeders were considering introducing thoroughbred stallions into the Akhal bloodline to improve its speed and stamina. Twenty-eight riders, some on Akhal-Tekes, crossed the Kara Kum desert and rode from Ashkhabad to Moscow, finishing the 2600-mile trek in 84 days. At the end of the ride the Akhal-Tekes were in much better shape than the horses of the two other breeds used, and they had subsisted with much less water. Because of this feat, the breed's purity in the modern day has been as strictly preserved as it once was in Turkmenistan.

Nowadays, the Akhal-Teke is a rare breed, with perhaps 3000 horses worldwide, mostly in Russia and Turkmenistan with a few hundred in Germany and the United States. Official breed records have been kept since 1976 by the leading expert in the breed, Tatyana Nikolaevna Ryabova. The horse competes frequently in dressage, eventing, jumping, reining, following hounds, and endurance trials, and horses of the Akhal-Teke breed have won prestigious awards in many of these categories. Its efficient and powerful heart and lungs are prized by competitors. Byerly Turk, one of the three founding stallions of the English Thoroughbred, had some Akhal-Teke blood.

Appearance

The most notable feature of the Akhal-Teke is its gleaming coat. The hair has a metallic sheen particular to this breed, due to its unique structure. Under a microscope, the hair of an Akhal-Teke can be distinguished from hairs from other breeds. Colors of the coat are many and varied, including black, mahogany bay, bay, liver chestnut, chestnut, claybank, grey, gold, perlino (white with reddish accents), grulla (olive-colored), cream grulla (white with olive accents), cremello (white), palomino, dunskin, and light palomino. The most common colors are grey, black, and chestnut, while the rarer ones are claybank, grulla, and cremello.

The Akhal-Teke gives an overall impression not unlike that of a greyhound. Its stride is long, low, and flowing, unusual in most horses. It stands 15 to 16 hands and weighs around 1000 pounds. It is a narrow horse with sloping shoulders. Very few horses look much like the Akhal-Teke, although other breeds native to Turkmenistan, such as the Yomud, come close. The face and neck of the breed are long and narrow, like the rest of the body. The features are large, with large eyes, wide nostrils, and long ears.

sources:

Akhal-Teke America: http://members.tripod.com/akhaltekeamerica/
The Akhal-Teke Association of America: http://www.akhal-teke.org
Kentucky Horse Park Akhal-Teke Page: http://www.imh.org/imh/bw/akhal.html
Sport-Horses Akahl-Teke Pictures: http://www.sport-horses.org/pictures/akhal_teke.shtml
Akhal-Teke Breed Resources: http://www.raresteeds.com/Breeds/akhal-teke.htm

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