While most people can agree that horses are majestic creatures, one breed has recently stolen all the limelight thanks to its unique looks. Indeed, many have said that the Akhal-Teke is the most beautiful horse in the world. And when you see its coat, it’s not hard to see why people think this way.
According to experts, there are currently more than 350 horse breeds across the world. And, as it stands, the variety of equines is extensive. However, while each breed has its own unique characteristics, some types of horses make more of an impact than others.
And the Akhal-Teke is arguably one of the most distinctive varieties of horse around. Furthermore, it’s believed that the Akhal-Teke is among the oldest types of equine still living. Originating in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, the animals have existed for millennia.
It’s also said that Akhal-Tekes were originally bred for their athleticism, and perhaps as a result, Turkmenistan tribesmen used them as warhorses of a kind. Furthermore, the Akhal-Teke breed as we know it today can be traced back 3,000 years to the ancient Nisean horse.
Then after one battle in 1881, Turkmenistan became part of the Russian Empire. And it was during clashes with the native tribes that Russian General Kuropatkin first noticed the beautiful horses. After that, they became known as “Akhal-Tekes” – after the Teke Turkmen group, who dwelled near to the Akhal oasis.
The Russians then went on to take responsibility for the breed, issuing a studbook in 1943. However, modern history was not kind to the Akhal-Tekes. After the international wars of the 20th century, for instance, the special horse’s population dropped to just 1,250.
The Akhal-Teke’s numbers have since grown somewhat, although they are still quite rare. At present, there are about 7,000 in the world, with most residing in Russia. Meanwhile, about 700 live in Turkmenistan, 1,000 in Europe and 500 in the United States.
One of the reasons the Akhal-Teke population remains so low is because of how they fared in the Soviet Union. When the USSR existed, management there of the breed was poor and an export ban meant that they weren’t shipped elsewhere. In some areas, moreover, the government even urged that horses should become part of the local diet.
However, native Turkmen refused to eat their beloved animals. And, to this day, the Akhal-Teke is highly regarded in the country. It’s even a national emblem of Turkmenistan, and as a result you can find the animal emblazoned across the nation’s banknotes and postage stamps.
Aside from their symbolic value in Turkmenistan, Akhal-Tekes also serve as excellent sport horses. Thanks to their natural athleticism, the animals excel at dressage, show jumping, horse racing and endurance riding. Consequently, the breed has enjoyed considerable success in equestrian pursuits.
And perhaps one of the most accomplished Akhal-Tekes ever was a horse named Absent. In 1960 he won the Grand Prix de Dressage at the Olympics in Rome, alongside his rider Sergei Filatov. He then went on to win a bronze medal at the 1964 Games and another gold in 1968.
However, in recent years, it hasn’t been the Akhal-Teke’s sporting prowess that has put it in the public eye. Instead, the internet has fallen in love with the horse’s magnificent coat. That’s because the animal has unique, shiny hair that glistens like metal.
And although the horses can be found in several colours, including bay, black and chestnut, the palomino Akhal-Teke is perhaps the most distinctive of them all. Its eye-catching gold hue is a result of a gene that creates the color; some believe that the pale shade helped the animal camouflage itself in the desert.
It’s the uncommon structure of the horse’s hair that causes its glossy sheen, though. Namely, while most horsehair has an opaque core, the Akhal-Teke’s hair has a transparent one. This then refracts light from the horse, creating the unique shiny glow as a consequence.
And other features characteristic to the breed help them stand out, too. On top of their elongated necks sit small heads with large eyes and high-set ears. Furthermore, their bodies are slender, and they possess long, elegant legs.
Thanks to its distinctive looks, then, some people have referred to the majestic animal as “The Most Beautiful Horse in the World.” And that’s not the only nickname it has earned, either. Over the years, for example, the Akhal-Teke has been known as the “golden horse” or the “horse from heaven.”
But there’s more to the breed than just its appearance. For one, Akhal-Tekes are extremely intelligent, according to some of those who have worked with and handled the horses. They are also sensitive and gentle, making them even easier to fall in love with.
In addition, Akhal-Tekes form deep connections with their owners. “Akhal-Tekes are very loyal – almost dog-like – and tend to want to bond to one person or family,” Terri Fender from the Akhal-Teke Association of America told website Equitrekking in August 2017.
“In an article I read about the history of the breed, it stated that throughout history, they had been a good judge of character,” Fender added. “They originated in Turkmenistan and later became popular in Russia. [And] they were important to families there. In fact, it was said that if the family horse did not like the groom, the wedding was off.”
So while many might hail Akhal-Tekes for their exquisite beauty, let’s not forget that they have brains and brawn, too. What’s more, they also have the emotional intelligence to create meaningful bonds with humans. And it’s for these reasons, just as much as for their glittering coats, that they’ll no doubt continue to shine bright throughout history.