Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Akhal-Teke Horse

 By Nancy J. Farrier

Ahkel-Teke Buckskin
Photo by Arthur Babies, Wikimedia Commons

I recently read something about Ahkel-Teke horses and knew I had to learn more. They are so beautiful and their line traces back three thousand years. 


Ahkel-Teke Stallion Gerald
Photo by Penyulap
Wikimedia Commons

The Ahkel-Teke horse comes from Asia in what is now Turkmenistan. They were said to have the shape of the wind and the glow of the sun. They were called Heavenly Horses because of the glow they have and the breed was so unusual that they were sought after and inspired a war.


Most often, they were called Turkoman after the Turkic tribe in the Middle Ages. The shape of their head—bony protrusions and long, slender ears—gave them a nickname among the Chinese, vegetarian dragon. They lived with nomadic tribes, staying in the tents, and treasured for their stamina and speed.


White Stallion, Photo by Ulruppelt
Wikimedia Commons

In 104 BCE, the War of the Heavenly Horses was fought, a first type of conflict over a horse. The Chinese Han Dynasty went to war with the Persian Empire. The Chinese won the war, kept the horses, and built their cavalry with them.


In 1881, when Russia took control of Turkmenia, they renamed the horse, Ahkel-Teke. Ahkel comes from an oasis in the Kopet-Dag mountains, and Teke comes from the Teke Turkman tribe. These horses had the most pure line. They weren’t allowed to cross breed with others, which has been shown to diminish their natural capabilities.


Golden Black Stallion, by Arthur Baboev
Wikimedia Commons

Because they were prized and not too common, the Ahkel-Teke were at risk of extinction. The Russians did much to preserve the breed, however during the World Wars many of the horses died in battle. Bolshevism declared that the horses were to go to state-owned stud farms. 


The tribesmen who cared for the horses fled with them rather than see the line diluted. The Russians then decreed the horses left should be slaughtered for food. The breeders released the horses into the desert to save them from this fate. This save the Ahkel-Teke from being wiped out.


The horses incredible stamina and athleticism led to them being trained and competing. In 1960, Absent, also called Absinthe, won Olympic gold for Soviet Russia. Many of his progeny have been great competitors in dressage and jumping.


Golden Black Stallion
By Arthur Baboev
Wikimedia Commons

The coat of the Ahkel-Teke is unusual in its gleaming color. They are a thin-skinned horse with a fine-haired coat. They carry a genetic trait for cream colors such as palomino and some have pale blue eyes. The metallic sheen in the coat comes from the lack of an opaque center in the hair shaft. The hair refracts light, making them glow in the sunshine. Cream horses glow golden and gray horses glow silver.


In 1956, Queen Elizabeth was presented with a golden-dun stallion Melekush, given by Nikita Khrushchev. There is a story that the English grooms believed some polish had been added to the horse’s coat to make him glow. They attempted to clean him, only to have him glow even more as the travel dust was removed. 


From what I could find there are now about 3,000 purebred Ahkel-Teke horses world-wide, so they are growing in number but still endangered. Measures are being taken to preserve the breed. They are still prized for their beauty, and for the smooth, flowing gait. They are very loyal to their owner and prefer to be a single person horse. They are also very responsive to training and can take direction easily. 


Have you ever seen these horses? Or ridden one? They have been crossbred with other horses, so it’s easy to imagine why the palominos we’ve seen might have that special glow. What do you think?

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Thank you for posting today! I just love the things I learn here. I have never seen these horses to my knowledge, but now I would love to!

  2. These horses are beautiful! Thank you for posting about them.

  3. I love horses. I haven't heard of this breed before.