Akhal-Teke Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Akhal-Teke horse standing outside next to a stone and brick wall

Ulruppelt/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

As one of the oldest domesticated horse breeds, the Akhal-Teke was developed for endurance and speed. Some equestrians find the breed too scrawny and narrow, with conformation unlike the more common muscular, deep-chested riding horse breeds. Others consider it a work of art, elegant in appearance and stride. Whatever your opinion, the Akhal-Teke is among the rarest, most exotic full-size horse breeds around the world.

Breed Overview

Weight: 900 to 1,000 pounds

Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

Body Type: Fine-boned, flat-muscled build; long, narrow head and neck; hooded or almond-shaped eyes; distinctive metallic coat

Best For: Owners and riders with equine experience

Life Expectancy: 20 years

Akhal-Teke History and Origins

The Akhal-Teke is an ancient breed with a history that dates back thousands of years. It possibly descended from some of the same ancestors as the better-known hot-blooded breed, the Arabian. 

The breed originated in the Karakum desert of Turkmenistan, where the horses had to tolerate sparse water and food, as well as extremes of heat and cold. The Akhal-Tekes lived closely with their nomadic humans, each being essential to the other’s survival. The tribesmen specifically bred their horses for their athleticism.

After Turkmenistan became a part of the Russian Empire in 1881, the first official breeding farms of Akhal-Tekes were established. At that point, the breed was named for the Teke Turkmen tribe that lived by the Akhal oasis.

The breed struggled during the turmoil that marked the early days of Soviet Russia, and its numbers dwindled. It wasn’t brought to the United States until 1979. The Akhal-Teke Association of America is its registry in the U.S.

Akhal-Teke Size

The Akhal-Teke typically stands from 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches) on average. It generally weighs between 900 and 1,000 pounds and has a slim build that's often compared to that of a greyhound.

Akhal-Teke Breeding and Uses

The nomadic tribesmen of Turkmenistan primarily used Akhal-Tekes for transportation. They selectively bred their horses for enhanced speed, stamina, and agility, which were prized qualities for raids.

Nowadays, Akhal-Tekes are used for dressage, showjumping, long-distance racing, and pleasure riding. In Russia, an Akhal-Teke is even a status symbol. The breed's positive characteristics also echo throughout the horse racing world. More than 200 purebred Akhal-Tekes were shipped to Great Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries for breeding, and their genes have contributed to modern racehorses.

Colors and Markings

Akhal-Tekes are thin-skinned, and their coats are very fine. All equine colors and markings are accepted in the breed registry. Many carry a gene for the cream dilution, which can result in palomino, cremello, and perlino coats. Some horses have pale blue eyes. 

Moreover, many Akhal-Tekes have a metallic sheen to their coats. This is because their hair lacks the opaque center of the typical horse's hair shaft. Thus, it refracts light and appears to glow. For most of the horses, especially the cream-colored ones, the sheen is golden. For gray horses, it’s a silvery glow.

Unique Characteristics of the Akhal-Teke

With its slender build and metallic sheen, the Akhal-Teke's appearance is quite distinctive among horse breeds. But the horse is also prized for its smooth, flowing gait. In addition, the Akhal-Teke's temperament is notable. Loyalty is a strong trait, and many owners characterize them as intensely devoted "one-person" horses. They also tend to be very intelligent and intuitive. Many are able to understand what their owners want them to do from just a simple gesture or soft command.

Diet and Nutrition

As a desert horse with little grass available, the Akhal-Teke evolved to subsist on a sparse diet. But protein was historically the key to its stamina. Today, the horses may receive a similarly balanced diet with quality grass, hay, and some grain. 

Common Health and Behavior Problems

The Akhal-Teke is somewhat lacking in genetic diversity. This makes the breed susceptible to several genetic health issues, including:

  • Cervical vertebral malformation (also known as wobbler syndrome): With this condition, neurological deficits cause a horse to have a stiff, uncoordinated gait. Medical intervention can help to manage the symptoms.
  • Cryptorchidism: This is the absence of one or both testes in the scrotum, making neutering more difficult and sometimes causing other health and behavioral problems. The horse still produces testosterone, which can make it temperamental.
  • Naked foal syndrome: This causes foals to be born hairless. They also have tooth and jaw abnormalities, as well as the tendency to develop other problems with digestion, pain, and more.

Grooming

Standard equine grooming is typically all that’s necessary for the Akhal-Teke. Brush and comb your horse at least once or twice a week to remove dirt, debris, and tangles. Bathe it regularly, especially to bring out its metallic sheen. Also, inspect and clean its hooves daily to look for injuries and prevent infections.

Pros
  • Athletic

  • Loyal

  • Intuitive and intelligent

Cons
  • Often a "one-person" horse

  • Can be excitable and hard to handle

  • Prone to genetic health issues

Champion and Celebrity Akhal-Teke Horses

The Akhal-Teke is a national symbol of Turkmenistan and appears on the country's coat of arms and currency. It also can be seen on stamps and in many monuments.

One of the most famous Akhal-Tekes in recent memory was a stallion named Absent who won the gold medal in individual dressage at the 1960 Olympics. By the end of his career, he went on to medal in two more Olympic Games. Absent sired several horses that were talented in dressage and jumping.

Is the Akhal-Teke Horse Right for You?

This is a remarkably tough breed, having adapted to the rough conditions of its homeland. It does well in nearly any climate. The Akhal-Teke is always vigilant, but it can be too spirited and restless for some riders and owners, especially beginners. Many Akhal-Tekes also don’t like being ridden by strangers and might only form a bond with one person. They often need a gentle, experienced hand in training, as they can become defensive with harsh corrections.

But if you do bond with one of these horses, you’ll have a devoted friend for life. Many owners say their Akhal-Tekes seem to be able to read their minds, and they only need a small gesture or whisper to direct the horses. Moreover, some Akhal-Tekes have been known to defend their owners like guard dogs, even biting other people they view as threats.

How to Adopt or Buy an Akhal-Teke

Purebred Akhal-Tekes are rare and likely will be difficult to find, depending on your location. There are fewer than 10,000 Akhal-Tekes around the world, with the majority in Turkmenistan and Russia. But they’re still possible to find elsewhere, including North America. 

These horses cost around $10,000 on average, though that price can rise considerably based on age, health, training, and pedigree. Akhal-Tekes with a strong metallic sheen to their coats often command a higher price, as well. When considering one of these horses, aim to spend time with it before committing. Ask the breeder or rescue about the horse’s history, health, and training. And make sure it has a temperament you will be able to manage.

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