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Akhal Teke: A Horse Breed of Unique Colors, Facts, and Uses

Last updated: May 18, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

The first time I saw an Akhal Teke horse, I was captivated by its striking allure. Its coat boasted a radiant metallic sheen, while its slender physique and graceful posture exuded an air of elegance. Intrigued by this horse, I decided to learn all I could.

The Akhal Teke is a horse breed with roots that trace to the earliest domesticated horses. Through selective breeding, the Akhal Teke developed into a beautiful, versatile, and athletic horse breed. They’re used for racing, dressage, pleasure riding, and many other equine activities.

The striking metallic sheen of the Akhal Teke horse is a known spectacle among equine enthusiasts. But the intrigue doesn’t end there. There’s a trove of fascinating facts and secrets that this unique breed holds. By the end of this read, I hope to inspire a newfound appreciation for this rare and remarkable horse breed.

Picture of an akhal teke horse,

History and Origin of the Akhal Teke

The Akhal Teke is a horse breed shrouded in mystery and legend, with roots tracing back over several millennia. Its origins are intertwined with the early history of Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country with a rich equestrian heritage.

The breed was initially developed by the nomadic Turkmen tribes, who lived in the harsh and arid environment of the Karakum desert. These tribes required horses that could withstand extreme conditions and provide swift and reliable transportation over long distances. Thus, the Akhal Teke was born out of necessity, a true testament to the adaptability and resilience of this magnificent breed.

Evolution of the breed over the centuries

Over the centuries, the Akhal Teke breed evolved and became refined but always maintained its core characteristics: endurance, speed, intelligence, and a distinctive shiny coat. The Turkmen people selectively bred these horses for these traits, resulting in the world-class breed we recognize today.

With the passage of time, the breed diversified slightly due to the influence of other horse breeds and changes in breeding objectives. However, breeders have always strived to retain the unique attributes of the Akhal Teke, emphasizing its historical significance and uniqueness in the equine world.

Importance of Akhal Teke in Turkmen Culture

The Akhal Teke holds a central role in Turkmen’s culture. It is seen as a symbol of national pride and identity, and it is deeply ingrained in their history and traditions. The horse’s name itself is a tribute to the Akhal oasis, the region in Turkmenistan where the breed was originally developed, and the Tekes, the tribe that played a pivotal role in its creation.

The breed’s importance is further emphasized by its frequent appearances in Turkmen art, folklore, and literature. In 1991, the Akhal Teke was declared the national emblem of Turkmenistan, underlining its cultural importance and the nation’s dedication to preserving this unique and prized breed. Today, the Akhal Teke continues to be revered in Turkmenistan and beyond for its unparalleled endurance, agility, and striking beauty.

10 Akhal Teke Facts

1. The Akhal Teke is an ancient horse breed.

Akhal-Teke, the “Golden Horse,” is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. The breed can trace its pedigree back to the first domesticated horses. These horses are the only remaining strain of the ancient Turkoman horse. The Turkoman horse breed originated on the Eastern slopes of central Asia between 3000 and 4000 BC.

2. Akhal Teke is descendants of Turkoman horses.

Believed to have originated from Turkoman horses who migrated from North America across the Bering Strait 10,000 years ago, the Akhal-Teke carries distinct ancestral traits. Nomadic Central Asian tribes, journeying across vast desert expanses in search of sustenance and shelter, relied heavily on their resilient horses, which thrived under harsh conditions with scarce food and water.

This interdependence cultivated a profound bond between horse and man, resulting in a breed characterized by endurance, strength, and sensitivity. Today’s Akhal-Teke horses reflect these prized traits, a testament to their remarkable lineage.

3. “Akhal” is an oasis in the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountains.

The name Akhal-Teke is a combination of the horses’ location and the people responsible for maintaining the breed. The term has its roots in ancient Persia, known today as Turkmenistan. In the Kopet Dag Mountains’ foothills, there sits a long oasis called the “Akhal.”

The tribe of people who inhabit the area surrounding the sanctuary is the “Teke” tribe. This tribe bred and raised Turkoman horses for centuries. Their special horse breed became the Akhal-Teke and lived undiscovered for centuries on the central Asian slopes, where their breeding remained pure.

Picture of a dark bay Akhal teke,

4. Russia established an Akhal Teke registry in 1885.

However, the Russians annexed Turkmenistan and established an Akhal-Teke registry in 1885, and the Studbook was closed in 1932. After the establishment of the breed registry, the Russians began to introduce the breed to the world.

Today the Czech Republic, Russia, Estonia, Italy, and Switzerland have established distinct Akhal-Teke lineage. This unique breed has been crossed with other breeds to add endurance, speed, and durability.

5. Akhal Teke contributed to Thoroughbred bloodlines.

One successful cross resulted in the development of the thoroughbred. Byerley Turk was a Turkish stallion captured during unrest in Budapest and brought to England. He became the warhorse of Captain Byerley, who fought in Ireland in 1689 during King William’s War. Through crosses with local English mares, the Byerley sire established himself as a founding sire of the thoroughbred breed.

6. Akhal Teke is a rare breed.

Akhal-Tekes are a “threatened” horse breed. The Endangered Species Act defines a threatened species as “any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Akhal-Tekes have had a resurgence in popularity over the last few decades. Currently, there are estimated to be over 6500 of the breed worldwide. The highest populations are in Turkmenistan and Russia. The breed is growing in popularity in the United States.

7. Akhal Tekes has a wide-ranging sales price.

It depends on the horses’ age, pedigree, sex, training, and condition. A top-quality Akhal-Teke horse could sell for as much as $100,000.00. However, you can find some nicely bred yearlings and foals from $5,000.00 and up. Click this link to check prices at the Akhal-Teke Association of America.

8. Akhal Teke’s aren’t typically good for beginners.

Akhal-Teke’s have a good temperament but do require a skilled equestrian to keep their minds occupied. They are intelligent, one-person horses that get frustrated with inexperienced riders; however, experienced riders with the patience for this breed find success easy. Akhal-Teke’s can also be high-strung, which is another trait not suited for beginner riders.

9. Akhal Teke’s are the pride of Turkmenistan.

In Turkmenistan, the Akhal Teke horse appears on the coat of arms, banknotes, and postage stamps. The country also has statutes dedicated to the breed.

10. Akhal Teke’s trot is unique.

The Akhal-Teke breed has a relatively smooth trot compared to other horse breeds. This smooth trot results from their unusual footfall pattern; the diagonal limbs move as couplets, which creates a 4-beat rhythm.  To preserve the breed and its unique characteristics, the gait of the Akhal-Teke is the subject of scientific studies.

Picture of a shiny bay akhal teke,
By Kerstin Stange – Private Photography, Public Domain,

Unique Characteristics of Akhal Teke Horses


The Akhal Teke is truly a breed like no other, and one of its most distinguishing features is its remarkable “metallic” coat. This refers to the unique sheen or shimmer on the horse’s coat that gives the appearance of being brushed with liquid metal.

But why does the Akhal Teke have such a shiny coat? It boils down to the structure of the hair. The hair shafts on Akhal Teke’s coat are actually translucent and act like tiny prisms, bending and reflecting light to give the coat its metallic glow. This feature is especially noticeable in direct sunlight, where the horses seem to gleam as if made of gold or silver.

When it comes to color, the Akhal Teke can come in virtually all equine colors, but some are more common than others. The most iconic color for the breed is golden buckskin, but other common colors include bay, black, grey, palomino, and chestnut.

Rarer colors include perlino and cremello. The metallic sheen is most noticeable in lighter colors, particularly those with a golden or silver hue. It’s this combination of color and sheen that truly makes these horses stand out in a crowd.


In addition to their radiant, shimmering coats, Akhal-Tekes boast a number of distinctive physical features. With an average height ranging between 14.2 and 16 hands (roughly 57 to 64 inches at the shoulder), they are considered a medium-sized breed rather than tall. Their build is slender and athletic, marked by a long, narrow body, a gracefully sculpted head, large expressive eyes, and elongated, lean legs.

Complementing their long legs are short cannon bones, long pasterns, and small yet sturdy hooves. Despite their compact size, these hooves are impressively resilient, a critical attribute for survival in harsh and rugged terrains where the strength of a horse’s feet often determines its worth.

The Akhal-Teke’s structure is further characterized by a long, level back, prominent withers, and elegantly sloping shoulders. Their muscular hip exhibits their inherent power and strength, while their low-set tails and slim, narrow chest contrast with a deep girth, contributing to their notable endurance.

Survival traits

This combination of physical traits paints a picture of speed, elegance, and power. Yet, despite their regal appearance, Akhal-Tekes are notably low-maintenance, especially regarding their diet. They thrive without the need for specialized feeding, demonstrating their remarkable resilience and adaptability.

Surviving in diverse conditions also means coping with extreme weather. To this end, Akhal-Tekes possess thin skin and a sparse or even absent mane, adaptations that serve them well in the scorching desert heat. These features, together with their reflective coat color, facilitate effective heat regulation, offering a natural means of coping with intense sunlight and high temperatures.

Moreover, their ability to hold their heads high and their elongated ears enhance their sensory awareness across open plains, aiding in predator detection through heightened sight, smell, and sound. However, their unique coat brings with it a drawback.

The Akhil Teke is a smart and sensitive horse.

Akhal-Tekes spent generations with humans, creating a special bond between man and horse not seen in other breeds. This bond developed a need for attention, which is more common between humans and dogs.

Akhal-Teke horses are full of energy. But just like intelligent dogs, they need to be challenged and trained. They will learn quickly, so be ready to advance your teaching methods. They are loyal to their owners, and it takes time and patience for one to adapt to a new master.

Because Akhal-Tekes are high-spirited horses, they develop best with riders that allow them to run and have fun. They don’t like to be kept in stalls for extended periods and do best when kept in wide-open spaces.

Care and Maintenance of Akhal Teke Horses

Caring for an Akhal Teke horse involves understanding its specific dietary, exercise, and health needs, which have been shaped by the breed’s unique history and characteristics.

A. Nutritional Needs and Common Diet

Despite their elegant appearance, Akhal-Tekes are surprisingly hardy and can thrive on relatively simple diets. Historically, these horses survived on sparse desert vegetation, and as a result, they have developed efficient digestive systems that can extract nutrients from a range of forages.

A typical diet for an Akhal-Teke includes quality grass hay, grains, and a balanced horse feed to ensure they receive all necessary vitamins and minerals. Fresh water should always be available. While they are not high-maintenance eaters, it’s essential to monitor their condition and adjust their diet accordingly to maintain optimal health and body condition.

B. Exercise and Training Requirements

Akhal-Tekes are athletic and active horses, requiring regular exercise to maintain their fitness and mental well-being. They excel in a variety of equestrian disciplines, including endurance riding, dressage, jumping, and eventing, so their training routines can be diverse.

Despite their endurance and versatility, it’s important to remember that, like any horse, they need a balanced routine that includes rest days and varied activities to prevent boredom and overwork.

C. Health Issues Specific to the Breed and Their Management

Akhal-Tekes are generally a healthy and resilient breed, but they do have a few breed-specific health concerns. One of these is Naked Foal Syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to hairlessness and other health complications in foals, often resulting in early death. There’s currently no cure for this condition, but responsible breeding practices can help manage its incidence.

Akhal-Tekes can also be susceptible to Wobbler Syndrome. This is a neurologic disease caused by compression of the spinal cord in the neck (cervical) region. It’s formally known as cervical vertebral malformation (CVM) or cervical vertebral instability.

Horses with Wobbler Syndrome typically exhibit incoordination and weakness in the hind limbs, which can make them appear as though they are ‘wobbling’. The condition often affects younger horses, particularly those undergoing rapid growth.

Another issue is their sensitivity to certain skin conditions due to their thin skin and sparse coat. Regular grooming and careful observation can help detect and treat these issues early.

Lastly, due to their efficient digestive systems, Akhal-Tekes can be prone to obesity if overfed. Regular monitoring of their body condition and adjusting their diet as needed can help prevent this.

Overall, the Akhal-Teke is a resilient and adaptable breed that doesn’t require extensive or specialized care. However, understanding their specific needs and potential health issues can ensure these unique horses lead healthy, happy lives.

Check out this YouTube video of various Akhal-teke Horses

Notable Uses and Roles of Akhal Teke

The Akhal Teke horse breed, with its unique characteristics and history, has found a place in various roles and uses over the years, from competitive sports to transportation and even in the arts and culture.

A. Akhal Teke in Competitive Equestrian Sports

With their speed, endurance, and agility, Akhal Tekes have excelled in a variety of competitive equestrian sports. They are particularly renowned for their capabilities in endurance racing, where their desert-adapted stamina truly shines. The breed has also made a name for itself in dressage, jumping, and eventing, with their grace, athleticism, and intelligence greatly valued in these disciplines.


The Akhal-Teke breed has proven to be exceptional in the discipline of dressage, even securing an Olympic gold medal in this prestigious equestrian sport. Their temperament, conformation, responsiveness, athleticism, and innate desire to please their riders make them ideally suited for the precise and demanding movements of dressage.

A significant moment in the history of Akhal-Tekes in dressage was during the 1964 Olympics in Rome. An Akhal-Teke named Absent not only claimed the gold medal but also paved the way for a new era in the sport, being recognized as one of the first modern-type dressage horses. His victory was a testament to the breed’s capabilities and set a high bar for the performance of dressage horses.

Below is a YouTube video of an Akhal Teke in dressage training.


Akhal-Tekes demonstrate exceptional prowess in jumping competitions, embodying a spirit of competitiveness and genuine enjoyment of the sport. Their natural athleticism and agility make them strong contenders in this equestrian discipline. However, the dominance of warm-blood breeds often overshadows their performance at the highest levels of the sport.

Nonetheless, the Akhal-Teke breed has made notable achievements in jumping competitions. A testament to their talent, between 1999 and 2001, Akhal-Teke representatives consistently excelled in the World Cup jumping competition qualifiers, either clinching victories or securing high-ranking positions.

B. Use in Transportation and Historical Warfare

Historically, the Akhal Teke was a crucial asset for the nomadic Turkmen tribes, providing swift and reliable transportation across the harsh desert landscape. The breed’s speed and endurance also made it an effective warhorse, capable of carrying riders over long distances and difficult terrain with little sustenance. Their influence in warfare was such that they were often referred to as “heavenly horses” in ancient Chinese sources, underlining their valued role in historical military campaigns.

C. Role in Breeding Programs for Other Horse Breeds

Akhal Tekes have played a significant role in improving other horse breeds through selective breeding programs. Their speed, endurance, and unique physical traits have been sought to enhance characteristics in breeds such as the Thoroughbred and the Trakehner. The Akhal Teke’s influence can still be seen today in the genetic lineage of many modern horse breeds.

D. The Akhal Teke as a Symbol and Its Presence in Art and Culture

The Akhal Teke holds a special place in Turkmen culture, where it is considered a symbol of national pride and identity. Its image is featured prominently on the nation’s coat of arms and currency, demonstrating its significant cultural status.

Beyond Turkmenistan, the Akhal Teke’s striking beauty has inspired artists and horse enthusiasts worldwide, making it a popular subject in various forms of art, from painting and sculpture to literature and film. The Akhal Teke’s enduring presence in art and culture is a testament to its captivating allure and the profound impact it has had throughout history.

Picture of an akhal teke,horse rearing,

How to Pronounce Akhal Teke.

When I first saw how the breed name was spelled, I wasn’t sure I correctly pronounced it. So I found a website that pronounces words so I could hear them.

Akhal-Teke is pronounced ( Let me know if my attempt at describing the pronunciation is similar to the pronunciation you hear on this site. Click the link to listen to Akhal-Teke pronounced.


The Akhal-Teke breed stands as a testament to the adaptability and resilience of horses, demonstrating how a breed can be shaped by its environment and history. From their unique metallic sheen to their impressive endurance and versatility in sports, these horses are a captivating blend of beauty, strength, and agility.

The Akhal-Teke’s significance extends beyond its physical traits, as it also holds a prominent place in culture and arts. As a national symbol of Turkmenistan and a source of inspiration for artists worldwide, this horse breed has etched its mark on both history and modern society.

As we care for and interact with these remarkable creatures, it’s essential to understand and respect their needs, characteristics, and potential health concerns. This understanding enables us to honor the legacy of the breed, contribute to its preservation, and appreciate its unique beauty and strength.

In a nutshell, the Akhal-Teke is more than just a horse breed – it’s a remarkable blend of nature’s artistry and millennia of history, a symbol of resilience, and a source of inspiration for people around the world. As we continue to learn more about these incredible animals, we can further appreciate their unique contribution to our shared cultural and natural heritage.

Miles Henry