The exact origins of many ancient horse breeds from this part of the world are hazy.
Nearly three thousand years ago, when Man and Horse refined their alliance and mounted nomads first roamed the steppes, the Scythian peoples of Central Asia were known for possessing the finest, fastest horses in the world. Archaeologists excavating Scythian tombs in the last decade have verified that their horses, buried with Scythian nobles, are represented, essentially unchanged, in their present-day descendants - the Akhal-Teke horses of Turkmenistan.
It's hard to refer to the Akhal-Teke other than in superlatives. It's the world's best endurance horse. In dressage, an Akhal-Teke has won more Olympic medals than any other horse. Many would claim it's the world's most beautiful breed. Certainly, it's emerging as Central Asia's best-kept secret.
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And its ancestors were, from the time of the Scythians onwards, the world's first big, strong, fast warhorses - the nuclear missile of their day. They were held sacred by the Medes and the Persians, while the Chinese Emperors called them "Celestial". It was to obtain these Celestial Horses, first as spoils of war and later by trading, that the Chinese drove routes through the deserts and mountains of Central Asia for their armies and then their merchants - routes which were to become known as the Silk Road.
In later centuries guardianship of the horses of Central Asia passed to the Turkomans of Transcaspia, and they became a pivot of Turkoman culture. For although the Turkomans of a few centuries ago made a basic living as semi-nomadic farmers, it was the slave trade that made them rich. They needed horses that could gallop all day from their villages on the edge of the Kara Kum desert to the fringes of the settled world - and gallop home again with a double burden, with produce for the slave markets of Bukhara and Khiva.
The best Turkoman horses of all were those bred by the Teke Turkomans of the Akhal Oasis in what is now Turkmenistan, and it was in this hard school of slave-raiding that the Akhal-Teke became the world's most versatile and athletic horse.
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So it was not their women but their horses which became the recipient of the Turkoman's wealth. They wore bridles decorated with melchior and serdoliq - that is, silver and cornelian. And they were looked after with loving care, hand-fed with lucerne, barley and mutton-fat, and rugged with felt against the vicious desert winters.
Its prodigious capacities attracted the attention of several commentators.
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Kolosovskii wrote in of a Turkoman horse that "galloped without a break for 11 days, covering versts a day" - an average of over 70 miles a day. It gradually came to be used for only racing and herding. Breeding became concentrated on State farms and restricted mostly to the Akhal-Teke, prized as the best Turkoman strain.
Turkmene people remained proud of their horses and in staged an amazing promotional effort to bring attention to the breed. The event took a mounted group of Akhal-Teke stallions over 2, miles from the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashkabahad, to Moscow in 84 days.
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One segment of the trip was a mile crossing of the KaraKum desert. The horses successfully covered the distance across the desert in 3 days, with little water available.
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This amazing ride of endurance was repeated in Historically Turkmenian stocks had profound influence on the development of horse breeds in Europe, and most notably the English Thoroughbred. It is now hypothesized that at least two of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred had Turkmenian blood, and were likely Akhal-Tekes. They have strong legs, with dense bone and hard hooves. Smooth and elastic gaits make them appear to float above the ground. The mane and forelock are sparse, the skin is thin, and the coat is short and silky.
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