One of the more unexpected but undoubted highlights of our tour to Turkmenistan was the visit to the Akhal-Teke Stud Farm, run by the jovial Mr. Gulmedov, near Geok Depe. We spent a truly fabulous afternoon here in the warm spring sun, admiring the handsome, majestic horses and learning about the fascinating history of this rare breed.
Now I’m no equine expert but even I could appreciate the exquisite beauty of the Akhal-Teke horse; with its light, elegant build, straight, aristocratic face and long, beautifully shaped ears. The neck is long and slim with a short, sparse mane and forelock and the legs are muscular and fine. One of the defining characteristics of this desert-bred horse is its thin and silky coat – so thin that you can see the blood coursing through its veins, lending it the nickname “heavenly blood sweating horses”.
Nearly threatened into extinction by the Soviet collectivisation of farms and livestock, the Akhal-Teke famously secured their preservation in 1935 after a troop of purebreds, decked in traditional Turkmen garb, proved the breed’s endurance and strength by triumphantly trotting into Red Square following a gruelling 2700 mile trek from Ashgabat to Moscow.
Today the Akhal-Teke is quite rare by modern breed standards, with less than 3000 existing worldwide. The breed is very dear to Turkmenistan and is ingrained in Turkmen culture and folklore. The last Sunday of every April is national “Day of the Turkmen Racehorse” where competitions and races are held as well as a contest in Ashgabat to find the most beautiful Akhal-Teke horse.