GOLDEN HORS E T H E L E G E N D A RY A K H A L-T E K E
P h o t o g r a p h y b y A RT U R B A B O E V Te x t b y A l e k s a n d r K l i m u k
Abrams, New York in association with PQ Blackwell
“The Akhal-Teke is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. It represents the purest version of the Turkmen horse and is a direct descendant of the famed Central Asian mounts of antiquity: the horses of the Massagetae, the Niseans, and the Parthians. ” The end of the twelfth century saw the rise of a new power: the Khwarezmian Empire. According to the Hiva historian Abulgazi, Khwarezm wielded power over the Turkmen tribes, including the Teke, who were part of a larger tribal alliance headed by the Salyr people. But at the height of its influence, the Khwarezmian Empire came up against Genghis Khan and his Mongol army. Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, was defeated in battle on the banks of the river Indus; rather than allowing himself to be captured, he rode his horse into the river, swam to the other side, and fled from his Mongol pursuers. He continued to oppose Genghis Khan and fought for another ten years until his death. The Turkmen tribes who supported Khwarezm (including the Teke) were eventually forced to accept Mongol rule, but they retained their customs, including their horse-breeding secrets. Those tribes who did not accept Mongol rule migrated west. Among these was the Osman tribe, who were to lay the foundations of the Ottoman Empire. Evidence that Turkmen horses were being exported to nearby countries by the thirteenth century is clear from the writings of the Italian explorer Marco Polo, who noted their superior quality. So, too, did many merchants, including the Russian Afanasy Nikitin, who took a well-bred stallion to India to sell in the fourteenth century. Indeed, some well-known Asian breeds can be considered direct descendants of the Turkmen horse: the Persian horse, the Karabakh horse of Azerbaijan, and the Indian breeds Marwari and Kathiawari. Although the Ottoman Turks had easy access to Arabian horses, they attached special value to the horses bred in their historic homeland. According to the eighteenth-century German-born explorer Carsten Niebuhr, the Turks did not value Arabian horses, but instead preferred their taller, slender, majestic-looking horses decorated with elaborate jewelry. In Asia Minor and throughout the Near East, the Turkmen horses continued to be bred, and there is evidence that in Syria this continued until the nineteenth century. In the 1890s, well-known Arabian breed expert O. A. Balakshin noted certain similarities in the conformation of the Syrian Arab and the Akhal-Teke. Naturally, these Turkmen horses greatly influenced local breeds. In Mesopotamia, a new strain emerged within the Arabian breed as a result of crossing Arabian and Turkmen horses. Experts on Arabian horses, such as Carl Reinhard Raswan, Johannes Erich Flade, and Erica Schille, agree that
such a cross-breeding took place, but there are differences of opinion about the extent to which it occurred.The new strain was known as the Muniqui Arabian: taller than the classic type and longer in the body, with a certain angularity of form and an impressive speed. While Turkmen horses were less well known in Europe, they nevertheless left a significant trace. Horses from Central Asia and the Near East that found their way to Europe were often referred to as Arabian and exerted considerable influence on European horse breeding, including in the creation of the English Thoroughbred. According to eminent Russian hippologist Professor V. O. Vitt, the English Thoroughbred foundation stallion Darley Arabian, who was shipped to England from Syria in 1704, was a Turkmen horse, or possibly a Turkmen-Arabian cross. Besides Darley Arabian, a host of horses used to create the English Thoroughbred bear a striking resemblance to the Turkmen horse. Significantly, certain aspects of the English race-training tradition—such as exercising under blankets, early breaking, and training of young stock—are remarkably similar to the old Turkmen traditions. It is therefore a safe assumption that the training methods themselves may have been brought to England by the grooms and handlers who accompanied the horses on their journey to the British Isles. While the authentic type of Turkmen horse did not survive in Turkey, the Turks were always aware of their common Turkoman heritage and when the Turkmen horses found their way to the stables of the sultan, they were valued more than another breed. At the end of the Mongol invasions in the late 1200s, the Turkmen tribes who had remained in their historic homeland found themselves under the rule of three contiguous political entities: the Golden Horde, the Ilkhanate of Persia, and the Chagatai Khanate. These states had nominal borders, and their existence was punctuated by incessant wars and scuffles. By the fourteenth century, practically all of Central Asia and Persia were amalgamated under the influence of Tamerlane. Some Turkmen tribes supported Tamerlane and others opposed him in bitter armed struggle. After the fall of Tamerlane’s empire, the history of the Turkmen territory, up to the time of its annexation to the Russian Empire, is an integral part of Persian history and that of two Uzbek principalities: the Emirate of Bukhara and the Khanate of Khiva. Both of these states aspired to exert influence over the Turkmen people, and the fortunes of each, to some extent, depended on whose side the famed Turkmen mounted warriors were prepared to take.
The reputation of the Turkmen was inextricably linked to the superior quality of their horses. No other type of horse that the Turkmen came into contact with could compare with their own prized breed. This was probably the main reason why Turkmen horses were bred to stay pure: the quality of war horse guaranteed the owner not only his wealth but his life itself. Keeping such finely bred animals in Turkmen conditions was very expensive, but in the desert, any horse required the owner to buy barley and lucerne, so there was no real advantage in keeping the cheaper, more common steppe horse (known as yabi in Turkmen language). The Teke tribe, like all Turkmen tribes, was divided into sedentary (chomur) and nomadic (chorva) people, and those who could afford to move around generally possessed greater material wealth. It is interesting to note that horse breeding was more the domain of the chomur, who were poorer but more militant. Unlike the diets of other peoples of Central Asia, the Turkmen diet never included horse meat or mare’s milk (kumys), and killing a horse, no matter how old or sick, was regarded as sinful. When the Turkmen were not out on alamans (mounted raids on the Silk Road caravans), or attacking rival tribesmen, they raced their horses. Race trainers, known as seis, guarded their training secrets and passed them down orally through the generations. Preparation for a race was divided into two stages. The first stage was “feeding up,” where the condition of the horse was enhanced by feeding it the standard Akhal-Teke diet of barley and alfalfa, but with the addition of eggs and bread smeared with mutton fat. During this period, horses were worked only at a walking pace, usually by riding them to a watering hole. The second stage was race training, which included a gradual increase in canter work, while also continuing the walking regime. The horses were worked under felt blankets to encourage sweating, allowing them to lose fat and build muscle. Races were a favorite national pastime of the Turkmen people and were staged on auspicious occasions. Most races were run between just two horses and over a distance no longer than 5 furlongs (0.63 mile); the winner usually took part in the next race, running as many as four races in one day. Race winners were in great demand and were widely used in breeding. Races were a key factor in determining selection criteria for Turkmen horse breeding, as was the performance of horses in military raids. This was not the case for the Turkmen’s Central Asian neighbors, however, who saw horse racing as mere entertainment and usually gelded their winners.
In Russia, too, Turkmen horses, known as argamaks, were highly regarded. They were ridden by the gentry and used at imperial stud farms. Merchants and emissaries traveling to Persia, Khiva, and Bukhara invariably returned with argamaks to be presented as gifts to the tsar.The wars waged by Peter the Great during the seventeenth century wiped out a huge portion of the Russian equine population and decimated the imperial stud farms. When the time came to restore horse breeding, industry breeders turned to the argamaks. By decree of Peter the Great, new stud farms were built in Kazan and Simbirsk principalities, with instructions to use Persian stallions on Cherkassy mares. Although the project itself was never completed, it tells us that the “recipe” for producing quality saddle horses—using the argamak as an improver—was well known to horse breeders at that time. Turkmen horses in general, and particularly those bred by the Teke tribe, played an important role in Russian selective breeding in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries. Professor V. O. Vitt describes this vividly in his collection of articles entitled “Horse Breeds of Central Asia.” According to the data he collected across stud farms in Russia in the 1840s, almost 40 percent of horses were Turkmen in origin. To source Turkmen horses, the Russian government dispatched special expeditions to Central Asia, led by veterinarians Kersting and Nanni, who between them purchased thirty horses.Teke stallions commanded the highest price and the most expensive of all was the future stud stallion of the Streletsk stud farm, Yalantush-Khan, who played a central part in the creation of the Streletsk breed. According to Professor Vitt, the foundation sire of the Orloff Saddlebred, the dark-brown Sultan the First, was most likely a Turkmen horse, too. In the Don stud farm in 1839, there were over eight hundred Turkmen stallions (though they were sometimes referred to as Persian). Turkmen horses were also used by breeders of the Bashkir region and by the Ural Cossacks. Nineteenth-century Russian historian and ethnographer Pavel Ivanovich Nebolsin described a Turkmen stud stallion he saw in a breeding stable in Bashkiria: “I couldn’t take my eyes away from a gray Teke, a tall, beautiful animal, five vershoks tall [the writer means two arshins and five vershoks, which is equal to 16.2 hands], with a long, straight neck and wondrously fine skin. He had virtually no mane. His muzzle, legs, and chest were a pleasure to behold. . . . He was being led by two stocky Bashkir men; he barely touched the ground as he danced along, and one could see
Akhal-Teke stallion Sardar, by B. P.Villevalde, oil on canvas, 1882. From the Museum of Horse Breeding at the Moscow Timiryazev Agricultural Academy
every ligament under his skin, like a taut steel string. His whole body, covered in sweat from excessive energy, was literally swathed in gold. That is the only way to describe the color of his coat in the sunlight.” One of the best-known breeding stallions in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century was the golden bay Turkmen-Atti. He was used at the Neustadt stud, where he sired a line of horses subsequently used in the creation of the famous Trakehner breed. It is quite possible that other Eastern imports used at European stud farms were Turkmen, but referred to as Arabian, Persian, or Turkish. For example, stallion Gomoush-Bornu at the German stud farm Weil (now known as Weil-Marbach) was likely to have been of Turkmen origin. European explorers and military men who traveled through Central Asia and Persia often gave pithy descriptions of Turkmen horses and clearly recognized their superior caliber. When in 1884 a consignment of six Turkmen horses arrived in France from Merv, the famous French hippologist Eugène Gayot wrote about them with great excitement and proclaimed them to be “the new blood horse.” One of the horses in the
consignment was a stallion named Merv, who was shipped on to England and included in the Eastern section of the Weatherbys Thoroughbred studbook. By the eighteenth century, the Teke had emerged as the most powerful tribe in the region. Led by Keimir Ker, the Teke conquered the Akhal oasis, and in the nineteenth century they annexed Merv, with Kaushut Khan as their leader.Traditionally, the Teke were considered to be under control of the Khan of Khiva, but over time they had effectively become independent. Attempts to subordinate the Teke, first by Khiva in 1858 and then by Persia in 1861, resulted in outright failure, with severe military losses. By now, the Teke tradition of selective horse breeding had become highly sophisticated. Many visitors to the region noted that the Teke tribe had the best horses among the Turkmen. Those who encountered a Teke horse for the first time were struck by its resemblance to the English Thoroughbred. They noted its exceptional speed and stamina; its dry, long limbs; and an almost complete lack of mane.
“It was crucial for a Turkmen warrior to have a good war horse to ensure his and his family’s safety, so well-bred horses were highly prized.” extinguish Kuropatkin’s zeal to support horse breeding in Transcaspia. In 1897, he allocated funds from the regional budget to enable Colonel Kovalev to purchase three purebred stallions: Abbas-Shah, Abrek, and Alaman-Bay. The following year, he appointed Grigory Andreevich Mazan, a cavalry officer of the Caucasian division, and originally a Cossack from the Korennovsky settlement of the Kuban region, as manager of Transcaspian Stables. Twelve loose boxes were erected as stables in the village of Keshi, where the Turkmen cavalry division was stationed at that time. A landmark in the history of Transcaspian Stables was the purchase of Boinou, the greatest purebred Akhal-Teke sire (the term used in those days was “Akhal-Teke bloodhorse”). He was acquired at the age of sixteen, by which time he was well known for the quality of his offspring, who demonstrated both strong type and superlative speed. Later stallions, including Voron, Agar, Gecheli, Baba-Akhun, Dovlet-Ishan, Sapar-Khan, and Mele-Kush, also became famous for the high caliber of their progeny and eventually became line founders in the breed. Every mare was issued a covering certificate, and Mazan accurately recorded the pedigree of the foals and assessed the quality of the offspring from each breeding pair. Breeding season lasted from March to June, and two additional breeding stations were set up in Merv (now Mary) and Fort Alexander (now Aktau, in Kazakhstan), where local Turkmen breeders could bring their mares for in-hand cover. From the time when Transcaspian Stables first opened until 1909, breeding for the mares belonging to local Turkmen breeders was free. After 1909, they were charged half the cost established for other, non-Turkmen breeders residing in the Transcaspian region. In 1901, regular exhibitions started to be organized to show the Stables’ yearlings, with the best ones being awarded monetary prizes and trophies. The activities of the Stables met with approval from traditional Turkmen breeders, especially those residing in the vicinity of Ashgabat, the nation’s capital. The stallions of Transcaspian Stables were in great demand, exceeding supply. In his reports to the governor of the Transcaspian region, Mazan regularly highlighted the need to acquire new “Akhal bloodhorse” sires. In order to retain the best stallions as well as the best mares, Transcaspian Stables undertook an expansion that allowed it to maintain a herd of its own mares, gradually transforming it into a proper Transcaspian regional stud farm. This move was most likely prompted by the fact that from 1904 to 1905, 214 Akhal-Teke mares were exported to Persia, Afghanistan, and India.
Considering the limited overall number of mares within the breed (recorded as 551 heads in 1896), this one export constituted a loss of nearly half of the Akhal-Teke mare population. One hundred hectares were allotted near the village of Makhtum-Kala near Ashgabat, and Mazan began to acquire mares for the stud at every opportunity. Over time, what had started off as a modest undertaking by General Kuropatkin became a site of keen interest for Ashgabat and the whole Transcaspian region. Visitors to the area, even those who were not necessarily horse breeders or enthusiasts, gave interesting accounts of their excursions to the Stables. A Russian composer of Swedish descent,V. N. Garteveld, wrote: “I have never been ‘horsey’ and have never been particularly interested in equestrianism. However, I must admit that I have never seen, and could not even imagine, horses of such striking beauty as those I saw in Ashgabat. Every horse is a piece of poetry.” Another visitor, gendarme officer A. M. Poliakov, could not contain his excitement at the sight of the AkhalTeke horses: “I remember when the head of the stables, Captain Mazan, showed me their stallions. It should be noted that Teke people only ride stallions; to even sit on a mare is considered shameful. Mazan showed me the difference between a purebred Akhal-Teke horse and an English Thoroughbred. I have to say that comparing them does not do the latter any favors. An English horse stood next to a Teke looks rather like a commoner before a nobleman.” The work of Transcaspian Stables came to the attention of the general public during the exhibitions in Tashkent, Piatigorsk, and Kiev between 1909 and 1913.The breed, which was once well known in Russia but then forgotten, had been rediscovered. Enthusiastic responses abounded in the press, and the government was called upon to encourage the breeding of Akhal-Teke horses by state-owned stud farms outside Transcaspia. The exhibitions changed the economic fortune of the breed in a seminal way. While Mazan had previously written about the difficulties of finding commercial outlets for the horses, after the exhibitions he received so many inquiries for mares from prospective buyers that “if I was to satisfy every interested party, there [wouldn’t] be any decent mares left in the whole of Akhal.” The combination of Mazan’s efforts at Transcaspian Stables and the activities of individual traditional Turkmen breeders led to a renaissance of the Akhal-Teke breed and an increase in both the quantity and the quality of the horse population. After Count N. B. Scherbatov, the chief of Imperial Horse
Breeding, visited Transcaspia in 1914, new measures were put forward that were designed to support Akhal-Teke breeding: The number of stallions at Transcaspian Stables was to be increased to sixty; stipends were to be awarded to private stallion owners; and Transcaspian Stables’ mare herd (numbering forty to fifty at that time) was to receive government support. The proposed measures were presented to Tsar Nicholas II, who, upon consideration, gave them his royal stamp of approval. Sadly, with the onset of World War I, the new measures did not have a chance to be implemented. During the ensuing military campaign, the Turkmen cavalry regiment, consisting of Turkmen volunteers mostly riding Akhal-Teke stallions, became known as the Teke Legion and earned a reputation for carrying out swashbuckling attacks. The officers of other cavalry regiments who had been stationed in Central Asia during peacetime also often chose to ride Akhal-Teke stallions. Many of these horses died at the front, creating an unprecedented demand for replacements. The situation soon reached critical proportions, prompting Mazan to initiate a petition from the State Horse Breeding Regulatory Authority to the Ministry of Military Affairs to exempt Akhal-Teke horses from being sent to the front.The petition was honored, and the remaining horses were re-registered and some of them returned by the military to the stud farm. Nevertheless, the breed was now close to extinction, with the total number of horses exempted from the military campaign (not including those kept at Transcaspian Stables) amounting to 643—of which 405 were mares, 25 were stallions over four years of age, and the rest youngstock. During the Russian Civil War, which followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, the crisis worsened. In an attempt to save Transcaspian Stables from the advancing Bolshevik Red Army, the officers of the anticommunist White Army evacuated the horses to Tersk in the North Caucasus, to a place known today as the Malkin stud farm. However, the revolution soon arrived there also, and some of the stallions were requisitioned into the Red Cavalry, while others found their way into the hands of local residents. Untold damage was also done to the breed in Transcaspia, where British troops who had fought alongside the White Army took sixty Akhal-Teke stallions away with them as booty. Having thus witnessed the destruction of his lifelong project, Mazan was forced to depart for Ekaterinodar, where he fell ill and died on December 28, 1919. Following the revolution and the creation of the new Soviet
Top left: Buckskin stallion Mele, breed champion of the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Sirotkin, 1939. From the Museum of Horse Breeding at the Moscow Timiryazev Agricultural Academy Above left: Black stallion Voron. I. Lozinsky, 1909. From the archive of TsGAKFFD of Saint Petersburg
Top right: Dark bay stallion Ovlak-Sakar II in front of the graves of Bureida and Gifari (fifteenth-century AD), Mary,Turkmenistan. A. Shtorkh, 1977 Above right: Buckskin stallion Mele-Kush, All-Russia Exhibition, USSR. D. Kryukov, 1923. From the Museum of Horse Breeding at the Moscow Timiryazev Agricultural Academy
Right: Stallion Shakhmed, Russia, 2011 Preceding spread: Stallion Esugeibatyr, Slovakia, 2012 Following spread: Stallion Dagat, Russia, 2011
“I couldn’t take my eyes away from a gray Teke… with a long, straight neck and wondrously fine skin. He had virtually no mane. His muzzle, legs, and chest were a pleasure to behold … he barely touched the ground as he danced along, and one could see every ligament under his skin, like a taut steel string. His whole body, covered in sweat from excessive energy, was literally swathed in gold. That is the only way to describe the color of his coat in the sunlight.” Pavel Ivanovich Nebolsin, Russian historian and ethnographer, circa nineteenth century
Right: Herd from Medeus Stud, Slovakia, 2012
Right: Stallion Pai, Russia, 2012 Preceding page: Stallion Khorezm, Kazakhstan, 2013 Page 82: Stallion Ulukbek, Russia, 2010 Pages 80â€“81: Colt Menelik, Russia, 2013
Above: Stallion Tokhtamysh, Kazakhstan, 2012
Above: Stallion Palvan, Kazakhstan, 2012
Above: Stallion Tyllagush, Russia, 2010
Above: Colt Gepard, Russia, 2010 Following page: Stallion Prestij, Uzbekistan, 2013 Page 93: Stallion Dagat, Russia, 2012
Right: Mares Palba and Maudja, Kazakhstan, 2012 Following spread: Stallions Shakhmed and Gergebil, Kazakhstan, 2012 Pages 152â€“153: Stallion Gepard, Russia, 2013
Above: Stallion Shakhmed, Kazakhstan, 2012
Above: Stallion Gergebil, Kazakhstan, 2012 Following spread: Stallion Liman, Spain, 2013 Pages 98â€“99: Stallion Liman, Spain, 2013
Above: Stallion Gepard, Russia, 2013
Above: Stallion Khanbegler,Turkmenistan, 2011 Following spread: Stallion Gapur, Russia, 2011
Right: Mares Palba and Maudja, Kazakhstan, 2012 Following spread: Stallions Posman-Kara and Gala, Russia, 2012
Published on Apr 14, 2016