The Akhal-Teke, Then and Now By Erika Walsh [Dressage Today] November 2005

The most famous representative of the Akhal-Teke breed was Absent a striking black stallion who competed in dressage in the consecutive Olympic Games for the Soviet Union –in Rome (1960) , Токyo (1964) and Mexico city (1968) . Throughout his Olympic career, Absent embossed six medals under two different riders? Including the individual gold in 1960 (with Sergey Filatov) with the phenomenal score of 82.4 percent an accomplishment that remains undefeatedThe Akhal-Teke evolved about 3 000 years ago in southern Tourkmenistan , a country on the Caspian Sea that borders Iran and Afghanistan. Steeped in antique and direct descendant of the horses or the Massagetae, the Bactrains and the Alans, the Akhal-Teke was originally used as a nomadic was mount and , later, for racing. The evolution on the Akhal-Teke and its appearance in the modern central Asia remains a mystery, since its unusual appearance is dissimilar to any of the ancient equine types

During the Han Dynasty in China (206 В.С – 220 A.D.) when mounted nomads threatened from the north and northwest, The Han emperor Wu Di (141-86 BC) sent missions westward in search of allies. But , instead ? they returned with reports of trade and word of a superior breed of horse. Believing it vital to the Han defensive campaign to defend against the threatening nomads, the need to secure this breed was partially responsible for driving the Han armies into Central Asia.

In 1881 , the Russian Empire annexed Turkmenia, and the Turkmen horse became known as the Akhal-Teke. The name is taken from the Teke Turkmen tribe of the Akhal oasis , located at the foothills of the Keped-Dag mountains. Revered for stamina and speed? The Akhal-Teke became known as the Heavenly Horse.

Dressage and the Akhal-Teke

The Akhal-teke is suitable for dressage because the breed is naturally forward and athletic. They also have outstanding temperament and stamina. Although a handful of individuals have shown Akhal-Tekes in dressage since the horses came ti the U.S 25 years ago, The breed made its serious foray into American dressage in 2004 with Ivonne Barteau. Barteau is an FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) rider, trainer and instructor and U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) gold, silver and bronze freestyle bars. Barteau and her husband and fellow FEI rider/trainer, Kim Barteau , started their first Akhal-Teke, an 8-years old stallion named Gigar , in full-time training in September 2003. Then two more Akhal-tekes came to them for training-Lembit , a 4-year-old gelding and Pahan, a 10-year-old stallion.

“Our venture has brought nothing but, have good results an feeling about the breed”, says Yvonne. “They are trainable , rideable, and we just like having them around” She compares them to other smaller lighter breeds that she has trained – Thorough–breeds and Arabians. “I find that Akhal-tekes have a natural sense of enlargement and a good understanding about putting their hocks under the bodies. ” She explains that this is a big plus in all three of the horses , and because they are not related , its indicated that there traits are characteristic of the breed as a whole

Kim Barteau concurs and points out that “although Akhal-Tekes are high energy horses , they are very tractable and equipped to deal with the mental demands of dressage. Physically, they are extremely prepared to move ,but they are not mentally squirrelly ”

Moreover, endurance is built into Akhal-texas. Yvonne notes that when Pahan does his FEI work, he makes it easy for her because “I just have to steer, navigate and negotiate; I don’t have to keep willing up energy for the horse”

Unique conformation

Akhal-Teke conformation varies from the western dressage ideal. They tend to be longer in the back , particularly behind the saddle, and their bodies are very narrow. According to Yvonne , a long horse that leaves his legs out behind can be hard to correct; it wouldn’t matter how good a work ethic he had. However , an Akhal-teke’s length is mitigated by his natural willingness to step underneath his body. A long backed horse that also steps under his body-they don’t quete cancel each other out, she says, but stepping under lessens the impact of having a longer horse. Furthermore, in spite of their narrowness and narrow bone structures, “They usually have a pretty good range and freedom on the shoulder , which is conformationally surprising,” says Yvonne. “You might look at them and think , I am not sure I am going to get what I want here” But then they get moving and trained a little bit , and they can be really very good”

Especially when ridding a narrow horse , “Yvonne explains” the angels on a shoulder-inb or shoulder-out must be exact and precise. Being an inch crooked or a little bit out to far on a horse that is quite wide and substantial is far less significant. On an Akhal-Teke , a rider cannot be an inch out on her lateral work; she must be correct. If the rider fails to line up the shoulders and the haunches correctly, the movement won’t come through. “ This is important because when they are not positioned correctly , they cannot get properly over their backs. Consequently, Akhal-Tekes make you ride precisely. According to Barteau, ridding an Akhal-Teke is like playing around on a old radio dial: “You can’t go six notches over because you’ll go through a lot of static and three channels. You have to more things a bit at a time in your lateral work so that the horse can get through and over his back”- she says.

Akhal-teke also tend to have their necks set rather high, yet some can be a bit low in the withers. Because Akhal-Tekes are naturally forward , getting them to the hand and over their backs is critical, so that they don’t lean on the forehand. So important first steps in their training include building muscles in the neck, back and hindquarters.

This year , Barteau will show Pahan at Intermediaire II and Grand Prix. Barteau’s daughter , Kassie, will show the now 5-year-old gelding , Lembit, at Training Level. “These horses are super for amateurs who are physically not strong enough to ride properly on a big horse,” – says Yvonne. She and Kim look forward to opportunities to work with more Akhal-Tekes in the future. “You can’t limit Akhal-Tekes by their breed. They are versatile horses that certainly deserve a look”

The Akhal-Teke association of America joined the U.S dressage federation’s All Breads Council in 2004 . To learn more visit the web site akhaltekes.org

PS. The stallions Gigar (Gigant-Gilekul) and Pahan (Padishah-Hanbibi) are born in Tito Pontecorvo’s stable; Stallion Lembit’s parents are born in Tito Pontecorvo’s stable