The Akhal Teke is an ancient horse breed with a legendary history and elegant looks. Sometimes referred to as “golden horses” for their distinctive metallic coats, Akhal Tekes are best known for their intelligence, endurance, and beauty.
This breed originated in the deserts of modern Turkmenistan, where Akhal Tekes remain a cherished national symbol. In addition to their striking appearance, Akhal Tekes are well-regarded for their athletic ability, particularly in endurance racing.
With appropriate nutrition and care, these horses can have successful athletic careers and thrive into their senior years. However, as one of the world’s rarest breeds, Akhal Tekes are also susceptible to several genetic diseases due to limited breeding stock.
This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, common health problems, and nutritional requirements of the Akhal Teke breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Akhal Teke horses.
Akhal Teke History
Being among the most ancient horse breeds still in existence, the Akhal Teke boasts a rich history that spans several millennia. From their humble roots in Central Asia, Akhal Tekes have served as mounts for famous historical figures and influence the development of several breeds.
The Akhal Teke is a native breed of modern-day Turkmenistan, a republic in Central Asia. Genetic studies reveal a close relationship between Akhal Tekes, Arabians, and Caspian breeds. These results suggest that ancestors of the Akhal Teke originated in the Middle East. 
Historians believe Akhal Tekes descend from Nisean horses, an extinct breed described in sources from the Persian Empire dating back 3,000 years. Modern Akhal Tekes can trace their ancestry to related horses bred by nomadic Turkmen tribes. 
The Teke tribe inhabited the Akhal region on the north side of the Kopet Dag mountains, where breeding programs continued to refine the hot-blooded Turkmen horses. The Akhal Teke name for the breed originated from Russians who annexed Turkmenistan in the late 19th century. 
The Karakum Desert comprises the majority of the territory in Turkmenistan. Notorious for extreme heat and drought, the desert favoured the survival of horses that could withstand the scarce vegetation and harsh conditions.
The nomadic tribes who first bred horses in the region used the hardy desert horses for raiding neighbouring territories. They selectively bred prized horses for speed and endurance, passing on pedigree records through oral traditions. 
Turk horses soon gained the admiration of foreign powers. Historians believe Alexander the Great’s famous horse Bucephalus belonged to the Akhal Teke breed. And Chinese interest in the “heavenly horses” contributed to the development of the silk road during the Han Dynasty. 
The breed continued to spread through conquest and diplomacy. Akhal Tekes imported to Europe influenced the development of modern warmbloods. Some historians believe the Byerly Turk, one of the foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred breed, had Akhal Teke blood. 
Crossbreeding with Thoroughbreds was common under early Soviet rule until a 1935 endurance race covering 4,200 miles between Ashgabat and Moscow. Purebred Akhal Tekes outperformed all Anglo Akhal Tekes, and Russians closed the studbook in 1936.
Akhal Teke numbers declined significantly during the final decades of the Soviet Union due to horse slaughter. But after Turkmenistan declared independence in 1991, the Akhal Teke became a symbol of national pride and featured prominently on the country’s national emblem. 
The newly independent government of Turkmenistan established the Turkmen Atlary, a government agency responsible for developing the Akhal Teke breed. Independent breed organizations manage Akhal Teke registrations in other countries.
The Akhal Teke Association of America maintains the breed registry of these horses in North America. The ATAA partners with the Russian Akhal Teke stud book and supports breeders working to preserve the endangered breed.
Akhal Teke horses have several unique characteristics distinguishing the breed from other hot-blooded horses. While their special appearance contributes to the growing public interest in the breed, Akhal Tekes also have impressive athletic abilities.
Akhal Tekes are medium-sized horses with an average height of 14.3 to 16 hands. Some owners compare the overall type of Akhal Tekes to a cheetah or greyhound. These horses have refined conformation and long lines that reflect elegance and strength.
Their heads are long and narrow with slim, forward-set ears, large nostrils, and thin lips. Akhal Tekes often have unique hooded, almond-shaped eyes not found in other breeds. The neck is long and slim.
The breed has a relatively long back and level topline. However, excessively long backs and weak loins are undesirable. Prominent withers attach to sloping shoulders that allow free movement. Hindquarters should have lean muscling, wide hip angles, and a low-set tail.
Akhal Tekes generally have narrow chests but deep heart girths. While refined, their legs should have enough bone to support soundness with small, hard hooves.
Additionally, their long, slender legs and light frames enhance their ability to traverse sandy terrain efficiently.
Akhal Tekes are well known for the striking metallic sheen of their coats. Research suggests this extra shine arises from a unique hair structure. Akhal Teke coat hairs have narrower opaque cores, allowing the light to shine through and produce the shimmering gleam. 
The breed has sparse manes and tails with little forelock or leg feathering. The sparse and fine hair on their bodies aids in thermoregulation, allowing them to withstand high desert temperatures.
Any coat colours or white markings are acceptable. Traditional colours include:
Blue eyes are also common.
Akhal Tekes are intelligent, energetic horses with similar temperaments to other hot-blooded breeds. Their sensitivity and exuberance allow them to learn quickly, but Akhal Tekes are generally unsuitable for beginner or timid riders.
This athletic breed is legendary for its stamina. Without regular exercise, they may develop behavioural problems due to excess energy. Akhal Tekes bond strongly with their riders and often make loyal and hard-working equine partners for experienced owners.
Akhal Tekes have a smooth, intermediate gait known as the “Akhal Teke Glide“. It is described as a four-beat, diagonal stepping gait.
At a trot, Akhal Tekes are capable of using either a four-beat or two-beat gait allowing selection based on rider comfort and functionality of the horse. 
Endurance racing is the most popular discipline for Akhal Tekes. The breed’s athleticism is best suited for long rides, and many Akhal Tekes excel at the sport’s top level. While slower than Thoroughbreds on the track, Akhal Tekes are popular racehorses in some countries.
Akhal Tekes are also capable sport horses. In 1960, an Akhal Teke named Absent won the Olympic Gold Medal in dressage. Many Akhal Teke owners today enjoy success in amateur dressage, eventing, and jumping arenas.
Akhal Teke Health
The Akhal Tekhe’s small breeding population contributes to a higher incidence of unique genetic diseases. While the breed thrives in consistent training programs, they require quality care to manage the health risks associated with athletic demands.
Naked Foal Syndrome (NFS) is a fatal recessive disorder only found in the Akhal Teke breed. Affected foals are born hairless and often struggle with abnormal dental development, digestive problems, and laminitis-like symptoms. Most foals with NFS die within weeks.
Genetic studies linked a nonsense variant in the ST14 gene to NFS in Akhal Tekes. Horses who are homozygous for this variant (have two copies of the variant) inherit the disease. Those who are heterozygous carriers (have just one copy of the variant) do not display clinical signs. 
Akhal Teke horses have a limited gene pool and have a high degree of inbreeding.  This increases the incidence of recessive genetic disorders. Some conditions such as NFS can be identified through genetic testing to inform breeding decisions that reduce the risks of producing affected foals.
Akhal Teke stallions can also inherit hereditary cryptorchidism. Horses with one or both testicles retained in the abdomen are considered cryptorchids. The condition increases castration risks and is associated with poor fertility and undesirable stallion behaviour. 
This breed is one of several horse breeds susceptible to degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis (DSLD). DSLD is a debilitating condition characterized by dropped fetlocks and progressive weakening of the suspensory ligament. 
Wobbler syndrome is another chronic disorder sometimes seen in Akhal Tekes. This neurodegenerative condition involves spinal cord compression caused by vertebral malformation or injuries. Affected horses show signs of ataxia and uncoordinated gaits. 
Sensitive Akhal Tekes subject to increased stress from training and competition are also susceptible to gastric ulcers and other digestive health problems. Gut discomfort associated with ulcers can exacerbate undesirable and reactive behaviours in the breed. 
Care and Management
Regular farrier care is essential for maintaining optimal hoof balance and minimizing excess stress on distal limb structures during exercise. Akhal Tekes with DSLD may need corrective shoeing to manage the condition.
Although Akhal Tekes have naturally shiny, short coats, daily grooming is essential to maintain skin health and coat quality.
Akhal-Teke horses evolved in the warm desert climates of the ancient Turkmenistan region. Several unique adaptations make them particularly well-suited to thrive in environments characterized by extreme heat and arid conditions.
However, their thin skin and fine coats are not well-suited for extremely cold conditions. These horses often require blanketing during winter if they live in colder climates. If your Akhal Teke lives outside, ensure they have constant access to adequate shelter.
This smart, athletic breed does best in training programs that provide consistent mental stimulation and exercise. Akhal Tekes confined to stalls for long periods may develop behavioural problems due to unused energy and boredom. 
Free movement during turnout promotes healthy bones and joints, and supports muscle development. Turnout within a social grouping also reduces stress and enables grazing behaviors that promote healthy digestive function. 
Turkmen horses sometimes relied on dates, eggs, and mutton fat to survive in the desert. However, these food items don’t provide the best nutrition for horses. Instead, Akhal Tekes should be fed a high-protein, forage-based diet with adequate vitamins and minerals.
Most Akhal Tekes are average keepers. While the breed evolved to survive in a region with sparse vegetation, these horses maintain a lean physique on a well-balanced diet. Unlike their Arabian relatives, equine metabolic syndrome is not common in the breed.
However, poor body condition could indicate an underlying digestive problem. Monitor and record your horse’s body condition score to ensure your Akhal Teke maintains a healthy weight. A body condition score of 5 out of 9 is considered ideal.
Contact your veterinarian if you notice unexpected weight loss in your horse. This could be an indication of an underlying health problem.
The following sample diet is intended for a mature 1,000 lb (450 kg) Akhal Teke with normal body condition at maintenance (not exercising).
|Feed||Amount per day|
|Mature Grass Hay (8% crude protein)||Free choice|
|Salt||15 g (1 tbsp)|
|Omneity Pellets||200 g (2 scoops)|
|Digestible Energy (% of Req)||106%|
|Protein (% of Req)||126%|
|NSC (% Diet)||6.9%|
For a horse at maintenance or in light work, hay alone should be sufficient to meet their energy and protein needs, as established by the Nutrient Requirements of Horses (2007).  Providing free-choice access to hay also supports gut health and helps decrease the risk of behavioural issues.
However, hay-only diets will be missing some key nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. In this sample feeding program, Mad Barn’s Omneity is added as a comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement to prevent common nutrient deficiencies in the equine diet.
The Akhal-Teke breed evolved to survive on drought-resistant forage such as alfalfa. Even today, these horses thrive on high-quality forage, and a diet based on palatable grass hay serves as the ideal foundation for their nutrition.
High-quality forages typically provide enough energy for Akhal Teke horses in light work. Horses that need more calories benefit from fat supplements, which are a safer source of concentrated calories than high-starch grains. 
For accurate assessment of your horse’s energy and protein needs, we suggest analyzing a sample of your hay. This analysis will provide valuable information about the carbohydrate and mineral levels in the forage, aiding in the optimization of their diet.
Some Akhal Tekes may require additional protein in the diet, such as those in heavy work, senior horses or growing foals. Consider adding alfalfa hay, pellets, or cubes as a high-protein forage. Other protein sources include soybean meal, canola meal or ground flax.
Commercial grains add excess starch and sugars to your Akhal Teke’s diet, which can increase the risk of gastric ulcers. Instead of using a complete feed to fortify your horse’s diet, feed a concentrated vitamin and mineral supplement that provides nutrients without adding calories or sugars. 
Although Akhal Tekes evolved in the desert, they can still suffer from dehydration if they don’t have constant access to fresh water. Adding salt to your horse’s daily ration can stimulate thirst and ensure they get enough sodium in their diet.
Pasture turnout is safe for most Akhal Teke horses. Grazing supports optimal digestive function by enabling constant access to forage. If your Akhal Teke eats hay, consider using a slow feeder to provide free choice forage. 
However, excess starch from spring pastures can contribute to hindgut problems in the breed. Consider using a grazing muzzle or other grazing management strategies to slow grass intake during the spring. 
Alfalfa is an excellent forage-based source of protein for Akhal Tekes. This legume is also high in calcium, which helps buffer stomach acid in horses prone to ulcers. However, too much alfalfa in the diet can disrupt the balance of mineral ratios. 
Akhal Teke owners can use soaked alfalfa pellets or other forage-based carriers instead of grain as the base for their horse’s meals. If you choose to feed concentrates, splitting the ration into multiple small meals throughout the day can reduce the risks of digestive upset. 
If your Akhal Teke needs fat for extra dietary energy, choose a fat source high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties that provide multiple benefits for performance horses. 
The first priority in formulating a feeding plan for your Akhal Teke horse is to balance the overall diet and ensure there are no deficiencies in essential nutrients Once the diet is balanced, consider additional supplements to address specific performance goals or unique health requirements.
- w-3 oil by Mad Barn is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that contains DHA, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid not found in plants. DHA supports joint health, cardiovascular function, coat health and weight maintenance.
- MSM is a popular natural joint supplement that provides sulphur, a vital component of glucosamine and collagen. However, owners should be aware that some endurance organizations ban MSM for use during competition.
- Visceral+ is a gut health supplement that supports stomach and hindgut function. Performance horses or Akhal Tekes with a history of poor digestive health may benefit from the probiotics, prebiotics, yeast and herbs in this pelleted formula.
- Vitamin E and Selenium are important antioxidants for maintaining healthy muscle and neurological function in Akhal Tekes. While vitamin E is low in hay, selenium levels can vary significantly based on regional soil content.
Consult an equine nutritionist to formulate a balanced diet customized for the needs of your Akhal Teke. Submit your horse’s diet online for a free evaluation by our qualified nutritionist.
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