Add to the Arabian stallions, Chincoteague ponies and Lipizzaners, the Akhal-Teke horses. I learned about the Akhal-Tekes when we visited the Arkadash stable just outside Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. These horses, descendants of the original Mongolian breed, are magnificent. Their colors range from black, to cream, to golden or silver. Regardless they shine golden in the sun, especially around the neck. Tall horses at 14 1/2 to 16 hands high, they are sleek with extremely slender legs. Among the fleetest in the world, they are bred for racing. Elegant standing or rearing up, they are a proud breed and their breeders and riders as proud. The breeder, Ashir, showed off eight horses as we stood watching. Young stable boys would ride the horses into the ring, then urge them into a gallop, running them into the pasture beyond the ring and back. Other boys would walk them around the ring, suddenly signalling them to rear up, the sun glinting on them, turning them golden, as it might have in a great battles. After showing off the horses, Ashir offered to let us ride one. I am not a horseman (woman). I took lessons at the age of 25 and eventually managed to go up when the horse went up as it trotted. But I love horses. I think they are magnificent. So I grabbed the opportunity. Getting up on a 16 hand horse without a step stool (I am five feet even) was probably a fairly comic view from the rear, but once Ashir helped pull my leg up into the stirrip, I was able to basically climb with a little assistance from the rear on the horse. The horse waited patiently. I was a bit trepidatious about the possibility of the horse suddenly rearing up or galloping off, but the young boy who brought him out led him around in the beginning until I felt quite comfortable. Then he let go and I guided my horse around the ring. His pace was extremely smooth; I could have been on a Tennessee Walker. I was thrilled. I was riding a horse whose anscestry dated back to the Mongols. According to our guide, the horses, during the Soviet period, were taken by the Russians. However, many Turkmen felt the horses should remain in Turkmenistan and hid them. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the breeders in the country have been trying to round up these horses. Ashir is the seventh generation in his family to work with the horses. He has managed to collect a fairly large stable of them since 1997. The young boy who led my horse invited me to come with him to visit the stable and took me from horse to horse, introducing me and urging me to snuggle with them.
All but one was happy to nudge his nose into my neck. I would have been happy returning there day after day. I've done some research on these horses since coming home. They are the National Breed of Turkmenistan. According to one of the sites, it is "the last remaining pure, light riding horse" of Central Asia.