-By Janice Ladendorf-

Equine Evolution in Central Asia

The equine species evolved in North America. To reach Asia, they had to travel north before they could cross the Bering Land Bridge. During the latest ice ages, this bridge linked Alaska to Siberia. As wild horses spread all through Asia, Europe, and North Africa, they encountered many changes in climate, terrain, and feed. As they adapted to each environment, evolution would have gradually selected for whatever factors maximized their ability to survive. Environmental factors can have considerable impact on conformation. When the British Empire began importing their breeds to many different environments, they soon discovered how much it could affect equine body type.1

When humans domesticated horses, three new factors affected the development of horse types. They were travel, selective breeding, and nutrition. Horses are territorial animals; but when humans traveled, if they took their horses with them, they exposed them to new environments. Migrating tribes often took large herds of horses with them. When the Mongols conquered so much of Asia and Eastern Europe, their horses undoubtedly influenced the native breeds and in turn were influenced by them. Individual humans have also traveled long distances on horseback. For example, when the fabulous Silk Road linked China to Europe; many horses traveled along it and left their genes behind.2 When ships were improved enough, humans soon began sending horses for long distances by sea. For example, for hundreds of years Oman has sold Arabian horses to India and shipped them there by sea.3

Map showing both land and sea routes of the Silk Road.  FarsiNet.

The other two factors are selective breeding and nutrition. Humans soon began breeding for desirable traits. These traits would not necessarily aid their survival in the wild. For example, since Mongolians drink mare’s milk, they have bred their horses for excess milk production.4 Nutrition also makes a difference. Well-fed domestic horses can achieve maximum growth and out perform their wild brothers.

Because so many of the first horsemen lived where no crops could be grown, they had to keep extra horses because their animals were grass fed. Barley was one of the first crops to be cultivated. It may have been grown in Iran as early as 8500 B.C. and been fed to some of the first horses to be domesticated. Alfalfa was also first grown in Iran and it reached Greece with the Persian armies by 490 B.C. When it became available to the Turkmenian horses, their size increased. In Classical times, the best horses were given both barley and alfalfa (luzerne).

Like the Iberian and Arabian, Turkmenian horses have made major contributions to the development of our modern light horse breeds. Their story illustrates the impact of environment, selective breeding, and quality of care can have on the development of new horse breeds. Since the Turkmenian is relatively unknown in the West, it must first be described to explain the impact its environment had on these horses.


 Today Turkmenistan (Turkmenia) is one of the Turkish states of Central Asia. It lies east of the Caspian Sea and south of the Aral Sea. Its bordering countries are Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The capital city is Ashgabat. Both the names of cities and countries, as well as boundaries have changed many times over the centuries.

Map of modern Turkmenistan with modern names and boundaries.  FarsiNet.

The ancient Silk Road linked China to Europe. When travelers going west emerged from the Tian Shan Mountains, they first had to go though Fergana. This valley was the original home of the famous Heavenly Horses. Today Fergana is part of Uzbekistan. After crossing it, one of the main arteries of the Silk Road ran through Turkmenistan to reach Persia (Iran). On their way through Turkmenistan, travelers had to pass through the magnificent city of Merv. It was once a major trading center and one of the main stops on the Silk Road, but it was completely destroyed by the Mongols in 1221. The modern city of Mary was built near the ancient site of Merv. The dreaded Karacum (Kara Kum, Kara Gum, Black Sand) Desert lies in the middle of Turkmenistan and takes up at least 70 percent of its land. The Silk Road had to go around it.

Part of the Karacum Desert in Turkmenistan.  Wikipedia.

Unlike the Valley of Fergana, there was not enough water in Turkmenistan to grown crops, but some of the semi-arid desert land could be used for pasturage. In Classical times, nomadic tribes found grazing along the valley of the Amu Darya River and amid the foothills of the Kopet Dag (Kopet Dagh, Koppeh Dagh) Mountain Range. This range lies along the southern border of Turkmenistan and north of its border with Iran.5

The Kopet Dag Mountain Range between Turkmenistan and Iran.  FarsiNet.

In the eighth century, the Oghuz tribes from Mongolia settled in this area and it soon became known as Turkmen. Their county has also been called Turkmenia, Turkistan, or Turkmenistan. All four on these names have also been applied to their horses. When the Russian Empire conquered this area in the 19th century, they established extensive irrigation channels which are still being used to grow cotton. They found the best horses being bred by the Teke tribe in an oasis near Ashgabat.5 Today Turkmenistan is known for their Akhal-Teke horses who are fed a diet of alfalfa, barley, and other concentrated foods.

Over the centuries, the lands west of the Caspian Sea and north of Persia have often changed hands and political changes have affected the names given to the horses bred there. For example, when Marco Polo stopped in Fergana on his way to Cathay, he commented on the high quality of the “Turcoman” horses. The Turkmenian horse has also been known as Median, Bactrian, Sogdian, Hyrcanian, or Parthian.5

These lands contain a mixture of mountains, deserts, and plateaus. Only some of it is suitable for grazing. The steppe lands to the north and the Persian lands to the south have traditionally been excellent areas for breeding and raising fine horses. Both areas probably contributed to the creation of various horse breeds in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenian Horses (Steppe)

When wild horses first migrated across the Bearing Land Bridge, they spread themselves all across the Eurasia Steppes. Although various sections of these steppes vary in climate, they are all grass lands, similar to the prairies in the Americas.  Recent archeological excavations have established horses were first domesticated on these steppes.





The Ukrainian Steppe.  Wikipedia.                            The Kazakhstan Steppe.  Wikipedia.

Considerable controversy exists over what kind of wild horses migrated from North America to Asia. About 50,000 years ago, a new subspecies split off from Equus caballus. It is known as Equus caballus przewalskii (Przewalski’s horse). It survived in eastern Asia until recent times. When it was hunted to extinction in Mongolia, a few survived and were bred in various zoos. Some have now been returned to Mongolia where they are revered as “the ancestor horses.”6





Examples of Przewalski’s horses.  Wikipedia.

In 1906, an American cowboy traveled to Mongolia and tried his hand at taming Przewalski’s horse. He commented on its intractable nature:

Many wild ponies in the southwest – a different horse from those used by the herdsmen. The wild pony has a stub mane – much like the zebra – that grows about three inches long. The ponies are all of one color – a dark buckskin, or a blend of buckskins, and they are built all alike. Of all the species of the horse family, they are the most vicious – no way to gain their friendship and you can not subdue them under any conditions. I think I have as much patience as anyone, but I gave up the job of gentling them although I surely gave it a trial. The natives, afraid of these horses, will have nothing to do with them.

 I heard how these horses could hold their own against wolves, etc., that they would gang together and kill large wolves and also men who bothered them. I came to believe it after I tried to catch a pony from a small band. I got the pony, but if my horse was not faster than the bunch I’d have been killed for these ponies tried to gang me. They swung in a circle and charged, striking with their forward feet.

I got a colt of about three years. I had learned if I stopped my horse and stood still, those ponies would stop their charging, so I roped this pony and set my horse at the end of the rope; they circled to charge, but when my horse stood, holding the pony, the band of ponies came to a stand. Some of them pawed and squealed, others whistled their defiance, but they didn’t come closer. I had to drag that pony for he would not lead – choking made no difference and he tried to knock me out of the saddle. I roped nine of these ponies – every one was the same. The stories were true – they can’t be handled.7

Is there any genetic relationship between Przewalski’s horse and the Mongolian pony? Due to their intractable temperament, some believe they could not have been the ancestor of any of our modern breeds, but they did run on the same open range as the Mongolian ponies. The Mongolian pony is thought to be the ancestor of various other Asian breeds. As it migrated west with invading tribes, it may also have been the unacknowledged ancestor of various European breeds.6

A modern Mongolian pony, with better withers and a more refined head compared to Prezwalski’s horse. Wikipedia.

Wild horses who had evolved on the grasslands of the Eurasian Steppes tended to have certain characteristics in common. They are typically compact, heavy-boned with excellent feet, and a relatively short back. Horses with this type of square build need considerably less fodder, are able to carry more weight, and can quickly spin around to drive other animals or kick out to defend themselves from predators. Depending on how well they eat as young horses, their size may vary from 13 to 15 hands.6

In the late 1800’s, an American cavalry officer traveled round the world looking at all kinds of horses. He believed all feral horses tended to revert to their primitive forbearers in the wild, as do other species of feral animals.8 When the Spanish lost horses to the wilds of North America,  the longer they stayed wild, the more they may have come to resembled the horses who first evolved on our prairies. Some of the descendants of these horses have been saved from extinction and used to found the various Colonial Spanish horse registries.

The first one to be established was the Spanish Mustang Registry. With better feed, these horses have tended to gain height with every generation. The ones who live in the north may be heavier and the ones who live in the south may be lighter, but both types have kept the same square build. A horse with this build has four characteristics. If one is measured, ideally:

1) The height should equal the distance from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock.

2) The distance from the top of the withers to the bottom of his chest should equal or be slightly longer than the distance from the bottom of the chest to the ground.

3) The distance from the point of the chest to the point of the withers should be equal to both the distance from the point the withers to the loins and from the loins to the point of the buttock.

4) The head and neck must be balanced. A longer neck should be balanced by a smaller head and a shorter neck should be balanced by a larger head. When the head is measured, ideally it should be almost as long as the distance from the point of the hock to the ground.





Two Spanish mustangs.  Both have a square build, but one is heavier than the other.
They both meet the ideals described in the registry standard; both horses are highly athletic and extremely handy. Left, courtesy of Apache Trails Ranch.  Right, courtesy of Free Spirit Spanish Mustangs.

Wild equids may share the same square build, but their frames can vary from chunky to refined. These variations can be illustrated by the differences among the three species of zebras and their subspecies. Most zebras cannot be tamed, but there are exceptions. Four zebras were regularly driven by Lord Walter Rothschild in 1890s London. They are clasified as Equus quagga burchellii.

A photograph taken in London in 1898.  Four zebras driven by Lord Walter Rothschild.   United States public domain.  Wikipedia.



When horses were first domesticated, their owners probably selected out the ones who both could be tamed and had the best conformation for riding or carying packs. Horses who are both blocky and muscular are best-suited to carrying or pulling heavy loads. For example, burros can carry loads almost equal to their own weight.9 A riding horse normally has a more refined build. He may not be able to carry as much weight, but he should be able to move with a long, low, ground-covering stride.9

As tamed steppe horses spread south into Turkmenistan, they would have had to adjust to living in a warmer climate and they probably would have become more refined. In 128 B.C., when the Chinese discovered Fergana, they found two types of horses. One was the tall, fast, and beautiful Heavenly Horse. The other, more ordinary horses may well have been steppe horses who had adapted to their new climate. If they received better feed, they probably had also grown taller. The Chinese imported thousands of these horses and their steppe heritage can still be seen today.4

In 1848, a drawing was done of a Turkmenian horse. This horse still has a square build with good bone, but has a more refined appearance, especially in the head and neck.  To produce this type of horse, other breeds had probably been crossed with the steppe horses. He may well have had some Arabian blood. Unlike this horse, a true Akhal-Teke has a triangular build with a longer back and legs.


An 1848 drawing of a Turkmenian horse showing its square body shape, refined head and neck, and good bone.  Wikipedia.


Turkmenian Horses (Persia)

 Horse breeds as we know them today, did not exist until after about 1200. Horses were identified by the name of the location where they had been bred. The Turkmenian tribes selectively bred horses from more than one area and tested them in raids on other tribes. As empires came and went to the north and south, the type of horses raiders could steal kept changing. The land east of the Caspian Sea was so undesirable; it was mostly left to various nomadic tribes until it became part of the Mongolian empire.

The Persian Empire was the first one to conquer large areas in the Middle East. In Classical times, it eventually stretched far beyond modern Iran. At its height, it included Turkey, western Afghanistan, all of the Middle East, Egypt, and part of Libya (see map below). From the arid lands of the Iranian Plateau, the empire rapidly grew by making effective use of cavalry. They began by used Scythian and Median horses.10


The Persian Empire at its height.  FarsiNet.

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe from the steppes. In Classical times, the land east of the Caspian Sea was part of their territory. Their horses were small and stocky with short manes. They were typical steppe ponies, but had manes like Przewalski’s horse. Their coats ranged from jet black to light chestnut, but they were never white. They did not even have any white markings. As stirrups and buckles had not yet been invented, they were ridden with cloths on their backs tied around their breasts and girths. The Scythians had invented and used a cushioned saddle cloth. When it was adopted by the Persian cavalry, it was highly decorated.10

The location of Media is shown on the map above. It was south of the Caspian Sea in northeastern Iran. The Median horses were bred there on the Nisean Plains and were also known as Nisean horses. They were heavy, powerful, and well-muscled with large heads and proud necks. They were taller than the Scythian ponies, standing between 14 and 15 hands. Their coats were normally black, chestnut, or brown. White horses were carefully bred and trained for the kings to ride into battle, and at special ceremonies or religious events. Herodotus commented favorably on their stunning white horses.10

A rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam shows Shapur I, the second king of the Second Persian Empire (Sasanian dynasty) as he accepts the surrender of some of his enemies in 250 B.C. The heavy horse shown in it was probably a Median. In his time, warhorses had cropped manes and tied tails.10  Piero della Francesca’s fresco The History of the True Cross (c. 1452) in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy, shows The Battle of Nineveh between the Byzantines and Sassanids Fresco, which took place in 627, in one panel. In it, Heraclius (610-641) of the Byzantine Empire, is shown riding a white war horse in his battle against Khosrow II of the Persian (Sassanid) Empire. This horse is more refined, but still has a square build.

Left:  A relief of Shapur I of the Second Persian Empire on his war horse, 250 B.C.  Wikipedia.

Right:  Detail of Piero della Francesco’s The Battle of Ninevah, showing Heraclius on his war horse.  Wikipedia.


As the Persian Empire expanded, so did the web of broad, straight dirt roads which tied their provinces together so more and more horses were needed for their courier service. Every road had stations established along it at regular intervals. Like our Pony Express, each station had to be staffed by expert riders and have many swift horses available. Herodotus commented, “There is nothing in the world which travels faster than these Persia couriers. …Nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted stage in the quickest possible time, neither snow, rain, heat nor darkness.”12

The satraps, or governors of the provinces, were required to send horses as tribute to their king. They were then turned over to the courier service or the cavalry. At one time, there were 30,000 horses from Bactria in King Darius’ cavalry. As the various satraps acquired Median horses, they often crossbred them with their native horses, especially in Cappadocia, Armenia, Bactria, and Parthia.11 Travelers on the Silk Road also left various kinds of horses behind them in ancient Persia.2

The Median horses produced by these breeding programs were much admired by both the Greeks and Romans. Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, brought 20,000 horses from Fergana to Greece. Alexander’s horse, Bucephalas, may have been descended from these horses.4 A detail on the Alexander Sarcophagus at the Istanbul Archeology Museum shows that the build of Bucephalas is similar to the Median horse, but is somewhat more refined.

A detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus showing Alexander astride Bucephalas. Wikipedia.

The Greeks successfully stopped Persian expansion into Europe and eventually Alexander the Great took over most of their empire. As he marched his armies farther and farther east, he needed more and more horses. He married Roxana, the daughter of one of the Bactrian king. His marriage alliance gave him access to the horses he needed.4 Bactria is now part of Afghanistan.

 When the Greek empire fell apart, the Parthian tribes swept down from Turkmenistan and took over most of what is now Iran. They continued to use Median horses. The Parthians were never conquered by Rome, but The Romans may have traded with them to obtain Median horses for their cavalries and breeding programs.11

Bas reliefs showing Median-type horses used by the Parthians.  Wikpedia.


Before the Median horses became extinct, they were gradually replaced with more refined horses. The Parthian breeding program probably crossed Medians with other kinds of horses, including Arabs.


A painting showing Parthian cavalry with more refined horses. (Shivatir Dahavang).



Turkmenian Horses (Arabian)

In ancient times, a small horse from Iran was used as a chariot horse all though the Middle East. When the use of chariots died out, these pony-sized horses were no longer needed and they were thought to have become extinct in the 7th Century AD.4

An Assyrian (modern day Iraq) bas relief showing small horses pulling a chariot during a lion hunt, with either King Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled 883-859 B.C., or his son and heir, King Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 858-824 B.C. Wikipedia.


In 1964, this special breed of horse was rediscovered in Iran by Louise Firouz. It is now known as the Caspian (Khazar) horse. It is not defined as a pony although it stands only 34 to 46 inches high (9 to 11.2 hands), but shares many traits with horses, such as conformation, character and gaits. In 2011, the remains of a small horse were found at an archeological site at Gohar Tappeh in Iran. They have been dated as 3400 B.C.4


A Caspian horse, showing similar characteristics to an Arabian.  Wikipedia.


Louise Firouz thinks the Caspian may have descended from the tiny horses who once inhabited the Zagros Mountains. These wooded mountains divide the Iranian plateau from the Iraqi plains. When the steppe tribes moved into this area, they brought their steppe horses with them and soon domesticated the tiny native horses. Similar changes occurred in Persia, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. As these little horses were selectively bred, they went through four stages. The first one was their initial size, the second one was big enough to be used as chariot horses, the third one became the Arabian, and the biggest one became the Turkmenian horse.4

There is considerable controversy over the origin of the Arabian horse. The Persian Arab supposedly dates back to 2000 B.C.; but in ancient times, horses were bred for performance and not for breed purity. The Plateau Persians were the result of heavy crossbreeding between native and imported breeds. Their origin has been traced back to 600 B.C. They are still being bred by various tribes in central Iran. Many of them still show some Arabian characterizes.13

The purest strain of the ancient Arabian has been maintained in the small desert city of Bam, Kerman Province, in southeastern Iran. In the southern province of Khuzestan, large herds of Arabians are maintain and their bloodlines parallel the strains and sub-strains maintained today in other Arabian countries.4





Bam, Kerman Province, Iran (left), and Khuzestan Province, Iran (right). FarsiNet.

Turkmenian Horses (Rectangular Horses)

So far only horses with a square build have been discussed. The ones with a deep, square build, like the Steppe and Nisean horses, are usually handy, easily to collect, and can have explosive speed for short distances. These are valuable traits for mounted archers. Their square built also gives them the ability to carry more weight and survive on a minimum of fodder.

The Steppes contain much hard, rocky, broken ground, as does much of the land east of the Caspian Sea. Horses who stay sound on this terrain need excellent, hard feet. It also requires horses to make constant adjustments to their balance as they move over it. These abilities were survival characteristics for Steppe horses and they probably gave them to their Median and Parthian descendents.

Horses can have one of the three types of square builds:  heavy, medium, or light. Until the invention of the horse collar, there was no need for heavy horses so they did not exist in the ancient world. Chariot teams were harnessed with choke collars so they could only pull light loads. Horses with a medium build can vary from blocky to muscular. The blockier the horse, the less-suited he was for riding. He could carry more weight, but tended to have shorter, choppier strides. Lighter horses, like the Arabian, were used to give Nisean and Parthian horses more refinement. This change probably also gave them a longer stride and a springier gait.






Examples of how selective breeding by humans has affected the conformation of the Arabian.  Left:  Bedouin with the Arab Stallion, by Y. Kosak (1824-1899) shows a horse with a square build, deep chest and flank.  Pinterest.  Center and right photos show modern Arabians.  Center:  A more refined Arabian, possibly similar to the ones used to improve the quality of the Nisean and Parthian horses.  Wikipedia.  Right: An Arabian with a rectangular build, similar to the type first bred in Egypt.  Wikpedia.  

 To cover ground efficiently, an ideal riding horse must to be able to use long ground-covering strides. Such a horse was bred in Persia to meet this requirement. This type of horse has a rectangular build with long legs and a long back. Horses with this build will often be longer than they are tall and lack depth in the chest and flank area. This build gives them more speed and endurance to gallop for long distances over relatively flat terrain and to race for distances of one mile or more. The Akhal-Teke is such horse. Horses with square builds tend to excel at collection, while those with rectangular builds tend to excel at extension. The rectangular type has become the desired one for modern sport horse breeds.





The Akhal-Teke, with it’s rectangular build.  Wikipedia.

The Akhal-Teke is another one of the ancient breeds, but it is found in Turkmenistan. This type of horse is thought to have existed for about 3,000 years. Since its modern appearance (see photographs) is unlike any of the other ancient breeds, it is thought to be a separate strain developed by humans through many centuries of selective breeding.14

Since the time when horses were first domesticated, humans have been racing them, both for shorter and longer distances.  The steppe tribes may have begun the selection process by breeding their fastest horses to each other. In the first century B.C., the Chinese discovered the Heavenly Horses in Fergana; they described them as tall, fast, and beautiful. An example of ones found in China is shown below. This is a powerful horse who still has a square build and would probably do well in short races.

A possible example of a Heavenly Horse found in China.  Wikipedia.

The steppe tribes moved south into both Turkey and Iran. In classical times, in Cappadocia and Armenia, horsemen focused on breeding race horses.11 Some of the modern horses in Cappadocia still show signs of this heritage with their long legs and backs.





Modern horses in Cappadocia show signs of race horse heritage with their long backs and legs.  Wikipedia.


By the eighth century, the Oghuz tribes from Mongolia had added the land east of the Caspian Sea to their empire. The fine horses bred by the Turkmenian tribes soon became known all through the Middle East. From the eighth to the tenth century, the guards of the Khalif of Baghdad road only Turkmenian horses. By the 14th century, the Russian tsars had begun using them in their breeding programs. These horses began reaching Europe by the 15th century and the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred were rich in Turkmenian blood.4   Except for the now famous Akhal-Teke, other breeds with Turkmenian ancestors are little known in the west. Some of these are the Iomud (Yomud), Goklan, and the Nokhorli horses.


Many centuries of selective breeding were needed to produce the breed we now know as the Akhal-Teke. Different as they are, some desirable features did stay with them. For example, they have a wall of hard horn to protect their feet and this characteristic probably came down to them from their Steppe ancestors. Like many other oriental horses, they often have a metallic sheen to their coats.4


The Teke tribe bred their horses for raiding and warfare and tested their speed and endurance in races. Their horses were expected to gallop for great distances through the Karacum Desert while receiving almost no food and water. This tribe found the less fat on a horse’s body, the faster he could run. To keep their horses in lean condition, they kept them blanketed to sweat off any excess fat. This practice did give them a fine, shiny coat. They also fed them a concentrated diet of barley, alfalfa, bread, and animal protein (mainly boiled chicken).4 Not all horses will thrive on a concentrated diet or be willing to eat meat.7 They had to have bred only those horses who could tolerate these diet.


After centuries of galloping over the sandy soil of deserts, they had developed a peculiar, soft, gliding gait. It was created by the difference between their front and rear pasterns. They have long, sloping pasterns behind and shorter, straighter ones in front.4 Their natural gaits are the walk and gallop, but some are also gaited.


When the Russian Empire conquered this area in the 19th century, they found the best horses being bred by the Teke tribe in an oasis near Ashgabat.5 Today these horses are know as Akhal-Teke horses. This bred did not fare well under the Russians. Far too many were exported or used in their breeding programs. When the Soviet Union took over, first they ordered many of these horses slaughtered. In 1935, a group of Turkmens took the bold step of riding 1860 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow to demonstrate the exception endurance of their beloved horses.5


Next, the Soviets brought in thoroughbreds to crossbreed with some of the few remaining purebloods.14 Taller horses, like the English thoroughbred, may be faster, but any horse over 15.3 hands will have to work harder to carry his own height.9 These crosses could race, but they had lost some of their endurance and ability to survive in the desert. Fortunately some devoted breeders saved a few of the purebloods, but the resulting inbreeding unfortunately introduced a genetic disposition for certain diseases.


There are multiple factors affecting the development of new breeds of horses. They are environment, voluntary and involuntary travel, nutrition, and selective breeding. They all affected the horses of Central Asia, including the ones from Turkmenistan.

Silk Road once linked China to Europe and one of its major arteries went right through Turkmenistan. Over the years, thousands of horses traveled back and forth on it and left their genetic imprint behind them.

The land south of the Caspian Sea is inhospitable and consists of mountains, deserts, and plateaus. On some of it is suitable for grazing. Turkmenistan contains the Karacum Desert and some sparse grazing land. In ancient times, the discovery of first barley and then alfalfa had a major impact on the quality and size of domestic horses who had access to these foods.

Horses were first domesticated on the Eurasian Steppe north of this area. Wild horses who had evolved on these and similar grasslands tend to have certain characteristics in common. They were hardy, compact, heavy-boned with excellent feet, and a relatively short back. Some examples of this type of horse still survive today in Mongolia and China. Horses with such a square build generally need less food, can carry more weight, and are usually both surefooted and handy. They were the first type of horses to reach Turkmenistan and they had to adjust to a hotter and drier environment. Survival there selected for horses with a lighter and more refined build.

The Caspian horse goes as far back as 3400 B.C. and originated in what is now Iran. In Classical times, it was once used as a chariot pony all through the Middle East. The Persian Empire was the first to conquer large areas in the Middle East, including Turkmenistan. At that time, the most admired horses were the Medians who had initially been bred on the Nisean Plains. They were heavy, powerful, well-muscled, and taller than the steppe ponies.

The Persian Empire was eventually replaced first by the Greeks; then by the Parthians who ruled over most of what is now Iran. They probably crossbred Median horses with Arabians to product a lighter, more refined horses for their mounted archers. When the Mongols added Turkmenistan to their empire, the fine horses produced there soon became known all over the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

any centuries of selective breeding were needed to produce what we now know as the Akhal-Teke. The Teke tribe lived by raiding and fighting, and tested their horses for speed and endurance by racing. They produced a rectangular horse who became part of the foundation stock for the English thoroughbred. This type of horse has now become the desired one for modern sport horse competitions.


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Warmuth, Vera M. “Ancient trade routes shaped the genetic structure of horses in eastern Eurasia,” Molecular Biology, v. 22, issue 21, Nov. 2012, pp. 5340-5351.

3“Horses of Oman,”

4Hendricks, Bonnie L. International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds. University of Oklahoma, 1995.

5Maslow, Jonathan, “The Golden Horses of Turkmenistan,” Aramco World, May-June, 1997.

6Ladendorf, Janice. Spanish Horsemen and Horses in the New World, 2015. “Equine Evolution,” Chapter 3.

7Ladendorf, Janice. Searching for the Real Frank T. Hopkins, 2016, pp. 194, 197.

8Dodge, Theodore A. “Riders of Syria,” New Monthly Magazine, Oct. 1993, pp. 771-778.

9Chamberlin, Harry D., Lieutenant-Colonel of Cavalry. TRAINING HUNTERS JUMPERS AND HACKS, pp. 14-16. Hurst Blackett LTD, 1938.

10The Military Horses’ Beginning> “The Persian Empire,”

11Ann Hyland, Equus: The Horse in the Roman World. Yale University Press, 1990. pp. 11-28.

12Herodotus, The Histories. New York, Tandy-Thomas W., 1909. Book viii, p. 147.

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14International Association of Akhal-Teke Breeding (MAAK), “History of the Akhal-Teke.”