Internet filter feeder service Buzzfeed recently fell head-over-heels for a luminous horse with long, delicate features and an incredible coat with a silvery-golden metallic sheen. Although Buzzfeed did not provide any details as to the provenance of the photos (and misidentified the horse as female, even though it clearly has boy parts), for those in the know, the horse's breed was obvious: this pale palomino (technically a "cremello") is a fantastic example of the Akhal-Teke, the national breed and emblem of Turkmenistan.
The Akhal-Teke comes in several coat colors, any of which can display the special metallic shimmer for which this horse breed is famous. But the best known and most popular is the so-called "golden horse," which includes buckskin, palomino, cremello, and perlino coat colors. In these pale golden coat colors, the breed's unreal sheen seems to take on an otherworldly glow and radiance.
In concert with the amazing qualities of its coat, the Akhal-Teke has a long, graceful physique which is often compared to that of a supermodel or a greyhound. It has a long, dished face with long thin ears, a long neck, back, and legs, and a lean endurance physique. The Akhal-Teke may look delicate, but it was bred for sport and endurance runs in the harsh deserts of Turkmenistan, where water and food are scarce. Make no mistake: this breed is tough!
The Akhal-Teke's history is shrouded in mystery. It was bred and jealously guarded by the Turkmenistan tribesmen, in the remote rocky deserts of Kara Kum. It may be the progenitor of the modern Arabian and Thoroughbred breeds, or it may be related to the breed that provided the foundation blood lines. The Akhal-Teke's relationship to the now-extinct Iranian horse breed the Turkoman Horse is unknown, but they share many similarities.
The Akhal-Teke was "discovered" by the modern era in 1881, when Turkmenistan was swallowed by the Russian Empire. The Russians created the first studbook in 1941; previously the breed had been closely tracked by the Turkmenistani tribes, but only through an oral tradition.
Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union ordered that all horses be slaughtered for meat, the Akhal-Teke was nearly snuffed out. At one point, only 1,250 horses remained, and the breed continues to suffer genetic difficulties due to the combination of a limited gene pool and the understandable reluctance to bring in new blood by cross-breeding the Akhal-Teke with outside breeds.