If you google “The most Beautiful Horse in the World” the first three pictures will be of this guy. He is an Akhal Teke, a breed from Turkmenistan. From what I can tell (though I could be wrong) the name literally means “heavenly horse” and they are most well known for the metallic sheen to their coats.
They are believed to be one of the oldest breeds, though their ancestry is now mixed with thoroughbreds. They are also a very rare breed with less than 10,000 in the world (mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia, with some in the US). It is said they are derived from the ancient Nisean horse breed. Wikipedia has this to say:
“The Nisean, according to one source,[who?] was “tall and swift, and color adorned his sides. The ancient Greeks called him the Nisean after the town Nisa, where he was bred; the Chinese called him the Tien Ma – Heavenly Horse or Soulon-Vegetarian dragon. He was the most valuable horse in the ancient world, and, he was regarded as the most beautiful horse alive. Some were spotted, like a leopard or, as golden as a newly minted coin. Others were red and blue roan with darker color.”
These horses were selectively bred by the tribal people of Turkmenistan and used for raiding against Russia. They were considered sacred, and their pure breeding was kept via oral tradition. They were bred for the ability to be raiding horses, surviving for stretches with very little water and food. After the failed war with Russia, one of the Russian generals, Kuropatkin, fell in love with the breed and created a farm dedicated to preserving them. He is the one who gave them the name Akhal-Teke, “heavenly horse.”
It is believed that the Akhal-Teke, along with the Arabian, and a couple other breeds, 3 from the orient, are the breeds that made up the Thoroughbred, which as many of you probably know is the go-to breed for horse racing because of it’s superior speed and endurance.
In the early 20th century crossbreeding occurred between the Akhal-Teke and the Thoroughbred, trying to improve the breed for long distance races. This was a failed attempt, as the purebred horses completed the race in much better condition than their half-breed counterparts. The studbook managers declared after this that all horses born after 1936 were not considered pure bred. However, those before that date were (despite still being cross bred). As a result, there are no true pure blood Akhal-Teke horses left. All of the approximately 7000 Akhal-Teke in existence have thoroughbred ancestry.
I first saw a picture of this breed in the Horse Illustrated magazine I used to get when I was younger. I may have been a tom-boy growing up, with a love of hot wheels cars and digging in the dirt and ninja turtles, but my love of horses (and by extension Unicorns) has persisted through the years. I remember when I first saw a picture of an Akhal-Teke and I thought “that isn’t a horse, that’s a Unicorn.”
While it is no longer my favorite breed (that honor falls to the Gypsy Vanner [consequently, the first image to show up in the “most beautiful horse in the world” google search that isn’t an akhal-teke]) It is still a favorite, and meeting one in person is still on my bucket list.
I have always been fascinated by the middle-eastern countries and their real spiritual connection to horses. Movies like The Black Stallion, and Hidalgo have been favorites because you can see pieces of this connection. Breeding horses in some of these tribal cultures was a noble venture, with tribes/families taking great pride in the lineage and breeding and training of their horses. I remember in the movie Hidalgo that the Sheikh was more concerned for his prized stallion, and his families breeding book, than he was for his wives and daughter. (Not, of course, saying that is a good thing, but I found it an interesting thing nonetheless).
It has been one of my annoyances in life that the majority of imagery centered around unicorns is full of rainbows, sparkles, flowers and frills. Growing up my mind never went to these images of unicorns. Instead it was influenced by others sources. The Last Unicorn, which though the unicorn is beautiful to behold, the movie itself is darker with imagery that would not mesh well with a Lisa Frank trapper keeper.
The Hunnuli horses from Mary H. Herbert’s Dark Horse series of books, though not unicorns, were also an influence. They were thick-limbed and bodied horses, more like a Gypsy Vanner, with black fur and lightning bolts on their shoulders.
It was these types of magical horses that fascinated me as a child. Not the pink and purple Barbie unicorns. I think that is due in part to my love of real-world horses, as well as my interest in the actual myth and legend of the Unicorn. Not many people realize or know that the true Unicorn is not a white horse with a horn.
Unicorns were not considered mythical creatures by the Greeks, they were recorded with their natural history, for they believed them a real species found in India. The first description of them were “wild asses” fleet footed and colored “white, red and black.” One old description wrote: “which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead”
Other descriptions say it had the tail of a lion, the back legs of a horse, the body and front legs of a stag, the head of a goat, a mane like a lion, and a single horn. The earliest descriptions of these creatures were not that of a beautiful sleek white horse with a pearly spiraled horn.
I have tried for years to claim and believe that of the magical species Dragons were my favorite. I do love dragons, I envy their strength, their ability to fly, their power. But at the end of the day Unicorn would have to be my pick for favorite mythological creature.
Followed in a close second by the Werewolf. But that is a blog for another day…