A Look at the Turkoman Horse in Iran

Written by Louise Firouz, Edited by Caroline Baldock

The neglect to which the Turkoman horse has been subjected in equine history is, perhaps a blessing. The majority of references by sixteenth to nineteenth century writers and travelers are far from complimentary.

Relegated to a mongrel status by observers whose eyes reflected current western fashions of elegance, the Turkoman was generally dismissed as a joke although it seems increasingly likely that its blood was far more instrumental in the development of the oriental horse and the thoroughbred than has so far been realized.

Now raised in a remote area of Central Asia, dwindling numbers of Turkomans continue to exist and are proof of the merit of a strangely lovely horse. They were said to be ewe necked and slab-sided. But the proper Turkoman is in fact, an elegant, tall horse with a conformation to suit his environment and his job.

There are several breeds or strains within the Turkoman area in northeastern Iran that includes the Akhal, the Yomud, the Goklan and Nokhorli. The Yomud and Goklan are found mainly in Persia where the mountainous regions of northern Khorassan with a higher rainfall than the northern slopes of the Kopet Dagh Mountains favour a more compact conformation than the rangy desert Teke of modern Turkmenistan. ‘Teke’ (from the tribe of that name) exists both sides of the border in the hot, sandy regions bordering the Caspian Sea and the Kara Kum desert and some Turkomans claim that there is a strain known as the Akhal as well as one known as the Teke. According to these same Turkomans the Akhal Teke carries it’s neck straight and high while the Akhal more closely resembles ancient Chinese paintings with a heavy body, slim neck and sculpted head.

p-golden-dun-nat-studAlthough for centuries there had been a fluid movement of boundaries in the Aralo-Caspian region the strains under discussion probably kept to their respective breeding grounds in historical times regardless of political nomenclature. Geography and climate are reflected in the conformation of the types.

The Teke is bred by the Teke Turkoman tribes in country that encompasses an area from Merv to Ashgabad; flat open land broken by irrigation ditches where the Oxus, the Morghab and Tejend rivers have been diverted for agriculture. Between these oases, however, lie miles of dry steppe where the few water holes are invariably brackish.

The Teke is a slim, finely coated animal with sparse hair in its mane and tail. At first glance the horse appears to be all angles. The head is straight and is often attached to the neck at an angle rather than a curve. The neck fits into the shoulders at an angle again and, as the withers are high, gives the appearance of a ‘ewe’ neck. A straight long back, low carriage of tail, straight legs and short pasterns complete the picture seen by eighteenth century travelers. In action all the angle flow into serpentine lines of swift movement. They are naturally collected at slow gaits. They float above the ground at the trot and sweep flat to the ground at the gallop: an equine Saluki.

p-yomud-horseThe Yamud and Goklan are bred by the Yomud and Goklan tribes whose boundaries are within Iran. The topography here varies between the steppes beginning at the eastern edge of the Caspian Sea to the dry steppe (Ghezelk Bayer) bordering the Atrek river. In the spring the grass is lush. In the summer the springs dry up and the Atrek becomes a dusty ditch. Grass turns to dust in the Khaled Nebi mountains.

The herds of horses move south to the Alborz mountains where native grasses grow waist high and springs bubble up in primeval oak forests. Where the mares graze with chita, wild boar and wolves in the winter, they share the summer pastures with leopards, bear, wild boar and red deer.

The Yomud is a more compact animal then the Teke. His conformation is suited to both the flat steppe and to the mountainous regions of the Alborz.

Compared to other Iranian breeds, the Yomud and Goklan have scant mane and tail, a long back and more angular attachments of the head and neck. But nowhere is the exaggerated angularity of the Teke to be seen.

Both breeds come in the usual line of colours; black, bay, chestnut and grey. The Teke, in particular, has a metallic sheen to its coat and dun and palomino are not unusual. The Akhal Teke are known to occasionally have a natural action this characteristic is much more pronounced in the Yomud and Goklan.