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On the arid steppes of Turkmenistan, the Turkoman horse once thrived. The breed was renowned for its stamina, strength, and shimmering coat. The Turkoman breed continued for thousands of years, becoming essential to the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
In modern history, the Turkoman continued an exciting and diverse existence. From packhorse to racing to war, this breed of horse survived the test of time until the 18th century. Then, they died out due to lack of breeding, but descendant breeds continue to this day.
The relationship between man and horse is ancient history – literally. About 5,000 years ago, humans domesticated the first horse. The horse has played an integral role in civilization’s development ever since.
The Turkoman breed was quick to appear on the scene compared to modern horses, DNA evidence proving their existence as early as 3,500 years ago. That’s quite an impressive resume, considering the breed did not die out until the 18th century.
The historical record indicates the Turkoman horse, or turkmene first existed on the Central Asian Steppes in the Karakum Desert, also known as the Turkoman Desert.
Their pedigree and ancient origins have brought the Turkoman to the front of many scenes in history. The Mongol and Turks of the Golden Khanate likely rode these fine steeds into battle.
Modern and ancient history is full of the Turkoman horse. The breed was renown for its racing prowess that eventually led to its introduction to the European Continent. Their speed and stamina were helpful during the Seige of Constantinople, the Italian Wars, and the Crimean War.
Later, Arabian lovers like Lady Wentworth championed their breeding when she saw the Turkoman brought to England. However, she and many others believed that all Turkoman horses were, in fact, Arabians and lumped the breeds together.
The mislabeling of the Turkoman in the 18th and 19th centuries led to a great disservice to the breed. For a long time, breeders believed Turkoman’s seldom bred with the English Thoroughbred in Europe. However, recent evidence indicates otherwise.
The Thoroughbred once held a pedigree dating back to Arabian horses. But new research in the Y chromosome of the breed indicates that Turkoman horses are the true sires of the line. The genetic mutation existed as early as 700 years ago and impacted most European horses.
The legacy of the Turkoman horse remains today. The breed continues in the Thoroughbred and the Akhal-Teke, a horse remarkably similar in appearance, stamina, and strength to their Turkoman ancestors.
The horse even maintains a modern media presence. In Red Dead Redemption, a popular video game, Turkomans are multi-class horses that players can use for racing or fighting. A dark bay Turkoman features in Red Dead Redemption 2.
The Turkoman was a decidedly graceful horse, despite the rugged terrain of its homeland. It stood at 15-16 hands on average, with a lithe and graceful build similar to that of a Greyhound. Their coats had a metallic sheen, ranging in chestnut and grey to brown colors.
At first glance, Turkoman’s resemble the modern Arabian. Their fine coats and delicate skin stand out against European breeds. However, Turkomans had many different traits from their Arabian cousins:
Their backs were longer than that of an Arabian to accommodate the long-distance trotting the breed excelled at. They also had short, almost non-existent manes to accommodate the archers who rode them into battle.
Additionally, Turkomans had small hoofs than the Arabian. The smaller hoofs navigated the rocky, sand, and grass-strewn terrain of the steppes better. Their thinner frame allowed them to dissipate heat and evade predators and horse-riding archers.
In terms of attitude, the Turkoman horse was characteristically intelligent, high-spirited, and friendly. Consequently, the tribes of Turkmen who domesticated these creatures developed deep bonds of trust with the empathetic horses.
Domesticated Turkomans traditionally consumed a special diet compared to other horses. They were fed chicken, mutton fat, raisins, alfalfa, and dates. The rich protein diet fueled the horse for their task-heavy lifestyle.
However, not all Turkoman horses received this diet. Female breeders were kept semi-wild and would forage for food on the steppes. Their diet consisted mainly of wild grasses.
The traditional breeders of the Turkoman horses were nomadic tribes of Central Asia. For example, the Teke tribe in the Kopet Dag Mountains foothills bred Turkomans for centuries, eventually raising their descendants, the Akhal-Teke.
The Turkoman breeding helped the horse withstand the extreme temperatures of the steppes without sacrificing speed or strength.
As time passed, the Turkoman cross-bred with Arabian mares and European horses. The Byerley Turk, a founding sire of the Thoroughbred, had considerable Turkoman ancestry.
The average Turkoman horse stood on average at about 16 hands. These horses generally had a broad chest and strong shoulders. They would weigh between 900 and 1,000 pounds on average.
What Breeds Make Up The Turkoman Horse?
Research presented at the First International Conference on Turkoman Horses in 1998 indicated that the Caspian horse was the ancestor to the Turkoman.
However, the Turkoman is considered the forefather of the large oriental horse. Through the Caspian and Turkoman, breeds like the Arabian, Kurd, and Moroccan Barb came into existence. They are the ancestors of all “hotblood” and oriental breeds.
The Turkoman horses came in several different colors. The standard coat colors included soft brown chestnut, silvery gray, bay, and black. However, white Turkomans did crop up in the breed. The Turkoman appeared to shimmer in the sun, thanks to their unique metallic coat sheen.
What Did They Look Like?
The closest living relatives to the Turkoman are the Arabian and Akhal-Teke horses. Like these breeds, the Turkoman had powerful shoulders, slender legs, and a graceful build. Their almond-shaped eyes could be quite large, and their hoofs relatively small.
The distinct lack of mane was inherent to the Turkoman. Their streamlined body suited activities requiring speed and grace. Unlike Arabians, they ran with their tail streaming, without a mane blowing in the wind.
What Were They Used For?
The nomads and Ottomans traditionally bred the Turkoman as war horses and racing horses. Traditionally, Turkoman horses began their training at six months old. Generally, nomads trained only male horses for riding, usually saddled and riding by eight months old.
Until their extinction, archers and cavalrymen used the Turkoman as a steed in war. But, when used domestically, they served as pack horses for their nomadic owners.
Where Did They Live?
Turkoman horses were indigenous to the Central Asian steppes. The breed originated in Turkey, Mongolia, and other areas of the steppes. Over time, they grew in presence across the Ottoman empire, at one point living in the royal stables of the Caliph of Baghdad.
How Long Did They Live?
The average lifespan of a Turkoman probably spanned 25-30 years for those bred in captivity and not used in warfare.
How Fast Were They?
Turkoman horses likely ran as fast or faster as an Arabian or Akhal-Teke’s 30-40 mph average.
How Much Did They Cost?
Turkoman horses were costly to purchase. Kings, Caliphs, and other royals received the majestic horses as gifts. Their exact price in today’s currency is unknown, but for context, their descendant, the Akhal-Teke, can cost upwards of $35,000.
Were They Good For Beginners?
These horses were intelligent and began their training before they were a year old. However, the spirited horse was unkind to new riders and generally began training under a rider with at least a few years of riding experience.
Are Turkoman Horses Extinct?
Technically, breeders consider the Turkoman horse extinct. However, some experts believe the Turkoman continues to exist and evolve in small Iranian herds.
When Did The Turkoman Horse Go Extinct?
The pure breed of the Turkoman horse went extinct in the early 18th century.
Why Did The Turkoman Horse Go Extinct?
The Turkoman went extinct through a combination of inbreeding and lack of breeding to maintain the population. However, their traits continue thanks to cross-breeding with Arabians and other breeds and creating the Thoroughbred line.
The Turkoman was a creature of immense strength and beauty that helped the nomads of the steppes become powerful empires. A horse bearing an ancient legacy, the Turkoman will continue through its Thoroughbred and Akhal-Teke descendants.
There’s a whole world of horse breeds out there to explore! Discover and find out more information by checking out our horse breed guides.