The variety of types in this breed with an unpredictable and biased system of evaluation of the breeding value of the horses that are assessed makes the selection procedure even harder.
Selecting an Akhal-Teke stallion today is all about being hands-on and actually visit and assess the prospective stallion yourself.
The prospective breeding stallion should be evaluated for the following features:
Type – does the stallion qualify as an Akhal-Teke regarding breed type. There is a range of types within the Akhal-Teke breed. Generally it can be said that a good Akhal-Teke type is a dry horse with an overall elegant and yet powerful impression. The head should be dry and expressive, the neck and head carried high, the topline and croup should be strong. Any coarseness or lack of elegance as well as lack of masculinity should be considered a fault.
Conformation – correct and dry legs with well-formed, hard hooves. Long highly carried neck, long topline is accepted if it is strong. Look out for club feet, overbite and chryptorchidism as it has been accepted for breeding animals by the Russian General Studbook for a long time. Note though that such defects are normally disqualifying for breeding animals in the west.
You should follow the rules and regulations for breed defects developed for the market you are breeding for when evaluating defects. Do not accept any referrals to the defects being typical for the breed or a special trait developed in the desert. Unless you aim to breed such defects into your breeding program select for an as correct stallions as possible.
There is a confusion about the term dry and greyhound like among new Teke owners. Some have misunderstood the term so that they keep their horses half starved to give them the tucked up, lean look of a two-year-old coming from the race track.
The elegance and nobility does not come with ribs and lack of muscles though, make sure that the stallion is in good condition when you evaluate him. The use of the stallion will affect his looks, a Teke trained for dressage will look very different from a Teke trained for endurance.
Soundness – does the horse have the body build and temperament to do the job of being a riding horse as well as a breeding horse. Check for defects and weaknesses in the conformation and temperament.
Temperament – Akhal-Tekes are lively and alert horses that are very easy to communicate with. It is not uncommon for Tekes to have an aura of energy surrounding them, as the horses are very attentive at the same time the general impression should be of a highly energetic horse that pays attention to you as well as the surroundings.
Make sure that the stallion is in good condition when he is evaluated for temperament, a starved horse with lack of muscles will not show his real personality.
Movements – the Akhal-Teke should have fluid, even and clean gaits. The ideal walk is big and powerful, the trot is light and fluid with strong impulsion and little to no knee activity, the canter normally ground covering, balanced and strong with straight front legs. Depending on your breeding goal you can find the gait ranges that are very long and fluid for endurance to individuals that move through their bodies and show a great register of movements and the ability to “sit” suitable for dressage.
There are some really good jumpers in the Akhal-Teke breed, those horses should be evaluated over jumps, some Tekes do have a very flat jump with little bascule, however, there are quite a few that show very good form and technique over jumps.
Rideability – the gaits of the Akhal-Tekes are fluid, when the Teke work in correct form they are very comfortable to ride. They should be willing and forward and pay attention to the rider. Stallions can, like in other breeds be a challenge, and should be trained by professionals.
Make sure that you can see the stallion under rider when you visit him.
Performance record – check the claimed performance records with official sources. If there are no official test or performance records, try to verify what the stallion has achieved under rider.
Pedigree – the pedigree of the breeding stallion is analysed for the breeding value of the parentage as well as of the combinations made. A good rule of thumb is to select a nice stallion with a solid, thoroughbred pedigree rather than a super stallion from an ad hoc mating.
Quality of offspring – if the stallion has offspring, try to find out as much as possible about the quality of the individual offspring. Statistically it is not possible to make a relevant assessment of the breeding value for a stallion with less than 15 registered offspring. In the Teke breed however, many stallions do not even get 15 purebred mares during their lifetime.
The breed lingo
The Akhal-Teke breed is managed by the Russian state via the All-Russian Horse Breeding Institute that has one department for the breed, this breed department has since 1973 been more or less managed by one person who still is in charge and doubles as a broker that receives commissions from breeders and owners. Needless to say this is a less than ideal situation for breed progress and reliability in statistics.
The system for evaluation is set up so that each individual horse inscribed into the studbook shall have an evaluation made regarding the following points:
1. Type – a subjective measure given by the studbook manager, this evaluation can be done from a photo as well as from a live horse.
2. Conformation – points are given for certain conformational features, having followed the conformational evaluation for more than a decade, I can say that the conformational assessments are far from conformational.
3. Measurements – the horse is measured for height over the withers, chest circumference and cannon bone circumference. The points are given so that the bigger the better. I am not sure that there are any considerations made for the relations such as height over withers vs cannon bone circumference. The chest measurements are an indication also about the general condition of the horse and fat and muscles will affect this measurement.
4.Performance – this used to be graded for the number of official races participated and placed. Nowadays the studbook has accepted, for certain horses, other performance records reported by the owner/breeder. Trust only the official race records.
5.Pedigree – the horse gets point for the total number of elite graded individuals in the pedigree. Considering the fact that the same person has graded the breed since 1973, it will give you a good picture of the horses, breeders and owners the studbook manager likes.
6. Quality of offspring – the reverse of the pedigree, the horse will get points for the quality, as in assessment points, of the offspring. The horse can get such points from one offspring. The same person who evaluated the parent will evaluate the offspring.
For each point above the horse gets scored from 1 – 10, 10 is the best. Type, conformation and measurements are ideally taken at an official show but might also be taken during private farm visits or from photos and information given by the owner.
There is no way to know how the points where given. The only known fact is that all official points are given and recorded by one single person.
Breeding value classification
The horses that have been evaluated by the official of the Russian state will then be classified for breeding value. The same scale is used for unproven breeding animals as well as for proven breeding animals. This means that a horse without any offspring or performance record can achieve the highest breeding value classification - elite.
This is, for obvious reasons, an uncommon tradition. The breeding value classifications are also dynamic so that they might change over the years, an elite stallion, can for example be downgraded to a class 1 stallion without having had any evaluated offspring.
The breed classification is based on the evaluation points, an elite horse cannot have less than 7 in any of these points.
In the stallion advertisement you usually see the points for type and conformation together with breed classification. It might look like 8 – 8 elite or 7 – 7 class I. It is difficult to verify those points with written publications from the Russian General Studbook as it is not published regularely and the points might change once the studbook is published.
I would recommend to take all evaluation points with a few large grains of salt.
This is unfortunate for the breed as in the times where most successful breeds has managements that understand the importance of evaluation of breeding animals, transparency and to give the breeders the important tool of reliable and available statistics, the breeders of Akhal-Tekes are still in the dark ages when it comes to enlightened breeding decisions.
The lack of statistics and data available to the public has led to many creative marketing strategies for stallions, that of course has nothing to do with breeding value.
The rare line – this is quite common in this breed, rare line means that the stallion offered belongs to one of the current 17 stallion lines maintained in the breed. This has nothing to do with the breeding value. Stallions being marketed as rare-line should be checked extra carefully for defects, typicalness and conformation.
The color – the Akhal-Teke breed does have a unique range of colors, most sought after are the golden buckskins. The metallic sheen combined with the buckskin color makes any horse stand out. The color range as well as the metallic sheen is one of the hallmarks of the breed. However, it is only the coat color and there are many other features that are more important than color. If you add color as one of your selection criteria you must be prepared to be less firm on the other criteria.
The elite graded with high level performance records from Russia – look above on how to evalute the elite gradings. Russia has a long and impressive equestrian tradition, though today Russia is not competitive on international level in horse sports Show records for Akhal-Tekes being exported are very difficult to verify and it might also be difficult to evaluate the show results from a country that is not that well-known on the world equestrian scene and still struggle with reliability in data. Many horses also show under the influence by substances that are forbidden in some western countries.
The tallest the smallest – There are no real rights or wrong here. The average height for a Teke stallion is 159 cm and the height range is 154 - 165 cm according to the Russian General Studbook.
This would mean that any stallion below 159 cm would be considered small and above this measurements would be considered tall while stallions outside the range values shall be considered extreme.. This is a good rule of thumb.
The overall goal for the Russian General Studbook is to encourage breeding on taller Tekes rather than smaller as the breed standard describe the breed as a tall horse.
It has actually been decided that a stallion below the height of 159 cm will not be elite graded. The credibility of this statement, however, has been hollowed by to many exceptions to this rule.
Be aware that the methods for measuring are far from perfect, we have had our horses measured with bale twine in their stalls by the studbook manager, other confused owners never had their horses measured but saw official measurements published in the studbook.
So the official size of the Akhal-Teke stallion should be considered and indication rather than a fact.
Discipline specific producers – does not really exist in this breed except for the race horses.
There are few, if any Teke stallions that even perform on regional Grand Prix level in any of the Olympic disciplines. There are Teke stallions that do perform excellent on low to medium level of dressage and jumping, but lack of reliable statistics and reporting makes it impossible to find any trends in inherited performance ability, the same goes for endurance.
If you aim for a certain discipline follow the general rule based on statistics and research for heritability for certain traits that make a good sport horse.
Approved – every registered Akhal-Teke is approved for breeding. There are no stallion tests or other critieria than a bloodtest to verify parentage. In one way it would be correct to market a registered Akhal-Teke stallion as approved, but it might be misleading as many might read it as tested and approved.
If you do not check the prospective stallion out yourself, prepare for surprises.
Your breeding goal
The most important aspect in selecting the stallion though is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in your mare and have a clear breeding goal formulated.
There are no easy fixes for weaknesses in your mare, there are no guarantees that a stallion with a long, well-set neck will fix a short a coarse-set neck in your mare.
Knowing and formulating the physical and temperamental aspects of your mare compared to your breeding goal will at least give you a good tool to make a first selection of a stallion.
Consider ancient breeding practices in your breeding goal
The Akhal-Teke breed is man made and the type and performance ability has been maintained by the mare owners only breeding to the most successful racing or in earlier times raiding stallions. Mare owners traveled long distances to breed to the fastest and boldest stallions. It has even been recorded that owners of purebred mares that incidentally got impregnated with inferior stallion made them abort.
Note also that the mare owners in many cases traveled, read rode, long distances to cover their mares with successful stallions, this was also a selection criteria for the mare, she was sound enough to cover a certain distance in order to be bred.
The ancient and in southern Russia and Turkmenistan maintained practice of racing the stallions and breeding to the fastest and most beautiful stallions should be considered in every modern breeding goal.
Even if the racing practice of the Tekes does not exist in the west, your pick of a breeding stallion should be of a stallion that has at least been tested for some type of performance.
The modern world for an Akhal-Teke is as tough as it was hundreds of years ago in Central Asia, the only difference is that todays’ battlefield is the show ground or the racetrack.
Good luck with the selection of your breeding stallion and with the breeding season of 2009.