I love horses. Fell for them when I was 7 or 8. It’s all the fault of books, because I have never owned a horse, lived with or near horsey people, or known anyone as horse-mad as I was. Anna Sewell, Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, Elyne Mitchell, Mary O’Hara and dozens of others: I read every vaguely horsey book I could get my grubby paws on. One year I was given a horse encyclopedia as a gift, and I practically memorized it – which is just as well, because it eventually came apart under the constant handling.
I pestered my parents to let me ride the ponies in the parks, go trail riding, attend horse camps. I wasn’t often successful, because those sorts of things cost money, and we didn’t have a great deal to spare. So I gobbled up library books and daydreamed instead.
Horse breeding has developed quite a lot since I memorized the stud lines of every racehorse in the country and knew the lineage of every breed represented in my encyclopedia. Now there are new breed standards, and new colours, and even some revived breeds (eg Przewalski’s horse). I find it exciting and interesting; my friends and family, not so much. They can’t believe I never grew out of my childhood obsession.
Now I have a chance to indulge without boring the pants off my immediate circle circle. So here we go.
This is a golden horse.
Yes, this horse’s coat is actually golden. It’s not a trick of the light & it’s not photoshopped.
The horse is an Akhal-Teke, a breed reknowned for its shimmering metallic coat. It can be black, bay, chestnut or grey, but it’s the gold sheen of the buckskins and palominos (ranging from a pearly glow through to a rich copper) that really catch people’s attention, and which breeders strive to produce.
The breed is thought to be one of the oldest in the world, although records are sketchy and it is difficult to trace it with confidence more than a few hundred years. It hails from Turkmenistan, where the stallions were highly prized for speed and endurance during desert raids. It faltered when Turkmenistan became part of the Russian Empire, but with cross-breeding and careful management, its numbers have since recovered.
Today, the biggest population of Akhal-Tekes is still in Turkmenistan and Russia, and the breed is closely monitored to maintain its quality and resilience. They are valued for their athleticism, as racehorses and eventers, as well as for their spectacular coats.