The Turkmen Horse of South-West Central Asia


   "This is a land of long vanished civilisations, of alternating prosperity and stagnation" (Turkmenia before the
Achgemenids)

   The land of the Turkomans is at times a stark and windswept land and at times lush and wooded.  Geographically South-west Central Asia merges with Iran in the Turkmeno-khurassan mountain ranges with the plant and animal life bearing a great similarity to that of Iran and the rest of the Middle East.

   The first groups of people seem to have appeared in the Lower Palaeolithic having arrived from different directions as there is evidence of a great diversity of cultures.  There is also evidence of a Neanderthal culture which, judging by remains of bones in their caves, had an eclectic diet: deer, horse, onager, leopard, bear, hare and small rodents are all present.

   Although in the upper Palaeolithic people were primarily hunters, particularly in pursuit of the horse, by the Mesolithic there is evidence of domestication on animals as well as attempts to grow cereal crops.  This culture complex has been named by Russian archaeologists as the "Caspian TraditioN".  Although by the 10th-6th millennium BC goats and cattle had been domesticated, the exact period of domestication for the horse is not known although logically it would be concomitant with the above domestications.  Certainly the early Petroglyphs show horses being ridden as well as hunted.

   There were two distinct types of horses in this area in pre-history which have continued to this day.  One was short (130-140 cent) and stocky.  The other was tall (145-155 cent) with long legs and back and an upright posture of the neck.  Today they are represented by the'Yabout'in north-eastern Iran and the Kazak horse, and by the Turkoman inturkmenistan and north-eastern Iran.  In ancient times they would have been the Scythian and Turanian horses.

   Both of these breeds contributed in very large measure to the development of the European horse, whose height was considerably smaller and thus less useful as a domesticated animal.  Early Greek amphora show Turanian (Turkoman) horses being ridden and driven in chariots.  It has been said that equestrian sports only began to feature in the Olympics after the introduction of the Turanian horse.  A large horse, the remains of which were found in the destroyed fort of Bohen in Egypt (ca. 1800 BC) is said by archaeologist Juliet Clutton-Brock to have come from south-west Central Asia.

   Similarly the large size of the Roman horses was attributed to importation of Turanian horses.  The Cl-iinese waged wars to acquire some of what they called the 'Heavenly Horses'.  Although there were never very large numbers of them the Turanian horse has for millennia been judged to be the finest horse ever developed* and its blood now runs through the veins of all modern sports horses.

   In 1993, Dr E Gus Cothran, a geneticist with the University of Kentucky, asked for blood samples of all the native Iranian horses to compare with studies of different breeds of European, American and South American horses that he was conducting. The result of this extensive study proved the antiquity of the Turkoman, Yabou and Caspian horses, all native to south-western Central Asia.
   In his dendograms Dr Cothran places the Przewalski** horse in the most ancestral position, with the Caspian next followed by the Yabou and Turkoman.  In other words, these three breeds are ancestral to all forms of Oriental horse and their derivatives, which includes all the light horses of Europe, the Middle-East and the Americas.

   The Turkoman derived its present name from the peoples of the area of south-west Central Asia who have inherited this horse in their migration south.  They have preserved the tradition, handed down through millennia, of breeding for purity and endurance.  That the horse is also a prime example of equine beauty is an accident of nature for the Turkoman prides his horse on its ability to perform not its ability to dazzle the eye - although that it certainly does.

Louise Laylin Firouz