Scientists haven’t found unicorns in the wild yet, but the national horse of Turkmenistan is the next best thing. The Akhal-Teke have a magical coat that shines like silver or gold in light, giving them an otherworldly quality. The Chinese call them “Horses from Heaven,” and it’s easy to see why when you look at their pictures.
Pictures of these horses look like they’ve been altered, but they haven’t. This unique breed has a special protein structure in the hair of the coat. Light bounces off their hairs and creates a prism effect, giving them the metallic sheen you can see in their pictures.
The history of the Akhal-Teke is almost as impressive as the horse’s beauty. They are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. The original residents of Turkmenistan deliberately bred the Akhal-Teke for beauty, speed and bravery. Rather than writing down each horse’s ancestry, the owners memorized it and could recite it orally. Several hundred years ago, Thoroughbred horses were introduced into the line to increase speed and size. The tribesmen worked hard to keep the beautiful coat colors.
When the Russian empire invaded Turkish territory in the late 1800s, the noble Akhal-Teke were used to fight back. The conquering army was so impressed by the beauty and spirit of these horses that the Russians created a breeding farm to honor them and keep their line alive. This lasted until the Soviet Union began to fall, when the government began to slaughter horses for meat. The Turks refused to eat their golden companions, and the USSR halted its program with less than 2,000 Akhal-Teke horses remaining.
There’s almost nothing this “Golden Horse” can’t do. In 1935, a group of Turkmen rode these beauties 2,500 miles in 84 days to get to Moscow. The Akhal-Teke is also used in equestrian sports, including dressage, show jumping and racing.
Today, these heavenly horses are bred all around the world, but they’re most popular in their native Turkmenistan. Plan a trip to this Central Asian country and you can see an Akhal-Teke in person and even ride one. If you bring a strap-on horn with you and ask nicely, and you may even be able to temporarily turn a beautiful silver horse into a unicorn.