Over the last three years, social media users have been stirred by pictures of a gleaming golden horse. Today we review the facts behind the picture.
Original 2012 Claims and Resurgences
The photo associated with this story appears to have originally circulated sometime in mid-2012. Exact sources in regards to the photograph remain uncertain, and where it came from continues to be a subject of some speculation. It was certainly given a boost in mid-2012 when it was the subject of a BuzzFeed article entitled, “The Prettiest Horse in the World.” The photo appeared in a number of variations seemingly dealing with themes concerning the “most beautiful horse in the world.” Some viewers claimed the picture had been modified while others insisted the horse was real.
One version of the image has been accompanied by claims that it was taken in Turkey, yet landmarks in the background indicate otherwise. The apparently grounded submarine in the background of some of the shots supposedly pinpoint the location as the D-2 Narodovolets museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nonetheless, this is a minor inconsistency, and the real focus is whether or not the horse is actually real.
Like many viral memes, the pictures has reemerged several times on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and will likely continue to do so in the future.
The Akhal-Teke Horse Breed
Many readers have identified the horse in the picture as an Akhal-Teke, and it is entirely possible this is indeed a genuine member of that breed. It is also possible that some of the photos have been enhanced in some way. There is no way to know for sure, but there are indications that some breeds of Akhal-Teke are quite stunning in appearance.
It should be noted, however, that reliable information on the Akhal-Teke breed is somewhat difficult to find in spite of the viral popularity of the photo, and much of the data I found while researching this article was patched together from various websites. Perhaps equine science and history is just not that popular of an internet topic.
From what I can gather, the Akhal-Teke is a rare and timeworn breed that is often used as a show or sport horse. Allegedly native to the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan, Akhal-Tekes are known for their stamina, intelligence, and in some cases, their glimmering sheen.
The Metallic Sheen of the Akhal-Teke
One interesting find was a study done on Akhal-Teke hair by a zoology major out of Ohio Wesleyan University that was first printed in 1999. The researcher seemed to be interested in the intense glitter which is said to emanate from the coat of certain Akhal-Teke breeds, and the study examined the hairs from various horses under a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The results seemed to indicate that the metallic sheen seen on some Akhal-Teke breeds was due to hairs that were microscopically smoother and had larger medullas in comparison with other horse hairs from other breeds which were more irregular and had a larger cortex. It is speculated that the smoother hair of the Akhal-Teke concentrated and reflected light beams which makes them appear to glow.
Additionally, a webpage for the Akhal-Teke Association of America which is devoted to varying colors of the breed also mentions the glowing sheen of the horse. They mention that breeding two golden Akhal-Tekes can result in the birth of a cremello. According to their cremello section, “The glow to the coat of these blue-eyed wonders is so strong that it is visible even in a darkened barn.”
Although it is possible there was some photographic manipulation, the picture circulating of a beautiful golden horse is most likely real, given that there are other photos of this breed, and of this specific occasion. The horse is probably a cremello Akhal-Teke which are known for their glowing metallic sheen. A 1999 study by a zoology major from Ohio Wesleyan University found that the smoothness of Akhal-Teke hairs may deflect and intensify light beams more than hairs from other horse breeds.
Revised November 5, 2015
Originally published September 2014