Maria Marquise Baverstock gives a picture of
AKHAL-TEKE STALLION MAKKA SHAEL TRAINING IN THE NETHERLANDS
In October 2010, a Russian rider Vitaly Andrukhovich and his Akhal-Teke stallion Makka Shael arrived at
Stal Sprengenhorst to spend three months with Rien and Inge Van Der Schaft at their dressage
training facility in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Towards the end of their stay, the verdict from the trainers -
some of the most respected in Europe - was: “We need two more years for you to reach the Olympic
Is Makka-Andrukhovich combination a short-lived sensation in the Akhal-Teke breed or are they
setting a standard to which this legendary breed should aspire? “Any serious project with Akhal-Teke horses is only
possible at the top professional level”, says the breeder of Makka Shael, Leonid Babaev. “At any other level, our
breed is too complicated, too hot, too limited in numbers and all too often of insufficient quality. I see dressage as
the only sport in which the Akhal-Teke can compete against modern sports horse breeds. I have made it my goal to
produce the Akhal-Teke against the highest possible parameters: presence, elasticity of gaits, elegance, power
and harmony. I am convinced that we can 'put on the conveyor belt' horses fit for toplevel dressage.”
“What is your impression of this breed”, I ask Inge van der Shaft at the end of one training session.
“This is the first Akhal-Teke I have met, so I cannot draw any conclusions about this breed. But I
can say that this one is a very good horse”.
What do the Dutch see in him?
“Exceptional intelligence. And a fabulous walk – this horse really walks „for nine‟.”
“Does your Akhal-Teke have the same walk?” asks Rien van der Shaft, an Akhal-Teke owner in
Holland who came to watch Makka in training. “No”, she says modestly, “I am afraid I can‟t say that mine
has as good a walk as Makka”.
The Akhal-Teke breed is plagued by myths. The two most enduring ones are those of the
dressage stallion Absent who “conquered Rome” at the 1960 Olympic Games and of the 1935 ride from
Ashkhabad to Moscow, 4000km in 84 days, the ultimate feat of endurance. The obvious contrast
between Olympic dressage and this gruelling trek is one of the defining characteristics of the Akhal-Teke
breed: its versatility, a nebulous concept which fuels the breeders‟ debate:
Should we select the Akhal-Teke for specific qualities required for a particular discipline, or will
this lead us down the utilitarian road of purpose-bred sportshorses?”
“At what point does emphasis on type become detrimental to selection for performance?”
There are still voices that will defend ewe necks, narrow chests and poor bone as typical Akhal-
Teke breed characteristics but these are best ignored (though one often wishes they could be silenced
altogether!). I was equally taken aback by one breeder‟s scornful comment about Duag Shael (Gazyr-
Djagali) who scored 70%+ at the Young Horse Evaluations in Russia as a six-year-old: “Leonid has
finally succeeded in producing an “Akhal-Teke warmblood”.
Those less hostile to Babaev might still
question whether by producing an Akhal-Teke capable of competing on a par with a European
warmblood in dressage we somehow compromise the integrity of this ancient breed.
These are not the questions which Vitali Andrukhovich ponders at the end of each day during his
stay at Stal Sprengenhorst. His day begins at 7am when he arrives at the stables, cleans out Makka‟s
box, brushes the stallion and prepares him for the daily training session at 9am. Rien and Inge take
turns on alternate days instructing the pair. We are watching a session with Inge. They work on softness
in the rider‟s body: “Ride with his movement, Vitali”, she says, “do not sit too stiff. Yes, sometimes we
have to apply a stronger aid but as soon as the horse responds, the rider must merge into the horse‟s
movement and ride with the horse. In Dutch, we have two words: “Kontrolieren [control] and Beheersen
[guide, direct]”. Yes, we must be in control of the horse but to ride dressage we should guide the horse,
not restrain it. After all, dressage is a kind of dance.”
After teaching Vitali, Inge rides herself on one of their advanced Dutch horses and the contents
of Makka‟s lesson unfold in front of our eyes.
If Inge‟s instruction is more about transitions, the overall flow and impression, Rien‟s sessions
are focused on the quality of execution of specific movements. But this remarkable husband&wife team
is unanimous about the need to nurture “soft contact in the two reins”, “keeping the horse moving
forward” and “not shortening the neck”.
The Dutch have a reputation as “hard” dressage riders nowadays, yet we hear Rien repeat time
and time again: “Let go of your hands”, “Don‟t fight him”, “Don‟t use your strength”. When he rides
Makka himself, he intersperses demanding work with stints of rising trot and emphases the need to relax
the horse first: “I think it is important to let the horse loosen up and settle into his natural way of moving,
and then, from this natural movement, I try to make the movement better”.
After the ridden session, Vitali rugs Makka for an hour or so and leaves him tied up, to stop him
from rolling while hot, then the stallion is unrugged (he is the only one without a rug in the whole stable),
let loose in his box and allowed to enjoy the view of the yard and fresh air from the back window of the
stable. At 12pm horses are fed while Vitali cleans tack, has lunch and prepares for the 45-minute
afternoon session in-hand, this time in the outside arena. He works Makka in a double bridle with a long
schooling whip, practising half-passes, piaffe and passage.
Afterwards, there is more grooming in store for Makka and more mucking out for Vitali, and then
it’s back to the hotel to “play back” in his head the lessons learned that day and watch the grand masters
of dressage on youtube.
Vitali Andrukhovich was born in 1969 in Moscow. He started riding at the age of four, while
visiting grandparents in the countryside. The village herd of cattle were looked after by mounted
shepherds and Vitali spent all day with them, from dawn to dusk. “My parents came looking for me,
threatening to thrash me with stinging nettles. I used to gallop past them so fast that their heart would
skip a beat”.
At 13, he gained the Soviet sports qualification “Candidate to Master of Sports”, concentrating
mostly on show-jumping. “I knew nothing about riding then”, says Vitali, “I was just fearless”. In 1988
Vitali was conscripted into the Army, after demobilisation worked as a riding instructor and eventually
went freelance, organising riding holidays for foreign visitors at the Akhal-Teke Studfarm in Dubna. “We
used to ride the Pontecorvo Tekes along the banks of the river Volga. That’s when I first 'noticed' this
“What was your main impression?”
“It was their brain, and the possibilities it offered to the rider. Then comes everything else:
excellent conformation, elastic movements, good work ethic, bravery.
Since then I have been committed to this breed – I worked with them
in all disciplines: dressage, jumping, eventing, even circus”.
Makka Shael was born in 2004 in Vladimir region (Russia) at
the Shamborant stud “Shael-Teke”, founded by Leonid Babaev and
Sharip Galimov. His sire Gayaz (Gaigysyz-Pampa) had spectacular
natural movements (from Pampa, according to Vitali) but did not
match these in his work under saddle. His ridden career was shortlived
due to a hock injury. Makka’s dam was a Fakirpelvan-line mare
Melana, daughter of Omar. Babaev divulges a rare breeder’s secret:
“Omar is the main ingredient. The best foals are the result of the inbreeding on Omar or just those who
have his blood.”
Makka is endowed with superb leg conformation, characteristic of many of Gayaz children: long,
broad, “meaty” forearm, very short cannons, ample bone all around, strong pasterns and good feet.
He has powerful, free shoulders, straight action and effortless trot extentions with a high toe and a big
swing. His movements are loose and electric, active and exact.
For a Teke, he has a fairly heavy way of landing but the ample energy reserves propel him
forward to create the overall impression of power and elegance.
“It was amazing to see him fly through the riding hall”, says a Dutch Akhal-Teke owner Anne
Stuart who is inspired to continue her dressage work with her own horse, “He looks like a butterfly
dancing his way past the other horses”.
Makka has established basics, shows excellent collected canter on a small circle with transition
to half-pirouette and is almost completely secure at the PrixStGeorge-level elements. He is starting to
learn piaffe and passage and working on three- and four-time changes.
The combination is hoping to return to the Netherlands this summer for another 3-months stay
and this time to enter some of the Dutch national Opens. The economics of travelling from Russia and
back coupled with expenses of staying abroad are daunting but to do this horse justice, Andrukhovich
feels it is essential to overcome insularity and work at the European level. Interestingly, he finds the
Dutch way of teaching positive and uplifting. “In Russia, I am constantly told “Your problem is…”. Here
they just get on with it, working on this movement or that”.
There are still years of hard work before Makka can claim the high accolades in dressage but he
certainly sets an impressive example to which the Akhal-Teke breed today can aspire. May the wind be
in his sails.
Maria Marquise Baverstock