Interview with Lisa Albiez

MM: You are a relative new comer to the Akhal-Teke breed. Tell us please what led you to these horses?

LA: I had been planning to buy a new horse and was undecided for quite some time whether I should buy a Trakehner, a warmblood or an Akhal Teke. I looked into some Zangersheide youngsters. The reason why I chose the Akhal Teke is because Leonid Babaev’s website offers an enormous insight into his stud online: every horse is video-documented, you can see the development of every horse from foal to grown-up, you can look at its relatives. That convinced me to dive into the Akhal Teke adventure.

MM: How did you choose Oad who, I believe, was your first Teke?

LA: I was looking for a horse I could start under saddle immediately. A 3 or 4 year-old. I am not sure if there was another horse beside Oad - he looked fine to me, so I took him. I am not a sports rider with a specific goal in mind. I enjoy the process of working with a horse. I enjoy different types of horses with different abilities. To overcome difficulties is where I learn the most. That's why I was not too picky about the exact horse.

MM: What happened next?

LA: The import of Oad to Switzerland was a nightmare: he was suspected to have glanders and was put into quarantine. There was absolutely no indication - he tested negative for it just before departure from Russia, as part of import regulations. But the Swiss authorities acted unreasonably and showed themselves to be really biased against Russia.

...But apart from that: I was absolutely stunned by Oad. Not only does he have a near-perfect conformation with a nicely arched neck that places the head just at the right height; light shoulders and hindlegs with ability to step nicely under the body. His body offers enormous dexterity without being overflexible. Many sports breeds have enormous potential for a specific task, but their abilities are not very balanced: dressage horses have this enormous push for trot extention but are not light in the shoulders or are very strongly asymmetrical; jumping horses who are really agile over the jump but can have excessive flexibility; or they have this crazy explosiveness in their hindlegs that isn't easy to control.

MM: Since buying Oad, you have imported several more Tekes to Switzerland – please tell us briefly about them.

LA: There is not much I can say about them yet, as they are all very young. Oad is as described above, a horse with exceptionally nice physical traits. But he is very sensitive and it takes time to develop him. Then there is Ashti. I am very eager to see how his exceptional canter will develop under saddle. Whereas Sahli stands out not only with his great movements but also with an easy mind.

MM: Let’s talk about the breed image: what is your impression about how Akhal-Tekes are perceived in Europe? What would you like to change about this image?

LA: There is a small and fairly limited group of people who love this breed. Apart from that there are riders who know the breed and at some point even showed interest in buying an Akhal-teke but then decided to buy something they "trust more", a breed that people have more experience with. Among sports riders there are a few that have a distinctly negative opinion. They think the Akhal -Teke are generally of bad quality and have a difficult temperament. These are the people who, once upon the time, might have seen a picture of an Akhal-Teke in a book. They know about the golden colour but never considered riding one and have no clue about their abilities.

MM: what’s your view on this breed’s “commercials” in today’s world? What do you see as potential markets and which of these would you choose to focus on and develop?

LA: I am interested in finding a market specifically for the Russian sports Akhal-Teke (i.e. Akhal-Tekes with good ride-ability), such as the horses Leonid Babaev and a handful of other Russian breeders produce.

Let’s have a look at the market for Akhal Teke as it exists today: there are all over the world Akhal Teke lovers. They - for some reason - fall in love with the breed and decide to buy a horse for themselves. These people are willing to travel a long distance for their horse. They are willing to buy online. They invest in a foal or a skinny 3year old and even if the horse offers less than perfect riding abilities they will be happy with it because it has the right colour and looks, or has the right ancestors. If they participate in sport, it is endurance. These people are the main market for Akhal Tekes right now. A relatively small, but secure market, easy for the breeders, because they find the way to their horses on their own. But these people mainly want to conserve the breed, not to develop it.

There is also a second market. I call these people alternative sports riders. They have reasonable riding skills and they are clearly looking for a horse with good rideability. Their focus is mainly dressage or working equitation, or jumping but they don’t ride for the ribbons. Their goal is to enjoy the process of training their horse. I consider myself a member of this group. These people are willing to search for their perfect horse and invest in a foal or a green horse. And we are talking about a distinctively bigger group than the first one. But «alternative sports riders» are very difficult clientele. They do not easily fall in love with a horse. They are much too concerned their sportive aim could be limited by the horse’s flaws. And they consider themselves experts in all matters. I spoke to a considerable number of people of that kind. They all tell me that they know Akhal Tekes and they at one point considered buying one. They often know Anja Beran and adore her work with Degni Shael. But they are all too afraid of the typical Akhal Teke conformation. They are disgusted when they see hooves in bad shape or skinny foals. They are afraid of long transportation and mistrust foreign business partners. And they mostly end up buying a PRE. I cannot blame them! The PRE will perform a «vuelta media» without much preparation whereas the Akhal Teke needs a lot of work to develop true collection.

Finally, there are sports riders who are eager to ride for ribbons. There are occasionally advertisements for Akhal Tekes with basic skills in show jumping, eventing or dressage that are potentially of interest for this market. The problem here is, that there are plenty of other young horses on a basic level. They all have huge talent and the prices are low. It will not be easy for a breeder to sell to this market as he would have to pay a trainer to bring on the horses. The cost of keeping horses until they are sold, transportation to Europe, customs clearance and agent fees all mean an additional cost. Too many mouths to be fed.

Can Akhal-Tekes compete at top level? They can reach Grand Prix level in dressage. They can jump 1.60m. Can they win a tournament at this level? I don’t know. I don’t even want to know for now. My aim is not the top level. At least not for now. I see a market for Akhal Tekes in the top amateur leagues. These riders are looking for a ready-made competition horse and they are willing to pay good money for it because they don’t have the time or knowledge to prepare the horse themselves. They don’t care about colour or breed. They need clear x-rays, be able to handle the animal and see it deliver the results.

In Switzerland amateur championships in show jumping go up to 1.25m, maybe 1.30m. If a horse can go 1.40m (as most well trained Akhal Tekes), they are more than good enough. If the horse can be handled by a young girl, her father might pay EUR100 000 for it. There are junior leagues, young riders, children and so forth. Plenty of ribbons to win. This market should be particularly interesting for Russian breeders, because horse training in Russia is considerably cheaper than in Europe. A young Akhal Teke is too expensive for European sport. But a well-trained one is not. And if the horse can be handled easily, the market is a lot bigger than the number of horses on offer. I truly believe that this specific gap in the market is waiting to be filled.

A good profit can be made by breeders and sports clubs in Russia and a new, positive reputation for the breed created. And I am positive that after some years of carefully building a solid base, the Sport Teke will move closer to the professional elite of equestrian sport.

So what is the next step? We need to systematically train youngstock for sport. We shouldn’t do this in a hurry like European trainers have to because their work is too expensive for the market. We can do it slowly and carefully to create easy-to-handle mid-level horses. And if we make enough money we can keep the best to slowly, carefully climb the equestrian sports ladder to the stars!

A toast to Viktor Petrovitch Vorosov, my partner in this enterprise!

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