There was a special breed of horses more than 2,000 years ago, these horses were so grand and superior that they caused a war. The historians called this war “the first war ever fought over horses”.
A Turkmen Akhal-Teke horse, in China this breed of horse is also known as Ferghana horse or “heavenly horse” (Tian Ma). It is believed to be the mount of the legendary Genghis Khan, the Alexander’s famous horse Bucephalos was also an Akhal-Teke. This horse was known as Nisaean in ancient Persia and several centuries later – as Parthian. Being the Turkmenistan’s national treasure, the image of the horse is featured at the center of the national emblem. This horse is the oldest purebred in the world and it is an ancestor of an English thoroughbred.
Though this breed has rarely been seen during the past eight or seven centuries in China, its glory and mystery remain. The steed is depicted in Chinese literature as “being able to gallop about 1,000 kilometers a day and another 800 km at night”.
Sweat Blood Horse
Ferghana horse comes from the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia. The ferghana horses were first imported during Han dynasty. These horses are also called as Han Xue Ma in Chinese which means “sweat blood horse”. Chinese paintings and statuary indicate they had powerful crests, short legs and round-barreled bodies.
It is said that emperor Wu became obsessed with stories from the west (r, 141-87 BC) which told of a breed of horse like no other. The horse that was mentioned is the “blood sweating” horse that have been raised by barbarians in Ferghana in Central Asia. Ferghana horses were famous for sweating blood – as people say they sweat a red, blood-like liquid as it gallops along. Scientists have not figured out what the red liquid is but some people believe it is just a sheer illusion. It is now thought to be caused by certain parasites under their skin.
Hailing from Central Asian valley of the same name (present-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), this breed of horse was very important to the Chinese military. Their appetite for Ferghana horse became so great that the Ferghana rulers closed their borders to equine trade. That move resulted in a war that China won.
The Heavenly Horse
Wu sent a force to Ferghana (2,000 miles west of the Xian, Chinese capital) in 104 BC to capture as many horses as possible so that a breeding programme could be started in China. At first the force was defeated but as many people believe this superior horse is the “heavenly horse” therefore the emperor made a second expedition, (historians have named this event the second war to obtain horses). The second force prevailed (although suffering many casualties) and, upon returning to China, the Ferghana horse or “heavenly horse” was finally presented to the Emperor Wu.
According to the records, several tens of elite horses andd 3000 medium and below medium level horses were surrendered to the Chinese army. When general Li Kuang-li returned, he had only 1000 of 3000 horses left, many of the horses died during the long road to China. These horses were larger, faster and stronger than any horse in China and they finally became symbols of power and prestige.
With careful training and masterful training, these horses soon became the favoured breed in China. At that time in China, the more horses you owned the higher your status. The terracotta statues of horses found in tombs have flaring nostrils, pricked ears, powerful legs and strong necks. Probably these statues were the first to depict the Ferghana horse in Chinese art.