China’s Celestial Horses Were Gaited Pleasure Horses!

An Icelandics Fan
Admin and Gaits Keeper
of Greater Gaiter
Goran Omar Bockman



The Celestial Horses of China were outstanding, gaited pleasure horses,  as we can see from very realistic figurines of their time.

The breed was also known as Tian Ma or Ferghana Horses. As the name suggests they came from the Ferghana Valley,  in current Afghanistan.

Below is a first rate specimen of this exceptional breed, the Celestial Horses.

To a gaits keeper, like myself, it’s extremely exciting to note that the Heavenly horses were gaited. Superbly gaited in fact!

Just take a look at the “flying horse of Gansu” below.


It is often described as “galloping” across the skies!

Not so! That’s a super Flying Pace on him!


Superb gaiter-superior war horse


These superb gaiters were also the most superior war horses of their time.


The celestial horses,  having been gaited is exciting!


Why is the fact that they were Smooth-gaited so exciting? you ask.

Because, it goes against the general consensus among equestrians.


We refute the general consensus on the lateral gaits.


Most agree that the smooth gaits are the result of a late mutation. I, and many other gait lovers, strongly refute that claim.


Instead, we hold that the Pace, being the mother of the lateral (smooth) gaits, is a natural gait, as opposed to a bred in gait.


It has been present in every breed of horses. Only in the past 500 years has the Pace,  and with it the 4 beat gaits been bred out of many horse breeds.


We say that because the Pace is present in many species that were never bred on by man. Zebras and Elephants are good examples. Invariably a pacer possesses a 4 beat gait as well.


World’s first war over horses was caused by an export ban.


Also referred to as Han Xue Ma {horse that sweats blood} these divinely gaited horses, were first imported in the era of the Han dynasty (206 Bc-220 Ad).


Following a ban on further exports, by the Ferghana Turkmen, a number of their excellent animals were raided by the Chinese. This is known as the world’s first war over horses.

The Chinese troops, sent by Emperor Wu, were defeated. They only got their hands on a few of these beauties in the first war.


The second war was a success


In the second war, over horses, the Han troops, some 60.000 of them, really put their backs into it.

This time they soundly defeated the Turkmen. More than 3000 horses were captured by Emperor Wu’s troops in this successful war.


Do the Turkmen keep their Akhal Teke as pets?


It is rumoured that the Turkmen treat their noble  Akhal Teke horses, the modern name of the breed, as pets.

They are said to keep them indoors, thru the cold winters, to maintain the metal shine of their coats lustrous.

View the modern Celestial Horse below.

One can only imagine the grief that must have gripped their owners, at the loss of so many of their treasures.


A disastrous 2000 mile trek to China


Sadly, due to the 2000 mile march, back to the,  then Chinese capital,  Chian, only a third of the invaluable horses reached China!

The harsh weather and the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan, had taken its toll.


Modern breeding studs were set up


A high standard breeding program was soon instituted. Within only a few years it was producing an exceptional stock of the heavenly horses.

In addition, good numbers of high quality half breeds were being produced.


Did the breeding program save China?


This successful endeavor of Emperor Wu may have kept China safe from invasion, by the combined forces of fearsome Huns and Mongols, for more than a thousand years.

Instead the massive military might of the Huns were spent on invading the Roman Empire.


The Akhal Teke,  today’s celestial horse.


Today’s Turkmen Akhal Teke is a close relative, of the Celestial horses. The Arabian horse too has its share of celestial blood.


Famous men on great celestial gaiters


The famous stallion of Alexander the Great, Bukephalos, who carried him across the world in endless campaigns, is also claimed to have been an Akhal Teke.


The daunting Mongol Emperor, Genghis Khan, too would have been mounted on a golden Akhal Teke.


Horses too are unfit as senators!


Caligula, one of the most despotic Roman Emperors, was infamous among his subjects for having married his own sister, Drusilla.


His downfall, however, only came about when he granted his (believed to be) Akhal Teke stallion, Incitatus, the greatest honor ever bestowed on a horse.

The Emperor appointed his stallion a member of the Roman senate!

This unpardonable insult so enraged the proud class of senators that a successful plot to murder him was set afoot.


The Parthian Horse


Another strain of the glorious Celestial Horse breed was known as the Parthian horse, in Greco-Roman times.

The awe inspiring Cataphracts


The awe inspiring,  Parthian heavy cavalry, the Tanks of their time, were known and feared as the Cataphracts.

The Cataphracts were the only force, in the ancient world, who consistently defeated the Roman cohorts.

The only breed, capable of carrying the heavily armoured Parthian cavalry men to battle, was the beautiful, yet so powerful, gaited pleasure horse, known as the Parthian horse.


Rome grew stronger with cavalry


After the Romans had finally got the upper hand in the ongoing Parthian wars, don’t ask me how, Cataphracts were rapidly incorporated into the Roman armies.

The new, heavily armored, cavalry added decisive strength to the fighting forces of Rome.

They are said to have been instrumental in the conquests of both Britannia and Germania.


Advantages of a gaited war horse


Let’s stop here for a while my friends and have a look at the possible advantages of riding a Smooth-gaited mount to war. What do you think they may have been?


The accuracy of a bowman would certainly have been greater, at a flowing Tolt or Rack, as opposed to a bumpy Trot, or an unsteady canter.


A lancer too would have found it very much easier to pinpoint bullseye as he thrust his lance into an infantry soldier’s chest.


Cutting downward, a swordsman would have had a few, but crucial, fractions of a second extra to steady his aim.


In a hot mêlée, these particles of time could certainly make the difference, between life and death. 


What else? Yes of course, stamina!


Changing gaits is resting to a Gaiter, so when the non gaited mounts were croaking it would still have had energy to spare.

The cavalry men too, having been spared the discomforts of the less than smooth gaits, would have outlasted their less fortunate enemies.


These invaluable advantages are in themselves, enough to explain the military prowess of the feared, Han era, cavalry.