ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan will mark Racehorse Day April 22-24 to honour the Akhal-Teke, a horse considered a national symbol.
Turkmens have celebrated Racehorse Day on the last Sunday of April dating back to the rule of their first president, Sapamurat Niyazov, in the 1990s.
Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov rides one of the horses from his personal stable in Ashgabat. [Photo from Akhal Teke – Our Pride and Glory! by Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov]
“Akhal-Tekes have been the pride of Turkmens since ancient times,” said Avez Gulmykdyev, a history teacher at Ashgabat High School No. 19. “Their name tells you where they were bred – the Akhal oasis – and who bred them – the Teke tribe. For the nomadic Turkmens, the horse was a faithful friend, a saviour and a fighting comrade.”
The Turkmen state coat of arms bears the image of Yanardag, an Akhal-Teke that won first place at a Moscow horse show in 1999. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov devoted a book to the horse.
As part of the celebration, Ashgabat will host an international conference on “The Turkmen horse and the art of international horse breeding” and a conference of the International Association for Akhal-Teke Breeding (IAATB), according to Turkmen state TV.
Attendees will include IAATB members and Akhal-Teke breeders, scholars and devotees from around the world according to the newspaper Neitralnyi Turkmenistan. New hippodromes are scheduled to open in all five provinces and a horse show will also be held.
An Akhal-Teke racehorse rears before onlookers and potential buyers outside Ashgabat May 23, 2008. [REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov]
The delegates will discuss modern selective breeding methods , international co-operation and efforts to increase the number of pure-bred horses, said a breeder from Akhal Province.
“It’s easy to distinguish Akhal-Tekes from other breeds by their short hair, muscular rump, big chest, height and grace,” the breeder said. “I’ve never bred another racehorse with those qualities. They love attention and tenderness, they’re very smart animals, and Turkmens have a right to be proud of them.”
The breeder said his entire clan breeds Akhal-Teke.
“Much attention was paid to selective breeding of the so-called heavenly horses in Soviet times, when steeplechases and races were held throughout the entire USSR,” the breeder said. “You have to admit, no matter how much we cursed Soviet rule, in those days the government paid more attention to horse breeding and selective breeding.”
The problem is not the government but rather the younger generation’s disdain for agriculture and animal husbandry, said Rashid Baimuratov, a professor at the State Agricultural University of Turkmenistan in Ashgabat.
“Today’s youth are choosing political science or foreign languages but never agriculture,” he said. “They’re not interested. (It’s a shame) since a love of racehorses is in our genes.”
“As a Turkmen citizen, of course I’m proud of Akhal-Tekes, but I don’t much like all the pomposity around Racehorse Day,” said Aslan, a student from Ashgabat.
Racehorse Day is just an excuse to waste money, he said.
However, Gulmykdyev said the holiday had great meaning for many Turkmens.
“The image of the Akhal-Teke is with us dating back to children’s fairy tales and to ancient history,” he said. “For every Turkmen it’s no trivial day.”
“I’m proud that my motherland celebrates Racehorse Day,” said Serdar Berdyev, a 4th-year student at Moscow Humanitarian University. “When I watch a documentary about the victory parade in Moscow in May 1945, my eyes fill with tears of pride and happiness. After all, you see Marshal Zhukov on a galloping horse of the famous Akhal-Teke breed. The whole world knows our beautiful horses.”