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Annual Akhal-Teke Beauty Contest

February 25, 2011

Earlier this month, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan announced he would be holding Turkmenistan’s annual horse beauty contest, in which Akhal-Tekes from around the world will be judged based on the quality of their coats, conformation, and racing potential. The national competition will award prizes not only for the best horses but also for best artwork depicting the famous breed.The Akhal-Teke has in interesting story. Horses enjoy profound reverence in Turkmenistan, the only Central Asian nation where eating horse meat is strictly forbidden and where a horse is featured in the national emblem. It is perhaps the most horse-oriented country in the world; the president himself is known to be a competent rider, and its biggest national holiday in April is named the “Day of the Turkmen Horse.” Bred for speed and endurance, the Akhal-Teke is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated horse still in existence, having lineages tracing back over three thousand years. It is adapted to harsh climates like those of the Russian steppes, yet may still grow to be 16 hands or taller at the shoulder. With these characteristics, the Akhal-Teke makes a fantastic riding horse–in 1935, a group of Turkmen riders famously covered the 2500-mile trip from Ashgabat to Moscow in just 84 days, including a 235-mile stretch across the barren Kyzyl Kum desert. Today, Akhal-Tekes can be found competing in a variety of disciplines, from endurance to showjumping and even to Olympic-level dressage. In 2004, Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s former president, even opened a twenty million dollar luxury horse spa for the country’s Akhal Tekes, whose facilities include air conditioning, a swimming pool and a hospital. Unfortunately, today’s Akhal-Teke gene pool is not very diverse, so Akhal-Tekes are also prone to many genetic disorders, such as cryptorchidism, degenerative suspensory ligament diseases, and lethal foal disorders.

The international beauty contest will be held in April. The winner will receive several thousand dollars in prize money as well as an award from the President of Turkmenistan himself.

A monument to the Akhal-Teke in Ashgabat.

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