The Turkmen Racing Horse Festival is annually held on the last Sunday in April. This year, it takes place on April 28. While it is an important holiday, one of national pride, it remains a working Sunday for many in Turkmenistan, with schools and offices remaining open. Before we plunge into the why of this holiday though, a brief geography lesson. Turkmenistan — not to be confused with the separate nation of Turkey — is a country located in the southwest region of Central Asia. Its neighbors are Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan. It also touches the Caspian Sea, along its western border. Horses are an integral part of Turkmenistan’s history and culture, hence there is an entire season dedicated to horse racing. The pride and joy of Turkmenistan is the Akhal-Teke breed of horse, said to be one of the oldest breeds in the world.
History of Turkmen Racing Horse Festival
The Turkmen Racing Horse Festival is a time for horse lovers, equestrians, and anyone with an equine interest to come together and celebrate the national symbol of Turkmenistan — the Akhal-Teke horse. Said to be one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world, this breed is also native to Turkmenistan, which explains why they take such pride in it. These magnificent beasts are ideal for horse racing especially, as they are known for their “speed, intelligence, and endurance.” Their shiny coats lend them the term ‘golden horses,’ so be sure to wear your sunglasses when you attend the races in the hippodrome of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital.
Turkmenistan has an ancient tradition of horse racing that goes back as far as 3,000 years or so. The Akhal-Teke horses were selectively bred because of their superior qualities like strength and endurance, in order to participate in flat racing. Apart from being used for racing, historically these horses were also used for transportation and raiding. Today, these horses are bred exclusively for racing and are a symbol of national pride: appearing on postage stamps, banknotes, and the national coat of arms. Hence this day was instituted to celebrate this rare and unique breed of horse.
In the late 1800s, Turkmenistan became a part of the Russian Empire, and once that happened, Russians established breeding farms for the Akhal-Teke horses, around 1881. In 1885, Russians made an official Akhal-Teke registry in order to import this breed of horses internationally. However, once the Soviet Union came into being in 1922, the economic and political upheaval caused these breeding farms to be shut down, which led to a steep decline in the number of horses. It was only in 1979 that this breed was brought to the U.S. and a registry was founded for it there. Today, there are only around 6,000 Akhal-Teke horses in the world, which contributes to their value.
Turkmen Racing Horse Festival timeline
The Akhal-Teke breed originates in the Karakum Desert from a strain of the now-extinct Turkoman horse.
About 200 purebred Akhal-Teke horses are shipped to Britain for breeding.
Once the Russian Empire takes over Turkmenistan, Russians begin to open breeding farms for these horses.
One of the most famous Akhal-Teke horses, Absent, wins a total of six medals at different Olympic horse racing events.
Turkmen Racing Horse Festival FAQs
Why is Akhal-Teke so rare?
This breed of horse is so rare for several reasons. Historically, due to a shortage of food and water for both horses and humans, this breed had to adapt and become hardier in order to survive. There is also a lot of inbreeding that occurs within the population, which has led to it being considered ‘vulnerable’ or ‘threatened,’ by leading equine authorities. Today, less than 5,000 of these horses exist in the world.
What is the oldest horse breed?
The Icelandic horse is said to be the oldest breed of horse in the world. According to research, its lineage can be traced as far back as 10,000 years ago.
How old is the Akhal-Teke horse?
According to experts, the Akhal-Teke breed is at least 3,000 years old. They evolved from a breed of horses known as Turkmen (or Turkoman), which are now extinct. In the Middle Ages, they belonged to the nomadic tribesmen of Turkmenistan.
Turkmen Racing Horse Festival Activities
Attend an equestrian event near you
If you have never been to a horse race or any kind of equestrian sporting event, perhaps this is the day to try something new. Though flying out to Turkmenistan may be a bit outside of one’s budget, there are plenty of events, which can be explored locally or nationally.
Immerse yourself in Turkmen culture
This day presents an excellent opportunity for a bit of cultural exploration. Turkmenistan is one of the lesser-known nations in the world, and we hope that the tidbits offered here are sufficient to whet your appetite to know more about its rich history and culture.
Visit a horse farm
Why not take a trip to a horse farm near you, and take the time to learn more about these amazing beasts? If a physical visit is just not in the cards, you can always turn to the net for educational resources. Perhaps watch a documentary or movie on horses too. Anything which will give you a new appreciation for these animals.
5 Facts About Akhal-Teke Horses
A historical lineage
Akhal-Teke horses are said to be direct descendants of one of the four types of original horse breeds, which migrated from Alaska a few million years ago.
Ancient war horses
Known for their strength and endurance, this breed of horses was one of the most sought-after war horses.
Survival of the fittest
Bred in desert conditions, this breed is able to withstand extreme temperatures and has many other adaptive features which led to its survival.
These horses are famously said to be “the horse of a single master” because they tend to bond with just one person in their lifetime, which is rare horse behavior.
Their light coloring, combined with an extremely glossy coat made up of very fine, silky hair is what gives the Akhal-Teke horse its rare golden-metallic sheen.
Why We Love Turkmen Racing Horse Festival
We love a chance to explore a new culture, and this festival presents the perfect opportunity to find out everything about the nation of Turkmenistan. Learning about the historical traditions and culture of another part of the world is always fascinating, and gives one a whole new appreciation for the diversity in our world.
It spotlights a horse breed
There are very few known celebrations that honor a specific breed of horse, and this is exactly why the Turkmen Racing Horse Festival is so special and unique. This breed of horse has a special place in the hearts and history of an entire people group, and with very good reason.
It raises awareness about conservation
Since the Akhal-Teke breed is a rare one that has been labeled “vulnerable” and “threatened,” it has become a part of the list of species that need to be conserved. Spreading awareness about this can help support efforts from various government bodies and equine agencies in breeding these horses.
Turkmen Racing Horse Festival dates