Horse beauty contest

Once
prized by Alexander the Great for their speed and stamina, Turkmenistan’s
thoroughbred horses are being groomed for a series of beauty contests, ordered
by a presidential decree.

President Kurbanguly
Berdymukhamedov, who enjoys sweeping powers in this desert nation of 5 million
and is known for his deft horsemanship, said national beauty contests for the
ancient Akhal Teke breed should be held every April.

The best horses of the breed,
distinguished by shimmering coats, long delicate necks and legs and popularly
revered as “the wings of the Turkmen,” will be chosen “to
promote the glory of the heavenly racehorse worldwide,” the decree said.

Special awards will be given to
craftsmen for the best carpet featuring the horse, the best “holiday
attire” for the breed, the best portrait and even sculpture.

The Akhal Teke horse, given as a
gift to several foreign leaders, is featured at the centre of Turkmenistan’s
national emblem and enjoys cult status in the only former Soviet state in Central
Asia where eating horse meat is strictly taboo.

The late leader Saparmurat Niyazov,
who enjoyed a flamboyant personality cult, raised eyebrows in 2004 when he
opened a gleaming $20 million leisure center with a swimming pool, air
conditioning and medical facilities — for horses.

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