Turkmen leader orders beauty contests for horses

Mon Feb 7, 2011 10:48am EST
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ASHGABAT (Reuters Life!) - 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 published Monday.

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 center 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.

(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Paul Casciato)

<p>Horses race past a giant portrait of Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at the presidential race track in Ashgabat May 11, 2007. RETUERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE</p>