SADDLE A DREAM!
There are so many words of admiration for the Akhal-Teke horses in world literature, thematic horse-breeding publications and competent expert opinions that they can be hardly outdone by any other compliment. Yet, the most ardent affection for the Akhal-Teke horses can be found only in their homeland - Turkmenistan. At all times, in their everyday life, Turkmens treated a horse not only as a reliable aide and a loyal combat companion. The Akhal-Teke horse personified strength, reliability and loyalty and remained a living embodiment of the popular dream of people about swift attainment of happiness.
One can talk about feelings for long and still fail to convey the depth and power of passion. However, Turkmens' selfless nationwide love for horses has been historically expressed not only in words. The fruit of the centuries-old breeding, the Akhal-Teke horse, unsurpassed in strength, beauty and statute, has become a visible and material embodiment of the nation's passionate affection.
Turkmenistan is the only country in the world whose national coat of arms features a silhouette of the Akhal-Teke horse (a unique case in the world state heraldry). This detail speaks of the Turkmen traditional cult treatment of the horse. At the same time, the poetic image of a rider confidently sitting in the saddle and habitually controlling a strong and beautiful animal perfectly describes the present state of the Turkmen society that is experiencing an unprecedented rise virtually in all its activities.
A country that saddled the fairy-tale horse refers to modern Turkmenistan, demonstrating a rapid economic growth, erecting modern production facilities and white marble skyscrapers, collecting record harvests and achieving wide international recognition. A horse for Turkmens remains a visible embodiment of the perfect beauty, strength and freedom, an embodiment of people's dream of flying.
It might seem that a horse that has for centuries remained the man's most faithful and reliable aid is of limited use in the modern post-industrial society. Sports competitions, historical films, a few units of mounted police and entertainment for a small number of amateurs seem to be the only areas of the horse use in modern time.
The cult of admiration for the horse in Turkmenistan changes completely the current global trend. The national treasure, the Akhal-Teke horse, enjoys special reverence in this country. An opportunity to feel aesthetic enjoyment through the contemplation of perfect Akhal-Teke horses is a costly business. However, the horse-breeding industry has not been left out of the plans of grandiose transformations. Construction of the network of large racecourses with modern sports and breeding infrastructures is currently under way in Turkmenistan.
Such facilities are designed not only as places for horse breeding and venues for so popular horseraces but also as centers of mass sports work, where hundreds and thousands of young citizens of the country will be involved in sports. Best pastures are allocated for the herds of horses; the winners of races are awarded expensive prizes. This is the price that the country with high living standards can afford for the historical right to be called a birthplace of the most ancient breed of cultural horse breeding.
Day of the Akhal-Teke horse is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of April. This day is considered one of the most joyous holidays in Turkmenistan. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov often personally participates in the celebrations, and he rides a horse skillfully.
The spring festivities in Ashgabat bring together the true connoisseurs of the Akhal-Teke breed from all over the world. The International Association of Akhal-Teke Horse Breeding is headquartered in Ashgabat. It holds its forums on the day of celebrations. Such forums review and discuss the reports on the results of research works on the history, modern achievements and prospects of Akhal-Teke horse breeding, as well as the main tasks of selection and breeding work.
Exhibitions of print products and paintings devoted to the Akhal-Teke horse are regularly held all over the country. Masters of folk crafts exhibit the filigree pieces of the horse harness decorated with gems and precious metals. Singers and musicians entertain numerous guests of festivities with song glorifying the beauty of the magic horses.
The announcement of results of the national contest for the best Akhal-Teke horse is the highlight of the holiday. Of course, the festivities cannot do without such an exciting and popular show as a horserace. The main sport prizes of the season - cars - are contested by riders in rapid laps of the race. People in the stands explode with exclamations and storms of applause, and the happy race winners proudly prance before their admirers.
Even with the end of festivities marking the annual national holiday, the celebration still continues, as Turkmens celebrate not only the actual Day of the Akhal-Teke horse but every moment they sit in the saddle.
On their first acquaintance with the Turkmen horse breeding traditions visitors cannot help noticing a special, touching and tender attitude of the people towards their national symbol. This love, among other things, can be seen in the most ancient tradition of lavishly decorating a horse. A diamond should have a precious frame.
Richly embroidered horse cloth and saddle girths made of carpet and felt, semiprecious stones and filigree workmanship of the silver frame of the harness - all these things, being the pieces of high national art, gracefully emphasize the beauty and stature of Turkmen horses.
Turkmen jewellery is an important part of the national culture. Turkmen jewellery is characterized by monumentality, noble simplicity of shapes, smooth lines of silhouettes and an ornament. Softly gleaming silver is highlighted by the inserts of golden-brown carnelian. This stone is believed to bring happiness, health and well-being. Gilding of the background or individual parts of the pattern is very modest. The unique Turkmen women jewellery kits are widely known. The number of the woman's jewellery articles can amount to hundreds, and the total weight of the woman's full traditional jewelry "ammunition" can reach 40-50 kilograms.
Men's jewellery is much less common in Turkmen history. Most of them in one way or another are related to the warrior outfit (finishing of weapons and armor). In modern life they can be found only in museums.
As for the horse decorative items, they all have been preserved in the national culture to this day. Fine specimens of rich horse jewellery are kept in the museum storages for the young generations, and modern jewelers multiply with diligence the ancient traditions of the horse decoration.
It is not difficult to find the historical origins of this tradition. A horse, being a loyal friend of the nomadic warrior, needed reliable protection from arrows and blades during hot fights and the man tried his best to save his reliable companion. However, all armies of the world that used cavalry passed through this stage of evolution of the military ammunition.
Interestingly, it was perhaps only Turkmens who transformed so bizarrely and beautifully the military items into an element of worship of the beautiful animal. Metal pieces, plates and armour have transformed into the articles of fine jewelry art, such as amulets that in the allegorical form retained the functions of talisman. It is no accident that the most noticeable head part of the harness was necessarily adorned with a large carnelian, playing the role of the amulet-talisman to protect a horse from the evil eye. The head part of the harness with long leather or silk fringe, protecting the eyes of the horse from insects, was supplemented with various silver inserts.
The traditional horse jewellery was made of silver - the basic working material of Turkmen jewelers. Such jewellery is normally gilded in some parts, and it has inlays of semi-precious stones. Ancient masters covered the leather parts of the horse harness with small pressed plates decorated with silver fringe of arrow-shaped pendants and bells. Silver and carnelian were used abundantly in the decoration of the precious horses. All decorative items were distinguished by elegance and austerity, and they perfectly harmonized with the noble appearance of animals.
The breastplate of the harness in modern interpretation is also used as an amulet. It consists of a central convex part with leather belts on both sides that connect the silver plate with the leather base of the harness. There is either carnelian or turquoise in the center of this decoration. The leather surface is filled with small silver plates resembling a fish scale or a knight's chain armor, as well as large ornamental overlays with mandatory carnelians. Spearhead-shaped or curved saber-shaped pendants are suspended on the leather belts throughout their length, producing a melodic sound with every move of the horse.
A classic set of the Turkmen horse harness, also serving as decoration, includes a bridle, a breastplate, a headband and collars. A bridle was made of narrow belts covered with silver elements and rosettes with carnelians in the places of belts joining. The laconism and unobtrusive elegance of the headband emphasized the beauty of the horse head.
The long, smoothly curved neck of the Akhal-Teke horse can easily handle not one, but two or three collars that were also covered with small silver segments alternating with larger overlays. Traditionally, the set included at least two or three types of collars. As a rule, the long neck of the horse is emphasized by the narrow collar, followed by larger once that are put on the lower part of the horse neck.
The horse masters generously decorated the harness with precious metals and gems. They also widely used handmade carpets, silk and felt products in the decoration of horses. Horse cloth and saddle covers were often supplemented with a special carpet wrap around the horse neck in the form of a wide scarf whose ends were interwoven with fringe.
Of course, it is hard to imagine another, more perfect creation of nature than the purebred Akhal-Teke horse. However, people's deep love for the magical animal makes it possible to add more colors to the perfect horse through the delicate taste and skills of the jeweler.