- What the what? No, this is not breaking news, but something I discovered today. Lambourn will have the UK’s first “horse monorail” courtesy of Turkish industrialist and racehorse owner, Mehmet Kurt. As far as I can tell it’s a horsewalker from Tron (have a look at the photo here); apparently the “Kurtsystem” will be great for rehabilitating horses. You learn something new every day. (Newbury Today)
- The NYT reports on the presentation by Turkmenistan of an Akhal Teke stallion to President Xi Jinping of China. There’s a little on the story of this “heavenly horse” in Chinese history and its current return. I was surprised to read that Genghis Khan rode one – curious to see what the Mongolians would make of that. (New York Times)
- Meanwhile, someone’s riding lesson went very wrong when a saddled and bridled horse ended up galloping riderless around Beijing’s fifth ring road, chased by a dog. (Shanghaist)
- Jalopnik on how Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome gets about now that he’s a champ. (Jalopnik)
Fun times in Turkmenistan. You thought the Dubai Cup was the biggest purse in racing. You were wrong. It is, in fact, the $11 million on offer in the 1 km centrepiece of the Day of the Turmen Racehorse card. You might expect a queue of Black Caviars, Frankels and Animal Kingdoms lining up in the Central Asian republic to duke it out, but once more you’d be wrong. Only the Turkmen national beast, the Akhal Teke, can participate. These whippetty hotbloods are famous for the unearthly metallic sheen of their coat and their stamina. They are thought by some to be the ancestors not just of the thoroughbred, but also of the “tap root” Arabian itself, and the Akhal Teke’s own forebears probably included the immortality-conferring “Heavenly Horses of Ferghana” that enthralled the Chinese emperor Wudi. The esteem in which the horse is held by the Turkmen nation is evident from the fact that it’s the only Central Asian nation where horse meat is not consumed.
British people tend to have an “ewwwww” reaction to the Akhal Teke, because of that slender, long-backed build, but handsome is as handsome does (yes, even when it’s the Most Beautiful Horse In The World). Here’s the famous Russian stallion Absent, who took a dressage gold at the Rome Olympics, a bronze at Mexico in 1964 and a team gold in Tokyo four years later:
Oh, and they can jump, too:
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is a patriot who champions the breed, and is investing heavily in the Turkmen horse industry. He’s also something of a Putin-esque action man whose triumphs include winning Turkmenistan’s first motor race last year, performing surgery on the first patient at a new Ashgabat cancer clinic, flying a supersonic jet and wielding an assault rifle, so perhaps it should be no surprise that he chose to take part in the race on a “golden arrow” called Berkarar. And glory be, they won! Berkarar (“the mighty”) streaked past the winning post like a champ, a length or more ahead of the field. Journalists for the state media channel were clearly so excited that they charged off to file their copy, only to miss what happened next.
Whoops! Berkarar hit a soft, deep patch of sand and took a tumble, the president shot off and lay winded on the track, and officials rushed over to help. I’m sure that the media’s haste to report their leader’s win must be the reason that they forgot to mention this dramatic fall in the Turkmen press. Luckily the rest of the world’s media picked it up and ran with it. Both Berkarer and jockey were fine, and Berdymukhamedov has announced that he will donate his $11 million winnings to the state firm that breeds Akhal Tekes, which is wonderfully generous of him.
Thank you to Susan for sending me a link to this piece on horse prints in fashion at Style Bubble.
Roo shared this, er, fascinating set of what you might call outsider art portraits of horses smoking cigarettes, for sale now on Craigslist New Orleans. Click now before they’re sold.
Ed Ward let me know that Marianne Faithfull’s new album is called ‘Horses and High Heels’, and also directed my attention to this New York Times travel feature on horses and music in Louisiana:
I HAD never noticed how closely the syncopated rhythm of zydeco music echoes the rollicking stumble of horses on rough terrain. But on a September afternoon in the piney woods of Evangeline Parish, in Louisiana’s Cajun country, with hundreds of dusty horseback riders moving down a narrow trail, the kinship was impossible to miss. As the horses followed a tractor towing a D.J. and a zydeco-blaring sound system, they bucked and swayed in a cadence fit for the barroom floors of Lafayette, 70 miles away.
HBO’s new blockbuster/DVD box set of the future is Luck, about hosses and gamblers. There’s a trailer here at Television Blend. Directed by Michael Mann, starring Nick Nolte and Dustin Hoffman. Looks fantastic.
Teenage hearthrob Robert Pattinson shoots a horse in his new film, Water for Elephants, in which he plays a ‘circus veterinarian’ opposite Reese Witherspoon. Reese’s character performs with horses in the circus as a liberty trainer, and a big part of me is fondly hoping that she was inspired by Jenny de Rhaden or Emilie Loisset, though I doubt it. The trailer looks like a big, cheesy waste of Christopher Waltz. Thank you to Patrick (who is always fascinated by horse disposal) for this one.
April brings out equine finery. The president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, showcased the Akhal Teke horse, complete with traditional dress and jewellery (fancy), while in the town of St Augustine in Florida, the 53rd annual Parada de los Caballos y Coches took place. Carriage horses parade through the streets in Easter bonnets contributed by worthy American ladies. Past bonnet-donations came from Mary Pickford, Nancy Reagan, Mrs Billy Graham and Mrs Jimmy Carter. No word on whether Michelle Obama has been asked to help out.
Mark Todd won Badminton, and there’s a fantastic slide show of the cross country day here (see if you can spot the little girl in the crowd who’s brought along her hobbyhorse).
The Turkmen president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is launching an annual national show for the famous Akhal Teke horses, says the BBC.
Turkmenistan is the only former Soviet state in Central Asia where eating horse meat is strictly taboo.
The national competition will also include an award for the best carpet featuring the horse, the best “holiday attire” for the breed, the best portrait and the best scupture.
In 2004, the country’s former president, Saparmurat Niyazov, opened a $20m (£12m) leisure centre for horses, complete with swimming pool, air conditioning and medical facilities.
Akhal Tekes are best known for their extraordinary metallic coats, which some believe provided a kind of shimmering camouflage in the deserts of Turkmenistan. There are only 3,500 in the world, and while they’re best known as endurance horses, but can also be talented dressage horses. The Portuguese classical dressage master, Nuno Oliveira, began training Akhal Tekes in the last six years of his life and one stallion, Absent, won two Olympic golds with Russian riders in the 1960s:
Dodgy as Berdymukhamedov is, I can’t help wishing we had someone here championing Akhal Tekes in the competitive dressage ring once more (and more Andalusians and Lusitanos and Lipizzaners and and and). I’m not convinced that the generic Warmblood is “the only” type that can or should tackle Grand Prix, and damn, wouldn’t it make it more interesting to see different breeds show what dressage is truly about?