Posted by: koolwine | August 18, 2018

Turkmenistan: Sacred Horses

Despite the fact that in 1991 the Central Asian Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan, a Muslim area sandwiched between Iran and Afghanistan and part of the U.S.S.R., was largely off-limits to foreigners, the author wangles a visit with the hopes of seeing and riding a rare and magnificent breed of horse called the Akhal-Teke, believed by many to be the progenitor of the modern thoroughbred.

Country Focus: Turkmenistan

Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy
By Jonathan Maslow (1948-2008)
Published by Random House, 1994.
342 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author: American journalist and naturalist Jonathan Maslow also wrote about the quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird in Bird of Life, Bird of Death and owls in the northeastern U.S. in The Owl Papers. He was an editor and columnist at The Herald News in West Paterson, New Jersey at his untimely death.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Jonathan Maslow


In the uncovered concrete grandstand sat three thousand or four thousand boys, men, and bearded elders, almost all of them keeping cool in their big fur hats* as they followed the races. When the horses closed in on the finish line, the boys jumped to their feet, yelled, pounded the air with their fists, and slapped their programs against their sides. The elders stroked their wispy white beards and waved their cigarettes, which they smoke in holders. No one paid the slightest attention to the heat; they were exposing themselves to the cruelest of suns for no other reason than their love of fast horses. The trainers brought Akhal-Tekes from the state and collective farms all over the Turkmen republic, not to run for the gold—there were no stakes, no purses, no claiming races, no trophies—but for the pure pleasure of the competition, the chance to go home knowing that your horse was the swiftest. Only the jockeys stood to gain materially, the winners receiving a new carpet, television set, or, once, two hundred rubles cash, about an average month’s wage.

*Turkmen wore their brown sheepskin hats, which they believe keeps their heads cool.

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