A day or so into Turkmenistan our guide Jabbar told us that horse racing is the national sport, even without betting allowed. From what we have since learnt from him, this is quite understandable.
The following year Czarist soldiers returned and in revenge for their defeat the previous year slaughtered 20,000 Turkmen on the site where they were defeated earlier. The Russians thereafter controlled the country and we were told that no Turkman was permitted to own a horse. The Czarist Russians killed many thousands which only further upset the locals. Apparently after that, both the Czarist and the subsequent Communist governments maintained about 1000 of the horses in a government stud farm, so the breed was continued. The Turkmen were proud of their horse heritage and in 1935 they were able to obtain about 30 of the Akhalteke horses and ride them from Ashgabat to Moscow in a journey of about 4,300km in 84 days.
The Turkmenistan national emblem includes an image of an Akhalteke horse. The last Sunday in April each year is National Horse Day in recognition of the breed. Paintings and pictures of Akhalteke horses are in many places including most of the hotels where we have stayed. The only photos and paintings on the 2 floors in our hotel in Serdar were of these horses including a very lifelike painting of the current President wearing a large white fur cap riding one.
So what do mosques have to do with horse? Heaps, because the first mosque built after independence was on the site of the 1880 massacre of the 20,000 Turkmen by the Czarists and this mosque was built in their memory. In the 1880s there were about 440 mosques in Turkmenistan. At the time of independence in 1991 following the communists there were only 5 mosques remaining.
You don't need to be a horsey person to appreciate these magnificent Akhalteke horses and their part in Turkman history and the national identity.