Horses and powerful rulers have odd relationships

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was recently almost killed by his horse. Pays well though...

by Joseph Hammond on 8 May 2013 11:47

Horses and powerful rulers have odd relationships. Roman Emperor Caligula named his horse a consul; the horse of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov almost killed him.

Wearing traditional national Turkmen dress, the authoritarian leader was thrown from his horse recently in a race held in Turkmenistan. He was apparently briefly knocked unconscious in what was meant to be a carefully planned photo-op. After aids rushed to his side the 55-year-old leader he eventually regained consciousness and briefly appeared to reassure the crowd.

The media is tightly controlled in this nation of 5.5 million and while it was widely reported Berdymukhamedov won the 1,000 metre race against five rivals, only recently have videos of the event leaked onto the internet.

The video shows both the president’s headlong dive and aides rushing to his side. His horse Arkadag (the Patron) appears oddly unscathed. Occasionally, world leaders do die in horse riding accidents. Such was the fate of Sri Lanka's (then Ceylon) first Prime Minister Don Senanayake in 1952 while riding in Colombo's most famous public park, the Galle Face Green.

The authoritarian ruler of the gas-rich state entered in the event to promote the traditional Khal Teke breed horses. While horsemeat is consumed across the region from Bashkortostan to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan is an exception. Instead the Khal Teke has become an instrument of Turkmen softpower and the breed has been given as an official gift to various states including France where we can only hope it avoided the fate of a camel recently given to France from Mali.

Perhaps taking a note from the political playbook of Russian President Vladmir Putin, Berdymukhamedov is an avid sports fan; other media appearances have seen him operating jet planes, race cars, practicing martial arts and shooting assault rifles.

Last year he asked government ministries to form ice hockey teams and encourages a high level of physical fitness.

And it pays, too: with prize money of 11 million dollars, this event is the world's richest horse race, just surpassing the more conventional Dubai World Cup – a thoroughbred horse race for a 10 million dollar prize. And since the race lasted just 21.2 seconds, the President is one of the world's highest paid athletes on a second per second basis. 

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