The Turkmen people decorated their horses with love, and made extravagant decorations for them. These were called "alagayysh" and were highly appreciated. The Turkmens were famous for their jewelers called "zergers," who made decorations for kings, shahs, sultans and khans. The harnesses were made of gold, silver, and bronze and were decorated with precious stones.
Today, people across the world are keeping the tradition alive. In Turkmenistan the traditional tack is still made... though instead of silver and gold, it is more commonly made of nickel or brass. Carnelians and other semi precious stones are often used, as well as beautifully colored glass.
Traditionally, an outfit would consist of a bridle decorated with carnelian and/or turquoise stones, set on a "plate" with engraver, that is then gold washed. Every piece of silver is a little stud, with two prongs on the back to fold over and hold it in place. Every stud has it's own design which vary according to the artist. The collars worn around the neck of the horse are made the same way. Some are wide, some are narrow. The breast collar has a dome where all straps come together. Usually the dome is richly decorated as well, with carnelians and gold wash.
Please click on the picture to read the explanations.
The Saddle Historically, a Turkmen saddle was made from rawhide, with a horn in the shape of a swan head.... and was typically adorned with decorative rugs and blankets. The stirrups would hang loosely from the saddle, and the girth was secured like a surcingle: wrapped over the seat of the saddle and encircling the horse's belly. A custom-made saddle pad protected the horse's back.
The Stirrup The stirrups are quite ornate with a large foot
bed. The stirrup leather buckle can be quite decorated
The Bridle Turkmen bridles come in different styles. One style is more or less "plain," while the other has "fringes" from the crown. On the left is a bridle with the "fringed" crown. Usually, the only buckle used to fasten a Turkmen bridle is the throat latch; most bridles are none adjustable and just slip on.
Bits The bits are mostly the same type, a crude square
snaffle, measuring about 9 inches across.
It sewn to the bridle with short leather straps, it
is non adjustable and not meant to be switched.
The neck collars are true pieces of art. Some have more details than others. They fasten with a buckle.
Breastplates The breastplates function is beauty. They either fasten to the saddle, or simply buckle around the neck. Some have a strap to the girth, some don't.
Wool Collars The Turkmens are superstitious, and protect themselves and their horses from evil spirits. In Turkmenistan every horse has an "Alaja" around their neck. An alaja is a braided wool cord, made of brown camel hair and white, black, and red dyed Karakul sheep hair. In the case where a horse is injured or sick, they attach a small triangle sewn with "omens" to help ward evil spirits away. This could be an "evil eye" bead, some herbs, a stone, charm, etc. Alajas are very pretty, and come in all shapes and sizes. The more intricate bands, often woven like a carpet, are used as prizes... given to the winning jockey of a race, or more recently, the champion of an Akhal-Teke beauty contest.
Rugs, felt horse blankets
Because they were outside continuously, the blanketing protected them from the extreme swings in desert temperatures. Blanketing also enhanced the metallic sheen of their coats, a source of great pride to their owners. Indeed, the prevailing color of the breed is gold, either as a golden dun, golden bay, or golden chestnut, although other colors are present and are not undesirable. The special golden color with a metallic sheen is genetically distinct and is a unique characteristic of the breed.
Felt rugs were used to make the horses sweat to have them lean for racing. The wool rugs are true pieces of art. Here is a great article on felt.
Crops The crops are very ornate. Here are a few samples.
Do it yourself
Make your own For those of us who need to go to war everyday, but don't want to damage our most valuable jewelry, here is a way to still look good for half the price! The wool collars can be made with beads and a loom. The breastplates and collars can be made with nickel studs from the craft store. And find decorations on Ebay under "belly dance" items. One can look not too shabby with a bit of luck, and a lot of patience...
Today in Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likes the color white and encourages it to be used in their national horse displays and celebrations. Travelers can now obtain white alajas at the markets and bazaars, and the President himself has a splendorous white outfit for his favorite horse.