Exporting a horse from the USSR
May 6, 2020 5:17 PM   Subscribe

An excellent story recounting the thrills and spills of overcoming bureaucracy, the sad tale of the Finnish Ambassador's parrot, and packing up early to go to lunch, to export a pair of horses gifted to the British government by Saparmurat Niyazov - former leader of Turkmenistan - from the Soviet Union in 1993. Read the whole story on Twitter.

Spolier Alert: The story ends positively and even receives praise from the then British Prime Minister.
posted by eddieddieddie (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Haha that's good because if I read this and a horse dies... [shakes fist]
posted by Glinn at 5:44 PM on May 6

Ok that was more entertaining than expected!
posted by Glinn at 5:51 PM on May 6

I thought "OK, but Laura Brady's letter mentions two horses and Major's letter mentions only one, so what happened to the other horse?"

It turns out the other horse was a gift to François Mitterand's government, so went to France.

Maksat, the British-bound horse, was rejected by the Household Cavalry as too temperamental. He ended up in Wales and thrived under the care of stable owner Lorna Winn-Jones. "Maksat came to me in 1996 a sad, confused and troubled little horse with a few health issues but blossomed into a powerful and confident stallion who seems happy in his adopted home of Wales".

Maksat was 23 years old in 2012 so I doubt he's still around, but his descendants will be.

Akhal Tekes are wonderful looking creatures: long lean greyhound-like bodies, upright necks, shapely heads. After some searching, I believe I have found a picture of Maksat, who appears to be a handsome dapple grey.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:07 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]

I need to know what happened to the parrot.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:19 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]

Further down the Twitter conversation Laura Brady has posted a picture of Maksat being taken out of the boxcar wagon in 1993: https://twitter.com/LauraBr76960497/status/1258145595761532933?s=20
posted by eddieddieddie at 7:24 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]

I know I don't have a great eye for conformation, especially for this breed which is quite a bit different from the usual Thoroughbreds and sport horses that I'm typically used to seeing, but I'll admit I just did a search trying to compare the angle of Maksat's back legs to other horses of the same breed. I don't know if it's the way his handler has him standing or if that's just his natural angle but it certainly draws the eye. (Allbreeds doesn't have a photo for him, but it shows some of his ancestors. Everdi-Teleke makes my eyes spin, and not in a good way.)*

*I can't seem to link to his photo page but go to Reports (on the top left side) and use the drop down menu to pick Photos and hope that the database will give you a photo without registering for an account. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't
posted by sardonyx at 8:18 PM on May 6

Those Turkmen melons must be good.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:31 PM on May 6

USSR =/= Former Soviet Union
posted by senor biggles at 3:52 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]

To take that last comment first, yes, the USSR had been an ex-state for a good couple of years at the time of these events. But I have it on good authority that many features of day-to-day life in the former Soviet Union - the grinding, sclerotic bureaucracy, the all-pervading petty corruption, the jobsworth* mindset of the most menial functionary - survived it by many years.

(*It occurs to me that 'jobsworth' may be a uniquely British term; it denotes a person who refuses to even countenance doing anything outside the narrowest and most minimal interpretation of the bounds of their job, as typified by the response to any request of "it's more than my job's worth to do that...")

Mrs Clanger used to work in the FCO and in fact served two years in Turkmenistan, some 15 years after these events but I understand they were still legendary. As for the Turkmen melons, they are indeed the pride and joy of the nation, to the extent that Turkmenistan celebrates Melon Day as one of its main national holidays. Apparently all the embassies in Ashgabat got invites to this, and some poor member of the diplomatic staff had to attend prepared to recite a freshly-composed ode in praise of Turkmenistan's melons, a duty that befell Mrs Clanger at least once (and which I would have thought should have earned her the CMG, but there you go.)

I dimly recalled hearing this story many years ago and indeed it was first disclosed in a speech in 1999; the "very resourceful girl" who was third secretary in Moscow would have been Ms Brady. I am of course in no doubt about the stellar qualities of the women who work in the diplomatic front line for Britain's FCO: reader, I married one.

1993 was around about the time the then Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov went completely batshit, declared himself to be 'Turkmenbashi', and started renaming bread and the month of April after his mother. I have been to Ashgabat; it is best described as a cheap facsimile of Las Vegas still dotted - at least, in 2010 - with gold statues of the Glorious Leader, although by then he had been dead for a few years and the cult of personality was being wound back a little (from deranged to merely oppressive) and focussed on his successor.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:30 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]

I don't know if it's the way his handler has him standing or if that's just his natural angle but it certainly draws the eye.

He's getting out of a trailer and appears to be very unbalanced; I wouldn't assume he's that cow-hocked just from that shot. I think I've got the same horse here and I don't see much wrong with his angles. His loin connection is a little weak, which is common for a Teke, but he doesn't look too bad to me. And Everdi-Teleke is parked under himself in both the front AND the back, which makes his angles look way worse than I think they actually are.

Generally, you probably want to compare Akhal-Tekes to endurance-bred Arabians rather than to sport horses like TBs and warmbloods; they're long distance steppe runners, not designed for collection or moving over fences. This does not mean that you can't carry over a lot of those skills for evaluating the conformation, but it does mean that you're going to want to keep that function in mind as you consider the angles.

This image of Maksat is better for seeing how he's put together, since he's standing square and for whatever reason the site of the stud that seems to have maintained him later in life has terrible pictures. He's actually a pretty nicely structured animal, aside from that long back. (I think this is from the same photoset as Pallas Athena dug up earlier, although it's a different image. This is a guess based on the handler's dress, though.)
posted by sciatrix at 7:43 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]

(edit: I just realized I have no idea which image you were looking at, sardonyx. Sorry if I had the wrong one!)
posted by sciatrix at 7:49 AM on May 7

I mean this picture that was posted earlier.

You're right that Arabians are a better example for comparison, and I tried to look at the Akhal-Tekes with Arabs in mind (and not the show horse, sea-horse types). Generally, I can see why Akhal-Tekes are attractive to their owners and fans. I can appreciate different types of horses for different usages, but as a said, I'm so far from an expert that I can't even see the expert standing off in the distance. It's just that sometimes the eye is drawn to a certain feature or a part of a picture for reasons that aren't fully explainable (especially if you're not an expert).

I suspect the dark colouring on Maksat's legs is emphasizing the deep dip and large angle between his rump (dock?) and his hock. Looking at the photo again today, it doesn't seem that his back leg is as far behind his rump as it looked to me last night. If I draw a straight line up from the furthest left point of his off-side back leg it looked like it wouldn't hit his rear end--or maybe it would just touch it. Again, I suspect the dark tail is throwing my eye off off a bit.

Parked under. You're right. That's exactly the problem (or at least a good portion of it) with that Everdi-Teleke photo. Thanks.
posted by sardonyx at 9:22 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]

A touching obituary for Maksat, who only died this past December.
posted by rdc at 8:44 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]

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