Horse racing This is a popular spectator sport, and a great opportunity to see Turkmenistan's fine Ahal Tekke horses in action. Races are usually held on Sunday mornings, between late March and late May, and again for a few weeks in the autumn, at the Old Hippodrome on the eastern edge of the city. Before each race, the mostly male-audience huddles in groups on the stands, as private betting transactions are carried out. The races are accompanied with a great deal of enthusiastic shouting, and then applause as the winning jockey receives the prize of a fridge, or video recorder. For Horse Day, the last Sunday in April, the race programme is combined with concerts, and the race-track decorated in multicoloured flags. To reach the Hippodrome, head eastwards along Magtymguly Shayoly, turning left when you reach the end of this street. Take the bridge over the railway line; on the northern side of the bridge you will see the Hippodrome on your right. At its entrance stands a golden monument of a cloaked President Niyazov, stroking an Ahal Tekke horse.
The Ahal Tekke Horse Complex of the President of Turkmenistan was opened in 2004 to the southeast of the city. To reach it, head south along Turkmenbashy Shayoly, turning left onto the main highway as it crosses over the road, just beyond Independence Park. The horse complex is on your left, an artificially watered oasis of luxuriant green amid the arid surrounding landscape. The complex includes stabling for the president's many Ahal Tekke horses, white marble-fronted stands and a racetrack which features a modern starting gate, an electronic scoreboard and photo-finish technology.
Akhal-Teke horses are Turkmenistan’s pride and joy, and many visitors come to Turkmenistan specifically to ride one. Highly recommended is the Alaja Farm, run by Katya Kolestnikova and located in Geok-Dere (also called Nizhny Chuli). This is a professional stable, where the horses are well cared for and well fed (not always the case elsewhere). Riding here costs 80M an hour, and it’s normal to ride for four hours in one day, well worth the price for the beautiful golden stallions and some wonderful riding in the canyons around Geok-Dere. Take the Geok-Depe road out of Ashgabat and turn left at the sign for Geok-Dere. Continue through the village and Alaja is at the end on the right.
Ice-skating The only ice-skating rink in the country, Milli Olimpiya Sport Ice Rink (Berzengi; admission 1M; 9am-7pm) is hugely popular with locals so if you want to skate there you may need to call and make a reservation. It’s on the Berzengi Hwy, a couple of hundred metres north of the Independence monument.
Bowling and billiards are both available on the 3rd floor of the Yimpa department store. Swimmers may want to check out the Olympia Sport Water Palace, a brand-new pool facility located on Garashsyzlyk shayoli, opposite the puppet theatre, or they can try the far less impressive Soviet era Public Swimming Pool.