By Ayman Abu Shanab
Gaza - Ma'an - Riding is an authentically Arab sport, particularly for Palestinians, 19-year-old Gaza resident Taher Khaznadar told Ma’an last week, from Gaza’s sole operating horse club.
The Al-Faisal Riding Club is open to all, young and old, male and female, as long as they can pay the monthly fee of 250 shekels (64 US dollars), limiting the availability of the sport to at least the 30% in Gaza who are not unemployed.
For the club’s dwindling numbers – a total of 30 riders, only 15 permanent members and the other half on and off, or just beginners - the club has two tracks, a 40-meter and a 60-meter international standard; it is also equipped with several styles of show-jumps and worn, but sturdy harness equipment.
On a warm Thursday evening, boys and girls from the club’s junior team gathered on the Gaza City beach to wash their horses ahead of a ride, where parents and neighbors would cheer on the children.
For those who can afford it, the club is a place to send their kids for fun and focus, a small farm oasis next to the Mediterranean Sea.
Khaznadar said he joined the club a year ago, “Learning how to ride gave me courage,” he said, adding that the sport may have even impressed a bit of gallantry on him as he passed through his teens. But most importantly, he said, when he was training, “I’m happy.”
Reem Al-Hafi, 20, was excited about having a sport she could openly participate in, “this a new hobby for girls to practice, it was not in the past because of customs and traditions.”
Eleven-year-old Nedal Abu Karsh, who hopes to represent Palestine abroad one day, said he was a quick learner when it came to going fast, “I could totally control the horse,” he said.
But riding coach Ahmad Abed Al-Aal said there was more to the sport than moving quickly. “First you teach the kids to be riders,” he said, emphasizing posture and balance and communication with the horse, “then we branch out into jumping, and move through the different skill levels, from earth mounds, to low bars to straight bar fences and water jumps.”
Abed Al-Aal has been working at the club for five years. He is a certified rider and trainer, and a member of the Palestinian Equestrian Federation, which gives the club the technical ability to send its riders to competitions abroad.
“We participated in competitions abroad. There are a number of horse riders from the club who achieved significant results,” Abed Al-Aal said proudly.
The club will hold its own competition in July, though no international participants are expected, the event will be registered.