Gaza horse riders have to jump unusual hurdles (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Sakher Abu El Oun 04/18/12)
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Horse riding has become a popular hobby in the Gaza Strip but local
Palestinians face constant hurdles -- from a conservative society to
Israel´s blockade on the territory -- to practise the sport on their
The Al-Faisal equestrian club, on the seafront in Gaza City, attracts
around 50 riders a day, according to Samir Salama Saad, director of
the "Beautiful Life" society which bought the club several months ago.
Founded in 2003, the club now attracts both male and female
equestrians ranging in age from eight to 40 years, Saad said.
But the club, which occupies some 10 dunams of land -- around 100
hectares (247 acres) -- has had to resort to unusual methods to
obtain the 60 horses it owns, smuggling them in through tunnels from
"We don´t have medicine because of the blockade, and this affects the
horses we have locally, so their numbers are constantly diminishing
because of deaths," Saad told AFP.
To make up the numbers, horses are brought in through the tunnels dug
under Gaza´s border with Egypt, but the process is dangerous and
often leaves the animals with injuries and psychological problems.
Israel imposed the blockade in June 2006 after the capture of an
Israeli soldier. The restrictions were tightened when the Islamist
Hamas group seized control of Gaza a year later.
Israel defends the blockade, saying it is necessary to prevent
weapons smuggling, but the Palestinians call it collective punishment.
Despite the restrictions, Saad runs an equestrian school at the club,
with five trainers, including one qualified at the international
level, who provide lessons and organise competitions.
There´s plenty of interest, but Saad acknowledges that the lessons
remain out of the reach of most people in impoverished Gaza, where
unemployment is around 45 percent and much of the population is
dependent on foreign aid.
Still, he said, "the prices are 20 percent less than those in
neighbouring countries," and they have come down in recent years as
poverty in Gaza has continued to worsen.
Before the Israeli blockade was imposed in 2006, the club charged
around 300 shekels ($80, 61 euros) for 15 lessons, according to 18-
year-old Ola Abu Safiya who has been riding for five years.
-- ´You´re veiled, how can you ride a horse?´ --
"Now they don´t take more than 150 shekels because they´re taking
into account the economic conditions in Gaza," she said.
Abu Safiya is a psychology student but she dreams of one day teaching
horse riding herself.
"It´s been my favourite hobby since my father took me riding for the
first time," she said.
She finds the sport liberating -- "there´s no difference between boys
and girls when it comes to horse riding," she said.
Hanan Abu Nada, a 28-year-old lawyer and a mother of two, said she
had to overcome some local scepticism when she took up the sport.
"My father and mother encouraged me to ride. We had a small stable
and my father was passionate about it. He wanted all his children to
be excellent riders."
"People said ´You´re veiled, how can you ride a horse? It´s
impossible´," she said. "But I insisted on the idea that a veiled
girl is like any other girl who wants to enjoy a pastime."
"They shouldn´t be criticising. On the contrary, Palestinians should
be proud of us," she added.
Abu Nada takes lessons with Omar al-Mamluk, the club´s only
international-level trainer, and aspires to one day participate in
global competitions "representing the country of Palestine".
But Mamluk says opportunities to compete have been sharply curtailed
by the blockade and the division between the Gaza Strip and West Bank
because of tensions between rival Palestinian movements Fatah and
The division "has greatly affected horse riding and stopped us from
participating abroad, which had allowed us to reach the level of our
Arab brothers," he said.
"The Palestinian Equestrian Federation works in the West Bank and
Ramallah, but because of the division we have been excluded, even
though we have horses for show jumping and racing, as well as riders."
"If the division were to end, we would be able to cooperate with our
brothers in the West Bank," he said.
"For now, all our competitions are local," Saad added. (Copyright ©
2012 Agence France Presse. 04/18/12)
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