ALEPPO, Syria — The areas under the control of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo organized the first purebred Arabian horse festival, as the number of horse breeding and equestrian establishments is increasing.
The local council of the town of Qabasin, in the countryside of Aleppo, wrote on Facebook June 26, “In cooperation with Al-Khalifa Stud Club, the first Tarhin Festival for Purebred Arabian Horses was held with the participation of over 70 horses in the Aliken Racecourse in [the village of] Tarhin. The first, second and third place winners were honored amid a large turnout of people from the eastern countryside of Aleppo. We would like to thank Al-Khalifa Stud Club for the efforts made to make the race a success.”
The head of the Equestrian Federation in northern Syria, Ahmed al-Abdullah, told Al-Monitor, “The Tarhin Festival is the first step taken by the Equestrian Federation in northern Syria, which was established by the Syrian opposition about three months ago.”
He said, “The festival aims to introduce purebred Arabian horses and their beauty, to increase the popularity of equestrian sports and to encourage people to follow them.”
Al-Monitor was present at the festival, whose first stage included seven rounds. The first was for runners riding young horses that were racing for the first time a distance of 1,000 meters (0.6 miles). The second was for galloping foals, racing a distance of 1,200 meters (0.7 miles) — eight horses participated, each of which was about two years old and had previously participated in horse races.
The competition was fierce, especially in the third round that was called the National Race; the race distance was 2,200 meters (1.4 miles), in which nine purebred Arabian horses participated. The fourth round was called the National Race A, in which six purebred Arabian horses participated over a distance of 1,600 meters (1 mile). The fifth round was called Mohassen and extended over a distance of 1,200 meters (0.7 miles), in which seven purebred Arabian horses participated. The sixth was called the Middle Race, dedicated to middle-aged purebred Arabian horses, in which 12 horses participated in a 1,600-meter race. The seventh and final round was called the Champions Race, in which 10 purebred Arabian horses participated, and the race extended over a distance of 2,000 meters (1.2 miles).
Abdullah said, “The first three winners in each of the seven rounds were honored, and prizes were presented to them. The winner received a prize of 1,000 Turkish liras [$115], the second place winner received 500 Turkish liras [$58] and the third place winner received 300 Turkish liras [$35].”
He noted, “The purebred Arabian horses participating in the festival belong to a group of clubs and breeders in the opposition areas in northwestern Syria, the most important of which are Al-Safira Club for Arabian Horses, Al-Khalifa Stud Club and Al-Azza Association for Purebred Arabian Horses. Runners from different areas partook, namely from Idlib and Aleppo countryside, in addition to displaced people from eastern Syria, some of whom participated in several rounds on different horses.”
Ahmed al-Afandi, director of the media office of the Equestrian Federation in northern Syria, told Al-Monitor, “The sport of horse riding was not very popular in opposition areas in recent years, but we are now noticing that young people are very interested in learning it. We also found that many people were interested in this sport given the large turnout at the Tarhin Festival.”
Mukhtar Abu Askar, director of Al-Khalifa Stud Club and one of the organizers of the Tarhin Festival, told Al-Monitor, “Two years ago, we established Al-Khalifa Stud Club near the city of al-Bab in Aleppo countryside. This year, we organized the Tarhin Festival for Purebred Arabian Horses in cooperation with the Qabasin local council, and Al-Khalifa Stud Club offered the prizes awarded to the winners.”
Meanwhile, Abdul Kafi al-Ahmad, head of the Sports and Youth Office in the local council of Qabasin, told Al-Monitor, “The local council supports activities that revive the heritage of our ancestors, and encourages equestrian sports enthusiasts and horse breeders to hold such festivals periodically to educate people in the area about the beauty and importance of horses.”
He said, “The festival that we held recently was in cooperation with Al-Khalifa Stud Club that covered all the costs of the festival.”
A participant in the festival from the Deir ez-Zor countryside in eastern Syria told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Horse breeding is a profession I inherited from my parents and grandparents, but the war and displacement forced me to stop practicing this profession for several years. However, when I moved to the opposition-controlled areas in the countryside of Aleppo and found some stability, it prompted me to resume and participate in races.”
Abu Askar noted, “The breeders of purebred Arabian horses in the countryside of Aleppo face many challenges, the most important of which is the difficulty of securing medicines and vaccines for horses, and the lack of stables and basic tracks for training horses and races. Among the most difficult challenges we face is the outrageous increase in feed prices, as the cost of fodder for one horse reaches 400,000 Syrian pounds per month [$318].”
The World Arabian Horse Organization, which was established in 1967, is responsible for improving the blood purity of Arab horses and maintaining their pedigree. Syria joined the organization in 1989 and established an office for Arabian horses at the end of 1994.