Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Faisal Riding Club of Gaza

From The Guardian (h/t Daled Amos):
On a Friday evening on the edge of Gaza City, the tables at Faisal are beginning to fill up.

A group of young women wearing brightly-patterned headscarves and high heels beneath their jilbabs order ice cream and fruit cocktails; elsewhere men are puffing on water pipes.

But the main attraction is not the company, the menu, nor the refreshing evening breeze that blows off the nearby Mediterranean coast. People come to watch the horses.

Faisal is Gaza's only riding club, open for the past five years and, despite the Israeli blockade and its grim economic consequences, doing rather well. It started with a nucleus of Arabian horses bred in Gaza, but this has been recently supplemented with horses from Egypt and Syria imported through the tunnels dug beneath the border at the southern end of the Strip.

"We choose the horses over the internet, looking at video clips," said chief trainer Ahmed Abd Ali. "We also take advice from our trading partners in Egypt."

The horses are led through the bigger tunnels, but even then it is sometimes a tight fit, according to Abd Ali. Some reach the Gaza end with minor scratches, and some appear a little frightened by the journey. "But we have no choice, there is no other way to get them," he said. The animals are already trained but the trainers allow them a few weeks to recover from the tunnel ordeal before putting them to work.

The club has built up its membership to around 120, with more riders coming for ad hoc lessons. Its monthly fees of around 300 shekels (£52) are a considerable commitment, even for Gaza's elite families. But, says Abd Ali, "we are in a good position" with numbers increasing.

The riding club is part of a circuit frequented by affluent Gazans. Next door is Crazy Water Park, a swimming centre with chutes and slides. There is a burgeoning number of seafront cafes, and a new shopping mall opened in July.
The article goes on to point out "access to these facilities is limited to a tiny stratum of the population."