Morocco An unexpected horse lover’s dream
I didn’t go to Morocco for the horses. I went for the Roman ruins, to see Casablanca (alas, the romance is over), to wander through endless ancient souks in search of treasures. I loved Morocco, the people, the food (incredibly delicious and amazingly cheap!), the architecture, the storks (which migrate to Morocco from northern Europe in the fall and build their massive nests) and the beaches.
But a happy surprise was horses everywhere! Turns out, Morocco has a vibrant history of horse culture. Former King Hassan II (yes, Morocco is a kingdom) said “The horse is part of our family, our culture, and our civilization.” The current King of Morocco Mohammed VI says,
“Strongly present in our literary artistic heritage, the horse confers beauty and aesthetics to our religious and national holidays and family festivities. So much so that some Sultans of Morocco have made the back of their horse their preferred throne, thus giving the most beautiful illustration of the peaks to which the Moroccan has raised the status of his horse.”
During the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail in the mid-1600s to early 1700s, the royal stable was at Meynes, and could house…are you ready for this? 12,000 horses, each with its own groom…and slave. These stables are very well preserved and you can visit them yourself should you journey to Morocco.
Most of the horses are Arabians or Barbs (Berbers), or a cross, as well as Thoroughbreds. Racing abounds not just with quantity, but quality in Morocco, with many wealthy people maintaining their own racing stables for both Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Driving through the country, it is not surprising to encounter a track running parallel to the road, with horses being breezed as you go by!
Beaches, too are often used for training, or just riding, so be sure to keep your eyes open for horses while you work on your tan.
Arabs and Barbs are particularly suited to Morocco’s natural environment, with its harsh deserts and poor food sources. They are generous, and resilient. These two breeds formed the basis of the brilliant Moroccan cavalry, and were the source of many of their victories.
Morocco has such an extensive history of horses that they devote festivals to the relationship between man (yes, “man,” Morocco doesn’t have the best of histories when it comes to women) and horse. The Berber Fantasia Festivals takes place several times a year and you might just be lucky enough to catch one. Horses and riders are dressed in traditional garments, with teams competing for their own village. Horses sport brightly colored and elaborate saddle pads, saddles and bridles. Each team gallops together, and each team member shoots the jezail musket into the air in coordination with the others. They are judged on synchronicity and presentation.
Mohammed VI maintains both racing and show jumping stables. When I Googled to find out just where his racing stable is located, guess what came up? The address for Belmont Racetrack in New York! Well, I guess that makes sense.
The King keeps show jumpers as well, and was honored in 2015 as FEI Owner of the Year for “Quickly de Kreisker” a bay Selle Francais stallion ridden by Moroccan star Abdelkebir Ouadda. The horse won several top Grand Prix among other notable victories.
When he is at his home in Rabat, El Mechouar Essaid Palace (which means “the venue of happiness palace”) the King ventures out of the palace each morning to greet people…on horseback.
It’s not only the rich who have horses. They are still used for transportation throughout Morocco. Horses and carts, or riders on horses, can be seen everywhere throughout the kingdom.
Horses and their riders stand guard at historic spots (you can see me at just one such point below). They can be seen winding their way through a crowded alley in a souk delivering goods.
They are ever present pulling carriages in the cities such as Marrakesh, where we were delivered to a mall in a horse and carriage…and then had to wait for a group of camels to pass before crossing the street.
Horses, according to Islam, “are the extraordinary animal par excellence, created after all animals. It invokes the sacred, and imposes respect. Its very creation is a source of wonder, since it was Al Bouraq, the horse brought by Gabriel, who carried the prophet Mohammed during his night journey.”
Can’t help but agree with that! Enjoy Morocco with its exotic sites, delicious foods and wonderful people…and get your horse fix too!