The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears – Arabian proverb
We walked along the beach toward El Jadida, hopping from one flat rock to the next and wading around the jagged edges where it was shallow. There are often horses on the pubic part of the beach in town, so I wasn’t surprised to see hoof prints in the sand. My friend and I spied a few horses tied up near a building, and a little later, a man giving quiet commands to a beautiful brown horse in the soft part of the sand usually untouched by the surf. Suddenly, the horse knelt down, then turned over on his back like a dog rolling over. I’d never seen anything like it. The horse agilely took to his feet again and shook the grains from his muscular back. I was in awe. I didn’t know horses could do such a maneuver. What we were seeing was a special backstage preview for that night’s spectacle at the annual Salon du Cheval.
El Jadida and the surrounding Doukkala-Abda region are well known for their horses. There are something like 15,000 horses in the region, most of which are Arabian race horses. Lots of these are used locally in a very famous fantasia, or Tbourida, every August. The Salon du Cheval began in El Jadida three years ago, likely to boost tourism in the area. The King is a prominent supporter of the festival, and because of this, he came to El Jadida last Monday to kick off the fanfare. The King’s visit and the onslaught of tourists explained why I’d been watching the town get a fresh coat of paint over the last few weeks. Despite my questioning everyone I could, I didn’t find out the details of the King’s arrival until about 20 minutes before the event began. I heard later that there were special invitations and tickets, but I’m not sure.
There are two must see elements of the Salon du Cheval: the spectacle and the Tbourida. Admittedly, due to my continued inability to comprehend French and Arabic, I figured out what a Tbourida was a little too late to see it. I’ve made a personal vow to see one of these live some day.
This is not the first time I’ve lived in a town celebrated for its horse festival, which is a funny coincidence considering I only moderately enjoyed riding horses as a kid. A pathetic excuse: a fairly big horse stepped on my foot at camp the same summer my friend got bucked off and sent to the hospital. While I probably won’t be galloping around on one any time soon, I can admit that I have a lot of admiration for the animals. Siena’s Palio is – at least to my knowledge – a more popular spectacle for western tourists, and I’m here to tell you, El Jadida is a fair competitor for the attention of any horse festival fanatics (ahem: George Clooney, I’m talking to you).
While my friends and I missed the Tbourida, we did manage to catch the spectacle. And what a show it was! We got to the arena when the exhibition hall was closed, which was unfortunate due to the location – just far away from town to make finding a time-waster impossible. But that didn’t stop us. I needed to use the bathroom and thanks to a poorly guarded exhibition exit, we accidentally snuck into the exhibit hall. We wandered the stalls of resting show horses, and stumbled upon a great food court, which unlike any American event, had reasonably priced and pretty tasty food. The show itself was impressive, with everything from horse burlesque, to dressage, to trick riding, wherein folks flipped upside down, turned summersaults, and a variety of other movements I can assure you I’ll never attempt in my life. The photo quality isn’t all that great, but I think you’ll get the hint:Vodpod videos no longer available.
And, for added entertainment, there was a great performance by a Gnaoua group from Essaouria. Again, my camera isn’t really built for video, but the sounds not bad and you can make out the horse dancing. And this horse has soul.