The Sudanese people maintain a strong passion for horses and they often mention those domesticated animals in their traditional ardent poems and songs gleefully listened to by every Sudanese.
They constitute an historic legacy, particularly for some ethnic groups in Darfur region, namely the Missairiyah and Rizaigat tribes which have brought some thoroughbred horses from England, France and Kenya to West Sudan and Khartoum for improvement of the progeny and for upgrading the criteria of the Sudanese purebred Arab horses.
Horses are found in times of war and peace as well as in formal and informal festivals and on grief and rejoice occasions when the horse is decorated in bright colors to express jubilation whether in a horserace by the tribes or the procession of a bridegroom in the region.
They were until recently used by the police, following an old British system, in the form of patrols roaming the streets at night to secure the safety for the urban inhabitants.
Dr. Al-Waleed Adam Madibo, the international development expert is an owner of a stable in Khartoum, spoke to SUDANOW in a telephone interview on horses and their position and their cultural and sports roles in the Sudanese society.
He regards horses and horsemanship as a hobby and a heritage as his Madibo clan has been familiar with horses for centuries. Waleed has been connected, for three decades, with horses as a breeder and an owner of thoroughbred horses that raised, Darfur, Khartoum, and different states in the US.
He is credited for importing to the Sudan some of the finest breeds of horses which he is fond of, mainly stallions that contributed to the improvement of breed, both in Khartoum and Darfur. He is the first to have imported a proven sir, a horse by the name of Weblin, which he imported from Ocala/Florida.
Darfur region, according to Waleed, is a famous place, especially in the Sudanic belt, as regards the number of horses and the horsemanship sport in Sudan and the finest pureblood breeds. He said the veterinary authorities used to import thoroughbred horses from Britain since 1944 for improvement of the Sudanese breeds and enhancement of their functioning in order to make of the Sudan a horse exporter to other countries like Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria where from delegates used to visit Sudan to watch the tribal horse shows.
Two of the stallions al-Waleed imported from Florida
Waleed added that the progeny improvement center in Nyala, South Darfur, by establishing a breeding center, which has been receiving 10-90 mares every day, becoming the top source of the race horses for Khartoum which until 1974 used to import an annual average of 400-500 race horses. However, the environmental and ecological decline had an adverse impact on all horse-related activities (polo, patrols, horse-race) but did not affect the interaction of the Darfurians, in particular, and the Sudanese, in general, with the horses and with their history of the Kushite King Tahraqa who invaded Egypt to correct what he considered a deviation from an instinct that objects to the humiliation of the horse which, according to Waleed, is the dearest and oldest human partner in the progress and prosperity.
Waleed said the Animal Resources Bank contributed to sending five stallions, followed by others, in addition to contribution by Adiyat Company to sending 10 stallions to Kabkabiyah, Ad Diain and other locations in Darfur.
Darfur is considered among the biggest regions in the Sudanese belt and in Africa in the field of breeding and using horses, as it possesses the human resource and inherited knowledge but, Waleed went on, needs an overall scientific vision for overcoming the problems of developing new breeds of progeny. The government of South Darfur has succeeded in building stables of international standards, creating an environment that is appropriate to four stallions which were imported by "our voluntary society" and got adapted to the local fodder and climate, something which, according to Waleed, necessitated expansion in these breeds by introducing the artificial inoculation and an undertaking by the Ministry of Animal Resources to establish a unit for the purpose.
Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi during a tent pegging race
The Sudan is famous for the international wedge-picking sport that was introduced during the British rule and was practiced by such prominent families as Al-Mahdi's family whose members, including Abdul Rahman, won numerous contests.
All horses in the Sudan are owned by Sudanese and are supervised also by Sudanese, some of whom, especially those from Darfur and Kordofan, serve in the Arab Gulf states in the field.
SUDANOW interviewed a number of horsemen, coaches and jockeys of different ages in Khartoum's horse racetrack. Horseman Eissa Fadul Al-Naby, winner of last year's horserace cup on the back of Maymounah (aka Madhmounah, guaranteed). A horseman and a sportsman, Nabi loved horses since his childhood and he inherited the horsemanship from his family south of Ad Diain. He supervises a big stable that includes a number of horses owned by al-Waleed Adam Madibo. He says the breeding and supervision of horses depend on full knowledge and experience acquired or learned from a coach. The management of a stable requires three persons: a groom who is responsible for cleaning the stable and timely preparing meals and water besides checking the health of each horse and defining the diseases among the horses.
The second person is a contracted groom who is promoted from the position of an ordinary groom after 20 to 30 years of service and from his long experience he can define the disease and the treatment. The third person is the jockey who is of the longest experience and who supervises all aspects of the stable.
According to Nabi, the groom begins his assignment by teaching a colt how to walk with straight legs and the colt depends during its first six months on the milk of its mother and on green grass. After the seventh month of its age, the colt can drink water mixed with flour of millet or sorghum and atroon to make it strong. It may be weaned in its seventh month if the mother's milk is little and is compensated with water mixed with flour and dry dates. The colt may also be fed with clover, carrots, green- and dry-parsley and sorghum and it may be offered anything in addition to its morning and evening meals. The groom can sense whether his horses are hungry, thirsty or ill as he is close to them. When the horse reaches its first year of age, a kind of felt may be placed on its back and on the second year a small saddle is placed on the felt and the groom may ride it for short distances to make it accustomed to the movement and after two months, the riding distance may be made longer.
Village horses differ from those of a town; and because it is quiet with little traffic, a horse can move normally in the village. In contrast, a horse does not feel at home and is horrified by the heavy traffic in a town and the rider may fall down from it several times and he must therefore be patient and brave and for this reason is called knight.
The families renowned for horse breeding and horsemanship in Khartoum include those of Imam Al-Mahdi, late statesman Al-Azhary, Mamoun Ahmed Mekky, Muntasir Abdul A'al, Kaboky, al-Waleed Madibo and many other families.
In Darfur, the famous families connected with horses include those of Mohamed Hamid Al-Jailany (Abu Garjah), Fadul Hamdan, Ibrahim Obaid Tairab, Gony Mukhtar and others.
In the Sudan, there are eight equestrian clubs and unions, two of them in Khartoum and one each in Kassala, Nyala, Al-Fasher, Wad Medani, al-Bahir and Id Al-Fursan.
Jockey Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, who is a supervisor of a stable, says he serves in the field for more than 40 years, starting at his birthplace Ad Diain, in Darfur, which horses represent part of its legacy and where every family must have one horse or more in each herd to be used on different occasions of pleasure, grief, collective pursue of rustlers, travels and search for water and pasture for other animals.
He added that all this was a mere hobby and when he came to Khartoum, he realized that there are other fields in which horses are used, including horse-races and equestrian sports. Ibrahim, making use of his experience, managed in a short while to become an equestrian and horse sportsman. He took part in numerous contests inside the Sudan and abroad in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and he won a number of gold medals, trophies, valuable prizes and a motorcar. Ibrahim said when he got old, he returned to Sudan and presently serves as a coach and supervisor of a stable in Khartoum.
He says the breeding of horses in Sudan can advance and reach the international standards if it is accorded a measure of care. "We were ahead of others in this field in the past and the attendance by HM Queen Elisabeth of the horse-race in Sudan was evidence to this. We possess the international advantages and skills and, with additional care, we can occupy a high position."
Ibrahim said that in other countries, horses hold passports and have ancestry down to the 10th grandparent, wishing that the Sudan would follow suit.
He said Darfur region is number one in Sudan with regard to horses, though he noted that states of the country can expand in this field, saying that there are families in north and east Sudan have become engaged in this respect and have succeeded in hybridizing new breeds.
SUDANOW, in conclusion of the visit to the horserace track, met young equestrian Ali Abbas Hassan (14) who loved and got associated with horses since his childhood when he went with his family to Cairo, Egypt, and had a photograph on horseback which he still keeps.
He said that he used to admire the shape and movements of a horse and that at grade six of the primary school, he displayed to his family a true desire in learning how to ride a horse. "In view of my insistence, the family consented and my father took me to the equestrian club of Khartoum." After registration, Hassan said he was able to quickly absorb the exercises. He added that he used to arrive at the club ahead of the fixed time, adding that he was and "still" is the youngest horseman in the group. Hassan said that he succeeded in passing the first course and began the second one which involved hurdles where he had displayed high skills to the satisfaction and admiration of the coach.
Hassan said his family was at first feared for him but later on got used to the experience in which he learned the principles of the knighthood which instills in the person good ethics, courage, patience and honesty.
He said during the second stage he was able to win four championships consecutively, something which qualified him to enroll to the third stage to become a professional equestrian. But during this advanced stage, instead of training on the club's horses in the previous stages, he had to ride special horses.
He said his uncle assisted his father to buy for him a horse which is now being made ready for him to participate in advanced contests after sitting for this year's Sudan Secondary School examination.
The young horseman said, after winning a championship equestrian and Presidential Assistant Abdul Rahman al-Mahdi offered him a cap and a neck-tie as a present as an incentive and promised to equip his new horse a saddle, reins, other accessories and a costume.
Young equestrian Hassan concurs that the Sudan has advanced in horsemanship but is lacking in publicity and, with a little attention, it can win major international contests.