The View from Fez team arrived in Tissa in the early morning. Festivities and competition was not due to start until around 9.30 am, so we spent time chatting with locals and checking out the magnificent horses as they were prepared for the big event - the Fantasia.
|Photo: Sandy McCutcheon|
In the hours before the competition began, the contestants and their mounts were extremely busy. Every last detail of equipment was checked, saddles made ready and the rifles, that play such a dramatic part in the event, were loaded and discharged.
There was also a fair bit of horse-trading, with good horses selling for between 4000 and 9000 Euro.
The care with which the horses and equipment were treated was also extended to the riders, with barbers tents set up and offering haircuts and shaves.
After grooming the horses, the various teams assembled and spent the last half hour before competition, polishing and dusting every surface on the equipment and their own outfit. Then it was into the arena for a drill session. This was mostly about formation riding and not firing their rifles.
The Tissa Horse Festival re-lives Morocco's rich and often war-like history. It's still extremely daunting to see a line of warriors dressed in white charging straight towards you on their spirited Arab stallions. Stopping within centimetres of the wooden fence at the finish, they fire muzzle loaded rifles in a deafening volley. On occasion a horse can't be restrained and breaks through.
While the Tissa Horse Festival is held in honour of a local patron saint, a fifteenth century Holy man, called Sidi Muhammad ben Lahcen, the displays of skilled horsemanship are primarily about speed, team work, discipline and manoeuvrability.
Teams are judged by officials who watch from in front and on both sides. The criteria involved includes the neatness of the formation as it charges, the ability to charge right up to the fence at the end of the field and the discharging of the rifles in unison. It was an extraordinary event that thrilled the more than four thousand spectators.
There is no doubting the skills involved in this "sport" - and no way of avoiding the fact that is also dangerous. There were several minor spills, cuts and bruises during the morning events, but, thankfully, only one serious incident in which a horse fell and crushed the rider beneath him. What was so impressive was the speed in which first aid was available. It was no more than five seconds after the accident before the ambulance officer sprinted assist. The injured man was transported to hospital and his condition was not serious.
By the middle of the day, the competition was over and the teams paraded in front of the official tents. It was good news for the local team, who took out the first prize, closely followed by the horsemen of Fez.
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Photographs by Suzanna Clarke and Sandy McCutcheon
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