By Chaimae Boulifa
Rabat – The sight of a group of men wearing decorated uniforms, holding rifles, and riding adorned horses galloping in a straight line has for centuries been an ordinary aspect of Moroccan festivals and weddings. But, recently, women have emerged as passionate riders in the popular tradition.
This military-inspired artistic performance, known as “Fantasia” or “Teborida,” which was formerly dominated by men, always attracts eager spectators, who wait impatiently for the riders to start off and fire their guns all at once.
Even with the disturbance of dust and heat, the 22-year-old Afrae Benbih has managed to steal the limelight in the city of Sidi Kacem while practicing this breath-taking show.
“Riding a horse is an indescribable feeling,” she says.
Benbih told Morocco World News that her passion for horseback riding has been passed on in her family from one generation to another, with her father trained to ride horses by her grandfather. However, her own introduction to the equestrian practice was one of tough love.
“One day I decided to ride a horse myself while accompanying my family to a horse riding festival, so I got my father’s permission, who then told me that it would be the last time I ride a horse if I were to fall down,” noted Benbih.
“I ended up riding the horse successfully, and from that time I began participating in festivals only with men,” she explained.
In 2012, Benbih managed to form her own squadron, representing her city of birth, Sidi Kacem, under the name of the New Era Horsewomen Association for Teborida Arts.
“I set it up to receive subsidies, since getting support is essential to help provide insurance for the girls in case one of them falls down,” stated Benbih, noting that “in every festival there is the risk of falling off the horse or getting hurt by the gunpowder and the like.”
From the beginning, Benbih’s family has encouraged her to carry on practicing her beloved hobby and to never give up, even though it involves many struggles and risks.
“Praise be to God, my parents’ prayers are everything for me,” said Benbih.
The tradition has long been dominated by men, as comes out of military horseback riding, from which soldiers developed a close relationship with their horses. However, with the emergence of women like Benbih, Teborida norms are changing.
“In the past, men didn’t like the idea of women practicing Teborida, but, thanks to God, it’s not the case now,” Benbih’s mother told MWN “Men, today, help us in carrying horse tack and equipment as well as in preparing the horses, in addition to providing us with horses and rifles if we don’t have enough.”
“Men are definitely indispensable in this profession, as a girl can’t do everything on her own,” she added.
Teborida was historically inspired by wartime horseback combat maneuvers. However, it is nowadays considered a cultural exhibition, characterized by specific rituals.
“Before riding horses, we recite Alfatiha, and then we get on the horses and give a special salute. After finishing the salute, we break into a gallop before firing at the end using rifles,” stated Benbih.
Once the residents of Sidi Kacem know Benbih’s squadron is training outside, they rush out to watch the line of horseback riders as they gallop off in unison.
“They like it when we are here training once or twice a month, since the place lacks entertainment facilities,” told Benbih.
“It is an art and a sport that is good for health,” one Sidi Kacem resident told MWN. “We are grateful to them for their enormous efforts to give us such a spectacle, even if they sometimes embrace great danger.”
As squadron leader, Benbih wears a unique traditional dress that distinguishes her while giving instructions to other members.
However, the Fantasia remains a team event, and Benbih admitted that, even as the founder and the leader of the group, she can’t do anything on her own.
“Without my horsewomen, the squadron can’t exist,” she affirmed.