By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – On a tree-lined, unpaved road in Somalia’s capital, people duck out of their homes to stare in awe at an unusual sight: two young men atop white horses, racing neck and neck, in training for what would be the city’s first horse races in decades.
Slowly improving security has fuelled demand for sports and leisure activities – and horse-riding has proved a hit.
Watching the training, mother of five Abshira Mohamed said she was happy to see an activity that inspired young people and entertained parents like her.
Yahye Isse, 29, established his stable to offer riding lessons to the public and to eventually host competitions in Mogadishu between riders from the city and from the country’s semi-autonomous regions.
The capital is still frequently hit by deadly suicide bombings by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which aims to topple the central government. The stable is a bet that instability will not worsen, said Isse.
“Horse races are meant for peaceful areas, not war zones,” said Isse. “Children and the elderly love to see horses, they have a beauty that attracts people.”
During the era of military dictator Siad Barre, who was toppled in 1991, only police were taught horseback riding. But the new stable, which operates out of the Mogadishu stadium and is home to 14 horses, has attracted dozens of young Somalis who have signed up for lessons and dream of racing in international competitions one day.
More than 30 students have completed a six-month riding course at his stable, and Isse has eight full-time students currently enrolled, each paying $100 per month. Isse and his three fellow trainers do not earn a salary, he said, and he funds his school through his car hiring and land leasing business.
He said he hoped the government would provide support to grow the stable and develop the sport further in the country.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)