GAZA (Reuters) – Wearing riding pants, logo-decorated shirts and helmets, Gaza horse-riders resumed local show-jumping competitions on Thursday as coronavirus restrictions were eased.
The Palestinian Equestrian Federation halted horse-riding classes and local contests in late February as a precaution against the spread of the pandemic – a blow to one of the few sports activities in the congested and impoverished enclave.
Horse riding became popular in Gaza over the past three years. The number of riders – including girls – has grown to 200, according to the federation. Around half of those were taking part on the two-day contest that began on Thursday.
Sami Zeyara, the federation’s assistant secretary-general, said the hiatus would force them to extend the season into early 2021.
“I am very happy to be back to competitions. Together with my horse, Diesel, we hope to come first,” said 12-year-old Hala al-Batrawi.
Contestants were divided in six categories. The most junior group included children under the age of 10, known to many as the “Smurfs.”
“I have worked hard to get back into shape, and I want to prove myself in this competition,” said Mohammad al-Sadi, 16, standing next to his horse Plutonium.
Sitting around tables separated by flower boxes in deference to social-distancing, spectators cheered when riders crossed the finishing line and applauded those who faltered or fell.
Gaza, which has been run by the Islamist Hamas group since 2007, has reported 72 coronavirus cases and one death.
Local soccer games will resume on Friday, with no spectators, according to the Palestinian Football Federation.
(This story corrects date in paragraph 9)
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)