Horse Riding: A culture of toughness that has lost foothold in ‘changing Kashmir’

Every human civilization is known for its cultural traits. And horse-riding being one such culture seems to have lost its footholds in ‘changing’ Kashmir. Amid the mad race for cars and bikes, horse-riding must find its takers to promote healthy habits and sound lifestyle.

I was at a marriage function a few years back, in a village in Kupwara. Sitting inside the room and waiting for lunch to arrive amidst boring faces, I went out to have some fresh air and enjoy the scenic beauty outside.

In the market there, I could see a few Kashmiri kids; some singing Bollywood songs loudly, others roaming around aimlessly, a couple of kids involved in a fight because one of them had complained to the other’s father that his son, barely 8 years of age, smoked. And a few more were playing cricket at a distance.

In between, some kids of the Pahari brethren came downhill riding on horses. With dignity, they stopped at a shop, dismounted and loaded a bag of wheat. One of them slapped the horse to control it, holding the rein tightly.

They later raced away into the mountains through the streams. I could see a sense of responsibility in them. They could command, had developed confidence, unlike those kids playing cricket around.

One could find the roots of such frivolous games eons back, in the times of the iconic Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, one of the most influential persons in the history of the sub-continent, condemned by ultraconservatives and given the status of a prophet of enlightenment by liberals.

After the defeat of 1857 that lead the Muslims aping the west in every sphere blindly rather than looking deeply in the nature of the defeat as Ibn Khaldun had suggested, Sir Syed encouraged playing cricket—a game whose existence wreaks havoc with the spiritual, intellectual and physical development of our place when we are glued each day watching a 5 day test match.

It was perhaps the beginning of the undoing of what the great men preached and practised.

When Hazrat Ibrahim [A.S] went to meet his son in Makkah, Hazrat Ismael [A.S] was away for several days on his horse deep into the desert, hunting. At the time of his marriage with Hazrat Fatima [R.A], Hazrat Ali [R.A] had very few possessions, that included a horse. When Hazrat Hamza [R.A] came to know about the treatment of the Prophet (ﷺ) by his brother and went straight to smack him down, he was riding a horse, on his way back from hunting.

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It isn’t that bikes and cars have substituted horses as a means of travel. We would be very stupid to believe that. Mongols who conquered China and Russia and wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East would ride on a horse 100km a day and when they would feel hungry, they would stab it and drink the blood. Riding hundred kilometres a day would certainly make them strong men!

That was so when Imam Shamil would ride a horse he would get down from one side and climb up from the other side. One can trace this culture of toughness being upheld by the greats in the recent history too.

Omar Mukhtar was of course a teacher of the Holy Quran. Italians complimented him for having a deep eye on local geography of Libya. And you don’t get that by driving a car or walking two miles on foot!

You don’t develop strength as society by hitting a bowler six sixes in an over and having a Gulli Danda culture.

While Siraj ud Dualah would wake up at 12—drowned in seeking the pleasures of life, Lord Clive was up before dawn on his horse’s back.

Imagine the Sahaba before the advent of Islam getting deep into the desert full of wild animals. And when you do that, each day you would nail a virtue of bravery in you. Bravery is not the absence of fear but a constant process of developing the strength to overcome fear.

We’re unimaginably disconnected from the nature. The Holy Quran tells us to find the signs in the Afaaq. It’s with the observation and contemplation of nature that we get closer to Him.

Imam Ghazzali [R.A] in Ahya Ul Uloom calls this path as one of the ways to know God.

And seeing nature from your balcony, or the ground where you go for a morning walk, or looking outside when you’re driving to the office, or sitting at one place when we holiday, is a little part of the nature we see everyday.

Living in urban setups, we don’t know the grandeur of nature. We are just acquainted with a grain in a desert.

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Princeton University published a research in which patients suffering from mental illness showed signs of recovery when they sat in the lap of nature—walked under the blue skies, green trees, gushing streams, in fresh air.

When Rambo goes to Afghanistan, he doesn’t find them playing Gulli Danda and other Roman games, but the toughness of this culture was portrayed when all the horse riders struggled to get hold of the animal skin lying on the ground at a distance.

It’s in this culture you’re not loonies, but feel each others’ strength by rubbing shoulders together, heart throbbing with the sound of the hooves of horses. Verily the Holy Quran swears by the hooves of the horses.

In Kashmir, the bike riding or car driving by many teenagers has pushed many more into the rat race of taking loans for cars and bikes and crowding the roads. In a place where South Kashmiris don’t know North Kashmiris, except if they’re students at a university, friends at a workplace or victims lying on the hospital bed, this is sad.

In such a place, you don’t visit Gulmarg or Pahalgam on a horseback, but in a bus or a car twice a year.

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It would help to re-introduce horse-riding as entertainment which would give livelihood to local producers of horse shoes, stirrups reins and saddles.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in a Hadith talked about the productive entertainment, training your horse was one of them. No doubt, Ameer Ul Mumineen Umar Al-Khattab [R.A] would mount his horse by directly jumping on it.

It’s not just the horse-riding, but a ‘strong believer is better than a weak believer’ that the Prophet (ﷺ) wanted us to be. It’s essential that we weave a culture of toughness where games like swimming, mountaineering and wrestling occupy important places.


Junaid Ashraf is an economics scholar from Baramulla. 

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.


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