When Khaled Al-Afrangi started his Palestine Equestrian Club, he probably never envisioned flying his students to Europe. Years back, international cooperation would have seemed far off.
Yet, today, as he and a team of his riders fly back home from Crete in Greece, he must recall those early days.
Crete island is not known for its equestrian myths. It is, however, the birthplace of western civilization, a harmonious blend of western and eastern cultures spread thinly across a stunning landscape. The land once known as Keftiu by the ancient world was the most critical trading hub when the Minoans were the world’s first thalassocracy at the dawn of civilizations. It makes an ideal backdrop for the story you are reading. The world still trades and inspires on horseback.
Greece’s biggest island is still a mysterious crossroads of tradition and culture. The land that saw peace for over a thousand years during the Bronze Age is still a welcoming portal that connects ideas, dreams, and potential.
Somehow, the horseman and mentor (murshid) Khaled Al-Afrangi knew this before bringing a team of his best students to Europe for the first time.
And something he told me last week echoes in my mind like a golden bell. “I am looking for a home away from home for me, my school, and my students,” he said. Home – a Crete home.
There it is again, the subtle chiming of the glowing bell.
The Palestine Equestrian Club Knights were exuberant and excited when they arrived at the Crete Riding Academy outside the island’s capital of Heraklion earlier this month. Al-Afrangi had been searching for the right place for his club’s first trip abroad when he came across Marianna Grammatakiki’s equestrian school at Karteros. According to the Palestinian equestrian, the Crete school’s social media prowess and professionalism rang out over many others across Europe. This was his answer to the “why Crete” question, though I believe other forces were at work.
In any event, Crete is world-renowned for its hospitality and beauty. And the fact that Grammatikaki is sending the first Greeks ever to compete in Para-dressage at the FEI World
Equestrian Games in Denmark next month has not gone unnoticed in the horse and rider world. Greece does not yet have a team in this discipline. So, can a pair of Paralympic hopefuls from remote Crete lead the way with their good example? And importantly, will the Palestinian riders continue the international competitive trail toward excellence?
I am sure Michalis Kalarakis and Dimitra-Eleni Pantechaki are perfect archetypes who can lead other para-athletes onto the world stage. The riding academy they’ve trained at since early childhood is an ideal conduit for equestrian sport’s catalytic energy. So, when I saw Palestinian equestrians Siri Al-Saba and Farid Qawasimi winning 1st and 3rd place at the jumping competition the other day, I imagined them at international jumping competitions. And the sport itself is expanded geometrically by dreams like those of Grammatiki and Al-Afrangi.
The Greek riders began their equestrian journey years ago via something known as “horse therapy,” or Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), under the direction of Grammatakiki. Talking with Al-Afrangi last week, we learned of his similar program and the extended goal of helping many disabled or in-need people. I suspect this was another reason the Palestinian coach decided on Crete Riding Academy, but his team’s training regime did not permit further discussion.
Ultimately, The Palestine Equestrian Club Knights and Grammatikaki’s equestrians participated in a friendly competition at Karteros. And I must say, after watching the Palestinian riders perform, everyone in attendance was impressed by their skill in every age group. Their collaboration and good sportsmanship with their Greek colleagues is a great story, an excellent example of what’s good in our world. But there’s a more significant epoch at hand—that golden bell, chiming, chiming.
Gateways to cooperation and peace. How can anyone ignore how sorely the world needs cooperation and goodwill? A man from Palestine who burns to show young Palestinians the wide world of possibility, how potent is this? No one reading this story will know how an invisible golden chord connects Crete and Palestine.
We don’t often speak of fate these days, but if we consider that Crete (Caphtor, Keftiu) and ancient Palestine were inextricably linked before 1,500 BC socially, technologically, and even genetically, should we fail to consider unseen forces? (See Origin of Palestinians) Even if sports, culture, and politics in the modern age are wholly independent, does this make natural corridors for cooperation any less vital?
Am I too ambitious in attempting to link equestrian sports stories, world history, and global peace? Or, as once said, am I compelled to do so? To obtain ultimate peace in this world, we must dive deep within the soul of humanity. And like the immortal Greek Alexander, understand and embrace our collective dreams and culture. Our children, we must think of these children riding together here on Crete. If these horse people can show us we are brothers and sisters, the true spirit of the Olympics is burning bright today. I leave you with a favorite quote, something chiming and chiming in my mind all day today: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” ― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet