Every Tunisian a horseman
Every Tunisian a horseman
Trad Ben Gobrane has launched a movement for the revalorization of the traditional Tunisian horse-related professions. For a simple idea to turn into a concrete project took great perseverance.
“I was born between the hooves of a horse!“, Trad Ben Gobrane explains earnestly when we meet him and his colleague Mohamed Ben Jemaa. “I come from a family of farmers, where the profession was passed on to the next generation for three centuries. My father and mother were both horseback riders and my grandfather was one of the founders of the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries (Union tunisienne de l'agriculture et de la pêche-UTAP), which is the sector’s employers association, “ he adds.
Rescueing traditional cavalry
There was nothing surprising in the fact, then, that Trad Ben Gobrane studied agricultural engineering before joining the UTAP in 1988, which he served as General Secretary between 1999 and 2002. He was also a special adviser to the UTAP President until 2005. Of course he had also learned to be a horseman and participated in several competitions and even races in the Gentleman category. In 2001, his father officially made him the patron of the family’s breeding business. The son has always had plenty of ideas that converge towards one major goal: uniting in one association all of Tunisia’s areas that revolve around the horse – that is to say, breeding, crafts, races and equestrian sport, culture and tourism.
“My dream was to enhance the value of everything the equine activity can offer to Tunisia. But the most urgent issue for me was to rescue traditional cavalry and its related professions, because I unfortunately had to notice that they were disappearing. If we had waited five more years, all of this heritage would have been lost! For example, there are currently only a very few people who master traditional cavalry and its related professions. We must capture this knowledge before it disappears. I want to save this ancestral tradition, enhance its value and create jobs,” he adds.
Obstacles and recognition
Trad Ben Gobrane spent many years making plans. However, it was only after the revolution of 14 January 2011 that he finally managed to create the Union syndicale interprofessionelle du cheval (USIC or Interprofessional Union of Horse Breeders) with Mohamed Ben Jemaa, Dali Mehrzi and other breeders in late 2012.
Yet the journey had only just begun because there were still many stakeholders to convince, including state entities. “We soon started to face obstacles of all kinds and we were able to convince only a few entities to support us. At the same time however, we were encouraged by many fellow citizens in the regions who immediately understood that the USIC brings new value to their heritage. We have discovered that a horseman slumbers in every Tunisian, and the recognition of these people is our main reward“, Ben Gobrane sums up.
The start of the Union was successful despite these obstacles. The USIC has focused on six Tunisian governorates with strong roots in cavalry. The group has already created employment for 20 to 25 young adults under 30, including three young women. They receive professional training. And USIC organizes a national tour of traditional riding.
Preserving knowledge and traditions
Ben Gobrane has had to recognize that, being so strongly focused on riding practice and breeding, the professional association cannot also take charge of the intangible aspects of horseriding in Tunisia. He has thus created the association Adiyat (literally: those who gallop) to establish relations with the UNESCO and the Tunisian Ministry of Culture. The association takes care of archiving and creating an inventory of cultural goods related to Tunisian horseriding. There were also efforts to identify persons able to associate a specific pageantry with a particular region, or to describe how arms or saddles are traditionally handled. “Each of the two entities is devoted to its specific domain, but they are linked in a partnership contract: USIC is devoted to the rider and the horse, Adiyat for the cultural legacy“, he specifies.
Behind this titanic work, Ben Gobrane is fortunately not alone at the controls. His colleague Mohamed Ben Jemaa, who has great management qualifications, is now president of the USIC association while Ben Gobrane is Secretary General and dedicated to field work. Ben Jemaa underlines the economic significance of the initiative: “ Ultimately, we want to become a reference not only with regard to our horses, but also in terms of skilled labor. Even at a world level there is great demand for these skills: the Sarraj (saddler), the tarraz (embroiderers), horse maintenance specialists, lads, grooms, endurance riders, assistants of endurance horses...” With a dreamy look, he confides his thoughts: He envisions the day when the world's largest producers of handmade saddles like Hermès will note the names of Tunisian craftsmen in their address books.