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وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
[Qur’an 16:8] And (He made) horses and mules and asses that you might ride upon them and as an ornament; and He creates what you do not know.
Horses in Qur’an and hadith
Horses have been mentioned in the Holy Quran as well as in many famous hadith.
In Surah A’diyat (Chapter 100) Allah (swt) mentions how ungrateful humankind can be by swearing by ‘the galloping, panting horses, striking sparks of fire with their hooves and stirring up clouds of dust when they move into battle’, which is incredible imagery.
Allah (swt) also mentions the desire that human beings have for lavish things in this world, including ‘finely branded horses’ (3:14). Chapter 16 states ‘He created the horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and for their beauty’ (16:8) and it is also well known that horse riding is among the recommended (sunnah) sports, alongside archery and swimming.
One of the most famous horses, of course, is Zuljanah, or Dhuljanah (meaning the ‘two-winged one’). He was the horse of Imam Husain (AS) and a gift from the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The bond between Imam Husain (AS) and his horse was so strong. During the Battle of Karbala, Zuljanah tried to defend the Imam by blocking attacks from the enemy, and it is reported that when the Imam was being wounded the sounds of his horse breathing heavily and snorting could be heard.
Spiritual benefits of horse riding
I believe that spending time in nature is a form of worship. Actively appreciating Allah (swt)’s creation and feeling a sense of awe at His manifestation is a defining part of the beauty of our faith. There are so many times in the Holy Quran where the everyday miracles of nature are mentioned, such as the rising of the sun, the control of the stars and the moon and the way that God gives and takes life in the earth, such as with seasons and crops. Horses are among these natural miracles that Allah (swt) has created.
In my opinion, looking at the form of a horse is one of the proofs of God’s existence. Is it possible that there could be a such a strong creature, that only eats grass, with a form so perfectly designed to fit a human body, so pleasing to the eye, and so readily responsive to our commands? If they wanted to, they could easily overpower a human; however, Allah (swt) has given them a disposition that allows them to form a connection and be trained for all sorts of riding disciplines.
There are so many animals in the world that are astounding creations, but none can be trained to be ridden in the way that a horse can. In fact, when done properly, horses love to be ridden and to have that connection with humans, they can enjoy it as much as we love to ride them. Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years and used all over the world for harvesting crops, travelling, moving goods, for their beauty and for their natural products.
This is also demonstrated by the dua that we commonly recite for travelling which was originally intended for the primary modalities of riding (mules, donkeys, horses) etc and it is a remarkable testament to the grace of God. The du’a is taken from the Surah Al-Zukhruf verse 13 (43:13) which says ‘Glory be to the one who has made this subservient to us, for we have no power to subjugate it, and to our Lord we shall return’. This demonstrates the divinity and sacredness that is present whenever we ride an animal that He has created, as Allah swt has placed that subservient nature in them as it would be impossible for us to try and control them by sheer strength alone.
For me, there is something special about traversing the earth in the same way that our Prophets used to travel and connecting with a creation of Allah (swt) that He has specifically designed for this purpose. The sensation of galloping through fields feeling at one with another living creature, are for me some of the best moments of my life.
Mental and physical benefits of horse riding
Undoubtedly, true riding is a challenging sport. Sitting on a horse while being led around with a rope does not constitute as proper horse riding. There are countless disciplines included within equestrian sport, including dressage, show-jumping and eventing for example, as well as lots of other opportunities such as polo or racing.
I feel that many of the benefits come from the state of presence and awareness that is required when riding. Whilst you are sat atop a tremendously strong creature, it is imperative to be fully aware of what is going on within them, as well as around you. This means noticing small cues, such as their movements or the position of their ears, the subtle feeling in the reins of how they are responding to you, as well as looking around for potential dangers and anticipating in the same way that you would when driving a car (except your car is alive and has feelings).
When effort is put in, as with any skill, confidence grows and this can lead to huge rewards in self esteem and physical ability. For me, there is always a feeling of anticipation every time I ride, and I think it would be foolish not to maintain that respect given the nature of the sport. However, there is a balance that is required, in that the horse should feel that you are confident and in control, and this is a feeling that can be learnt with time.
How can you get involved with horses?
There are so many ways to get involved, and you can reap so many benefits from just being around horses, not only riding.
My experience with horses started in childhood, after which I had a break during my teenage years and restarted during medical school. Initially, I started volunteering with the local Riding for the Disabled association, which was a great way to get back into being around horses. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who is looking to feel fulfilled, help people and also is a free way to learn more about horses.
After this, I restarted riding lessons at a local school. This is really easy to organise, just do a google search of local riding schools and call up to see if they have availability for beginner’s lessons. I would also recommend becoming a member of the British Horse Society if you do start lessons, as they provide insurance for riders.
Alhamdulillah, a great opportunity came to me when a friend’s aunt mentioned that they were looking for a horse share, and this is what really escalated my interest and passion. A horse share is when you ride a specific horse at a yard for a certain number of days a week. With Joy (the horse I shared), we had lots of lessons and competed regularly in dressage and learnt how to do some show-jumping. At the moment, because of Covid a lot of the competitions have been reduced, so I am also trying some new equestrian activities, such as polo and also looking to do more riding trips abroad. There are companies that offer intensive riding holiday packages too, but in my opinion I think it is better to get to a basic or foundational level of competency in riding at home first before attempting travel riding.
If you are interested in reading more about my experiences, please have a look at this interview with The Muslim News (https://muslimnews.co.uk/newspaper/interview/46928-2/) . I have also recently started a blog about my horse riding experiences, www.ethnicequestrian.com. Riding abroad is an important part of travelling for me and many of the places where the cultural heritage of our communities come from have a strong affiliation with horses.
Please feel free to contact me about your riding experiences, I would love to hear how our community feels about horses!
Disclaimer: This post reflects my own views and is not sponsored.