Galloping across the shimmering red sands of Jordan’s spectacular Wadi Rum valley, more than one hundred riders on horses swept through the lunar-like desert as part of an epic long-distance race.
The 200km five-day long “Gallops” race, involving mainly amateur jockeys, started in Wadi Rum and ended on Friday in the famed ancient desert city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Quazane, an amateur French team comprised of five women medics, took second place, beating the all-male Royal Cavalry of Oman into third spot.
The race was won by another French team, Blue Ghallah, made up of three women and two men.
The cross-country team event, which organisers billed as an “orienteering and endurance equestrian race” across “sparse desert terrains, canyons and mountains”, has previously taken place in India, Morocco and Oman.
“It is a great experience that allows us to discover a new country,” said 27-year-old Camille Cerf, a model who won Miss France six years ago.
Organisers say the race draws not only on horse-riding skills, but also competitors’ “stamina, their spirit of solidarity, as well as their self-discipline”.
Riders included Emeline Parmentier, a 26-year-old Belgian who lost both her legs from above the knee in a car crash in 2019, and who took part using a specially fitted saddle.
“After the accident, I said to myself: Well I can’t walk anymore, and if I don’t walk I won’t discover new things – now riding horses is like walking again,” she said.
Boost to tourism
Other riders included Princess Jalila bint Ali, from Jordan’s royal family.
The race in Jordan brought together riders from across Europe, and as far as Argentia, the US, Indonesia and Japan.
“We have 133 riders from 16 countries,” race organiser Badi Kabir said. All the horses come from Jordan.
Looking around at the majestic dunes and stunning rock formations of Wadi Rum – where Peter O’Toole was filmed riding his horse in the 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” – Parmentier said the landscapes she rode through were “amazing”.
The race finished in front of the famous rock-carved Treasury at Petra, where scenes from the 1989 Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shot.
“I think all the photos we can take will never describe a quarter of what we see here,” Parmentier said.
The Covid-19 pandemic badly dented Jordan’s tourism industry, which represented over a tenth of its GDP.
The race had been postponed due to coronavirus travel restrictions, and the fact it finally went ahead was seen by tour guide Mohamed Saleem as early evidence of a recovering tourism sector.
“Everyone here is happy,” he said. “The pandemic affected us a lot, and we lost our income . . . I hope that such races will attract the attention of tourists and bring them back.”