Tablet Magazine; original photos: From ‘Stallions of Palestine,’ by Elise Coker, and courtesy Israel Story
Israel Story

Horsing Around

Cowgirls with oversize belt buckles and horse breeders fantasizing about producing world champions are not exactly what come to mind when you think of Israel. But today we take you into arenas, rings, and stables around the country to uncover a surprising subculture of equine enthusiasts.

November 17, 2020
Tablet Magazine; original photos: From ‘Stallions of Palestine,’ by Elise Coker, and courtesy Israel Story

Stray cats are everywhere in Israel, and nearly half a million dogs live among us. But in today’s episode we turn our attention to the little-known world of Israeli and Palestinian horses. Welcome to the vibrant community of locals who spend most of their time talking, dreaming, and breathing colts, fillies, mares, and stallions. From “Straight Egyptian” breeders to “Extreme Cowboy” champions, these are the folks who have managed to find an alternative path to coexistence in the Middle East.

In the prologue, “Giddy-Up,” Mishy Harman, Clara Fuhg and Michael Vivier drive up north to Vered HaGalil, a remote dude ranch on a gorgeous hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There, they speak to head trainer Danielle Deknuydt, as she prepares to defend her title as Israel’s “Extreme Cowboy” champ. The only twist? In a country that just emerged from lockdown No. 2, this year’s competition will be entirely virtual.

In the episode’s main story, “Abdel Naser’s Colts,” documentary filmmaker Elise Coker and producer Joel Shupack introduce us to 22-year-old Abdel Naser Musleh, from Kafr ‘Aqab, near Ramallah. His dream, he unabashedly says, is to become the “best Arabian breeder in the world.” He is not there yet, but from the modest stables he and his father built on their property, Abdel Naser is now reaching for a not-so-modest goal. For two years, we follow him and his two baby colts—Kamel El-Awsaf and Mawal El-Nahar—as they gallop toward greatness. And amid all the ups and downs, the excitement and the heartbreak, we learn how horses can represent, at once, Arab pride, Palestinian national identity, and a hope for a peaceful future. This story is based on Elise’s documentary film, Stallions of Palestine, from Topic Films.

Joel Shupack scored and sound-designed the episode with music by Blue Dot Sessions and William Ryan Fritch. Sela Waisblum created the mix. The end song is Zehava Ben’s cover version of Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Sawah.”

Listen to the episode here, or download it from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.

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