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Equestrian dressage, a cherished cultural heritage in Desdunes


“Alongside the contradance and tire-baton, it is a precious heritage that history has entrusted us,” explains a trainer and rider from Desdunes

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The knowing glances of the man and the horse meet one last time.

« Come on! One-two, one-two,” resounds the voice of the trainer seated on the back of the muscular beast, whose coat shines in the rising sun.

A cloud of dust follows the rhythm of the sweating animal’s hooves as it executes.

This dressage sequence took place in May in Desdunes, in the Artibonite region, on a shrub-lined field.

For Franck Zamor, houngan and horse trainer, this equestrian tradition dates back to the 19th century in Desdunes.

Maintaining it, for the Desdunian trainers and riders contacted by AyiboPost, is a way of honoring the memory of their grandparents, but also of earning money and taking care of their families.

“Alongside the contradance and the tire-baton, it is a precious heritage that history has entrusted us,” testifies Zamor, 56, also the owner of the oldest equestrian club still active in the commune: “Kavalye Ansanm Ki Vle.”

Franck Zamor, president of “Kavalye Ansanm Ki Vle,” the oldest equestrian club in the town of Desdunes, gives directions to his riders during a funeral parade in the town.

Created in 1958 by his father, this club, with a dozen members, proudly carries the banner throughout the country.

“Not all Desdunians are interested in joining a club,” emphasizes Zamor.

“However, he continues, many consider it essential to have their horses trained, which they use for entertainment purposes or to delight their guests.”

At the Kavalye Ansanm Ki Vle club, training a horse costs between 15,000 and 20,000 gourdes.

The carnival parade, the funeral ceremony, the parades during historical celebrations, as well as their participation in festivals such as Carifesta in 2015, are some of the activities where they’ve set themselves apart.

Horse dressage parade in Desdunes during a festive event in the town. | © RJAD

“It was my grandfather who taught me dressage. I found it was important to him, so I kept going,” explains Annys Marc, 60, a rider and farmer.

“I enjoy riding a horse, and having the impression that I can communicate with the animal makes it interesting,” Marc emphasizes.

For this man, certain trained horses are inhabited by protective spirits.

It was my grandfather who taught me dressage. I found it was important to him, so I kept going.

Annys Marc, 60-years-old

Berg-Henson, 18-years-old, took up this activity because he was inspired to do so by his older cousin.

For two years, the young man’s time has been divided between his studies and his keen interest in horses.

An interest that politicians and other illustrious personalities seem to share with the Desdunians.

According to Franck Zamor, presidents Antoine Simon, Nord Alexis, and René Préval got into the habit of summoning the skill of horses and the talent of Desdunian riders to make long journeys or to liven up electoral campaigns.

Dressage requires the knowledge passed down from grandparents, but also an assortment of tools such as ropes, horse saddles, and packsaddles.

“A horse is suitable for dressage as of its second year,” explains Zamor.

Rigaud Farot, a horse trainer in Desdunes, proudly poses with his horse.

Depending on the animal, the process can last three months or more.

Younger animals master movements more quickly than their counterparts.

To save time, the owner of “Kavalye Ansanm Ki Vle” relies on his extensive experience to anticipate the animal’s learning pace.

“I know how to read a horse’s footsteps,” he says.

According to Zamor’s categorization, there is the « djong, » the « trois cas, » and the natural horse.

They all have different training dispositions.

There are three stages of dressage […].

The most important being the first, during which the animal is tested and prepared for the rest of the process.

Similar activities take place in other towns in the country such as Fonds-des-nègres and Petit-Goâve.

The second is the movement learning phase, which can include dances or particular step sequences.

Lastly, comes the final phase […].

Following the latter [phase], the horse executes the learned movements alone, once in situation.

Unlike ordinary horses, those who have followed this process have a special lifestyle.

The rest of their existence takes place between the stable and the shows.

Some, considered full members of their masters’ family, are buried with care at the end of their lives.

Desdunes is not the only place in Haiti with this equestrian practice.

Similar activities take place in other towns in the country such as Fonds-des-nègres and Petit-Goâve.

Read also: Photos | Bullfighting, a popular and profitable tradition in Léogane

Alongside these equestrian traditions anchored in local culture, there is Olympic equestrianism in Haiti, managed by the Haitian Equestrian Federation since 1999.

In 2015, a municipal development plan listed dressage as an element to be valued in Desdunes’ local cultural heritage. According to this plan, Desdunes and its 2,000 horses could attract tourists.

The results did not live up to expectations, according to three horse trainers and riders who spoke to AyiboPost.

Mayor Fanord Pierre claims to be making certain efforts, but nevertheless admits that the municipal administration does not have sufficient resources to put in place infrastructure aimed at preserving and promoting this cultural heritage.

Riders parade in Desdunes during a festive activity in the town. | © RJAD

The security situation in the Artibonite, the disinterest of younger generations, livestock theft, and the increasingly excessive consumption of horse meat frighten Franck Zamor and his team with regard to the preservation of this tradition.

Read also: Michel Chancy looks to Lèt Agogo to feed Haiti

The man says he has already lost at least two of his animals, stolen from his stable.

In recent years, the Saint-Pierre patronal festival has been the last great safeguard for horse riding in the region.

In June, it attracts visitors from all walks of life, who come to watch the parades where men in uniform perform breathtaking performances with their horses.

“I would like this to continue to exist over time, but I am very worried,” Zamor confides to AyiboPost.

Par Wethzer Piercin

Cover image :Riders parade in Desdunes during a festive activity in the town. | © RJAD

Watch this AyiboPost report published December 2021 on the practice of “stick pull” in Haiti which is a form of Haitian martial art:

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Wethzer Piercin est passionné de journalisme et d'écriture. Il aime tout ce qui est communication numérique. Amoureux de la radio et photographe, il aime explorer les subtilités du monde qui l'entoure.