A Palestinian equestrian club has chosen Crete, Greece as its first Europe excursion. The trip highlights Crete’s alternative tourism potential, which could create a paradigm shift. It is just the extended tourism season Greece needs.
By Phil Butler
Visiting Europe for the first time is a big deal for Khaled Al-Afrangi. It’s also a fantastic trip for the team of young equestrians he brought to Crete. His Palestine Equestrian Club trip is meaningful for several reasons. Not the least of these is Crete’s alternative tourism potential, which could create a paradigm shift. It is just the extended tourism season Greece needs.
I met with this extraordinary mentor and coach for a short interview last week. The short talk with Khaled told me everything I needed to know about this remarkable guy. The smiles and sincerity in the eyes of his students spoke volumes. Our discussion was brief, so I visited his club’s Facebook page to discover more about Khaled’s amazing riders, the program, and some of his accomplishments.
According to Khaled, “between the splendor of the morning and the elegance of horses, beauty is born.”
I was also curious as to how he learned about Marianna Grammatikaki’s Riding Academy of Crete and why he chose Greece as his first Europe excursion. Interestingly, fortuitously, he found the Karteros riding school via social media and was impressed by their level of competition and professionalism.
In our talk, his dedication and passion for teaching shined through. Khaled’s ambitions reminded me of things Grammatikaki told me about her goals. Ultimately, their similarity of purpose is thematic, the mindset of equestrians. However, more importantly, their cooperation serves as a model.
Here, in Greece, there’s a lot of movement toward extending the tourism season and establishing alternative tourism modes. So it’s a no-brainer that equestrian sport and Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) could be an added year-round value proposition for Crete.
More and more, travelers are being introduced to sustainable alternative tourism treasures like Crete’s varied and untamed landscape and the wealth of activities revolving around its nature. And the possibilities for sport are endless.
Grammatikaki is hosting the Palestine Equestrian Club, which will participate in a competition at the academy this week. As we’ve reported recently, the Crete school has riders debuting at the 2022 FEI World Equestrian Games in Denmark next month.
Para-dressage specialists Michalis Kalarakis and Dimitra Eleni Pantechaki are the first Greeks to compete at this level. These two athletes began their equestrian dream with so-called “horse therapy” when they were very young.
Palestinian equestrian: Not everyone who rides a horse is a knight
Scanning Khaled’s Facebook also revealed many photographic and philosophical gems. Clicking through them reminds me of why I started my son Paul on his horseback journey some months ago.
His teacher, Anna Diakonova, told me recently, “Paul has what it takes.” A note from Khaled’s club’s page helps me better understand what she meant:
“Not everyone who rides a horse is a fantasy, and not everyone is a knight. Imagination is the one who rides a horse, but the knight is the one who knows what it means to be on his back. It is chivalry, and this is not just the gallantry, but chivalry, originality, and all the merits that chivalry embodies.”
Later this coming week, we’ll be at the riding event above. I hope I’ll have another opportunity to quiz Khaled Al-Afrangi, plus perhaps one or two of his students, about their impressions of Europe so far.
For me, it seems noteworthy that a world-class trainer whose academy is just outside the small Palestinian village of Qalandiya delivered what matters most to him to these ancient shores of Crete.
What a fantastic world, what a magnificent island, and how thrilling is the country we live in?