Morocco’s tradition of using horses dates back to at least the 8th century, when the first records of the North African Barb horse was found. As a result of this long history, the government has identified the equine industry as a key pillar for development. In 2003 the Royal Equestrian Society (Société Royale d’Encouragement du Cheval, SOREC), was created, which is responsible for managing the industry and driving its growth and development.
In 2010 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests, in collaboration with SOREC, launched a 10-year strategy focused on promoting the equine industry. The plan has three main objectives: expanding horse racing in Morocco; developing new uses for horses; and promoting the Barb horse breed.
Horse racing is on the rise – the country now boasts seven horse racing tracks. Between 2011 and 2017, 650 additional horse racing competitions were organised, representing an overall increase of 37%. The number of horses participating also rose by 31% between 2011 and 2016. Additionally, in 2018 Morocco hosted more than 2400 races, in which more than 3000 horses participated. This growth can be attributed to improved infrastructure, the professionalisation of breeding and training, and international exposure.
The need to develop new uses for horses stemmed from the fact that traditionally horses were used as a means of transportation, particularly in rural areas of the country. However, this is no longer a requirement thanks to the establishment of train networks, the increase in motor vehicle use and the expansion of roads. Consequently, diversifying horse uses is necessary in order for the industry to grow.
The country’s climate outside of the Sahara desert makes it an ideal location for keeping horses. Additionally, horse births have been increasing every year. Between 2011 and 2017 birth rates for the five main breeds of horses rose by 37%, for 4000 additional horse births per year over this period.
“Equestrian tourism, equitheraphy, endurance riding, horse schools for children as well as the Tbourida should all be promoted in the country,”
Omar Skalli, director-general of SOREC, told OBG.
The Tbourida, also known as Fantasia, is a traditional equestrian display combining art and sport, which dates back to the 15th century and could be considered the Moroccan equivalent of a rodeo. Some 6500 horses participate annually in national Tbourida competitions organised by SOREC and the Royal Moroccan Federation for Equestrian Sports, attracting more than 60,000 spectators. Notably, in 2017 around 80% of the horses participating were Barbs, a considerable increase on 51% in 2015.
The promotion of the Barb horse breed has progressed in recent years. In 2017 a national centre for embryo transfer was established in Meknes, where the best examples of the breed can be artificially inseminated. Between 2011 and 2017 the number of Barb horses has doubled, showing the success of the programme in safeguarding the breed.
The strategy to promote the segment has already seen positive results. In 2010 equine industries represented 0.5% of the country’s GDP, whereas in 2015 they represented more than 0.6%. Therefore, the segment is growing at a faster rate than the national GDP. More than 30,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in the equine segment. This is set to increase in the coming years as new jobs are created as a result of the growth of horse racing competitions, the establishment of the new jockey school and the diversification of horse uses.
Although the 2010-20 strategy has fostered growth, more can be done to boost the segment by professionalising it and improving its structure to attract investment and tourism, and create new jobs.