Photos: Syria’s Arabian thoroughbred beauties plod to recovery

Photos: Syria’s Arabian thoroughbred beauties plod to recovery

During the war, an alleged Israeli strike hit Dimas, traumatising pregnant mares, for example. “For a year afterwards, foals were born paralysed or dead because their mother had been so terrified,” Ghazal said. In 2016, a horse was so shocked by a blast that, within hours, he had killed himself. “He banged his head against metal until he died.” (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Arabian mares are often seen as more precious than their male counterparts, as they carry the bloodline from one generation to the next. Once Karen has regained her health, her carers hope to artificially inseminate her so that she can give birth to a daughter. Ideally, a Syrian purebred should father that female foal — but he does not need to come from the same strain. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

A shadow of her former self after years of war, 11-year-old Arabian mare Karen stood quietly as a Syrian vet gently pushed a syringe into her pale grey neck. “Karen used to be the beauty queen of all horses,” said the vet, Ahmad Sharida. But inside her stable near Damascus today, weak and withdrawn, her hips jut out viciously from her overgrown speckled coat. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

After almost eight years of war, she is one of dozens of Arabian horses recovering from trauma. Arabian purebreds are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. In Syria, Bedouins have bred them in the north for centuries, seeking to maintain pure local bloodlines. Before the conflict, Sharida had proudly watched Karen grow from a long-legged foal into a graceful equine beauty. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Sharida even remembers delivering Karen. But he lost sight of her after she was stolen from her stable in Eastern Ghouta in 2012, the same year rebels overran the region. Sharida had long fled his home region but returned to search for missing Arabian horses and immediately recognised Karen. “I was so shocked,” he said. “She was all skin and bones, and could barely stand up.” (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Like all other horses Sharida found, Karen was frail and sick after years of being surrounded by fighting, not enough food, and no medical attention. “Horses have greatly suffered, just like us all,” said Mohammed Ghaith al-Shaib, head of the state’s Arabian Horse Office. “They’ve also been displaced, kidnapped and killed.” (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Of the 8,500 horses that Syria registered with the World Arabian Horse Organization (WAHO) in 2011, it has lost 3,000. Damascus authorities are now trying to protect the country’s Arabian purebreds. Since 2014, WAHO has recognised 2,400 new Syrian foals as Arabian. Horses rescued from retaken areas are being looked after at a state-run stables west of Damascus. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

At the stables in Dimas, staff are paying special attention to Karen’s recovery. She hails from the Hadbaa strain of Arabian purebreds, called so because of their long eyelashes and mane. “The Hadbaa Enzahi Fawaeira were already at risk of dying out before the war,” said Shaib. But “today, it’s only Karen.” (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Karen is just one of many Arabian horses all over Syria recovering from conflict. In the adjacent hippodrome, trainer Jihad Ghazal (R) watched a student trot around on a horse with a shiny brown coat. Nejm — “star” in Arabic — spent the war in Damascus, a city which has remained relatively sheltered. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

Najm was one of the luckier ones, said Ghazal, who is full of anecdotes about the suffering of her kind. “Horses are very sensitive, and the sounds they hear greatly affect them,” the 40 year-old said. (Louai Beshara / AFP)

about the gallerySyria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. And it has taken a toll on the country’s equine population too. Prized for their beauty, endurance and speed, Arabian purebreds are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Of the 8,500 horses Syria registered with the World Arabian Horse Organisation (WAHO) in 2011, it has lost 3,000 in the war.


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