- Title: IVORY COAST: Band of brothers make a living from their love of horses
- Date: 17th September 2010
- Summary: JOCKEYS AND SPECTATORS AT THE END OF THE HORSE RACING EVENT
- Embargoed: 2nd October 2010 13:00
- Topics: Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVAEKIOBWOPXLDI0IZZYH6Y5GV7Z
- Story Text: Football may be by far Ivory Coast's most popular sport. But these acrobatic riders are showing their compatriots that there is more to sport than football. In downtown Abidjan the Lonfo brothers have gained a reputation for their prowess at the little known equestrian sport of voltige.
Voltige is gymnastics and acrobatics on horseback, and while it is now a recognized international equestrian sport, these three young men mainly perform at events to make a living, and also do it to encourage other young people to learn horse back riding.
Adama Lonfo is the eldest of the three Lonfo brothers and says that their aim is to promote equestrian sport in Ivory Coast. "We want the sport to become like football and with God's help; the new generation of the Lonfos will help us to achieve our objective," said Adama.
When their father died last year, Adama and his two brothers continued their family's horse breeding and training tradition.
With little formal education, the brothers have become experts in training and caring for horses. 36-year-old Ibrahim Lonfo specialises in teaching and communicating with the horses.
"He (my father) could tell his favourite horse to walk into the water and the horse would obey him, because they understood each other very well. I tried to copy my father and he helped me out," said Ibrahim.
Small statured Lamin is the family jockey, and also helps his brother teach horse back riding. He has won numerous trophies and frequently takes part in local races.
"In 1998 I won the street people's 1st prize in Grand Bassam. We took all the three prizes, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I got this one with my horse Chasseur," said Lamin.
The Lonfos live with 12 other family members who all help to run the informal equerry, set up in 1968, beside a lagoon. They now have about 36 horses, brought from as far as Burkina Faso and Niger.
Burkina Faso is famous for its horse-rearing tradition and introduced breeding and racing horses to its neighbours.
About 20 students from the neighbourhood attend the horse-riding school at no fee, but are required to help the brothers take care of the horses. Many young boys here now dream of working with horses.
"In the future, I would like to run my own equerry and do even better than the Lonfo brothers," said Issa Zougrana, one of the learners.
Horse riding is an expensive sport. The Lonfo brothers have been able to support their passion through their performances and also by selling some of their horses.
They would like more public race courses to be constructed in order to boost the quality of the country's equestrian sports.
Three of the most prestigious and privately-owned racecourses and horse academies in the country lies just on the on the outskirts of Abidjan.
. The school is run by Sophie Didier Laurent, who also from time to time, buys horses from the Lonfo family.
"The Lonfo brothers want to be performing artists. They are interested in doing things such as gymnastics on horse back. It's clear that had they been in Europe, they would have quickly become performers because they are well balanced, supple and have good muscles for itâ€¦" said Laurent.
Laurent opened the academy early this year to teach young riders who seek to turn professional.
Laurent's academy specializes in traditional equestrian sports such as dressage, jumping and steeplechase - all international disciplines that require long hours of training and proper equipment such as horse saddles and uniforms.
What they lack in skill and equipment, Ivorians make up in enthusiasm. Races such as this one organized by Ivory Coast's riding federation in the town of Grand-Bassam pull in huge crowds of local spectators. This year, two different races were organized with young riders and well known amateur jockeys participating. Lamin Lonfo took part in the amateur jockey's race.
"The objective is to have proper race courses in proper jackets like real horsemen who can also climb a horse like professional jockeys, because we want to get there, and we have the means to do it. Ivory Coast is a big country but unfortunately, it lies behind in terms of riding. We have to catch up," said Ismael Doukoure, president of Ivory Coast's riding federation.
But despite Lamin's best efforts, it was local rider Seydou Traore who won the race. At first Lamin was very disspaointed but very soon set his sights on the future. Lamin said that his next objective is to join France's prestigious race course of Vincennes.
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