Morocco’s Ancient Equestrian Art of Tbourida

Three men dressed in white ride elaborately decorated horses participate in Tbourida

Tbourida, or “gunpowder game” in Arabic, is a reenactment of a centuries-old Moroccan equestrian technique used by Berber warriors and other North African armies to intimidate enemies.

It consists of a series of cavalry charges along a straight path performed by a troupe or “sorba” of 11 to 15 riders. At the end of the charge, the riders fire old muskets simultaneously, so that only one shot is heard.

The firing of guns was added in the 13th century with the introduction of gunpowder to the region. In addition to the speed of the charge, the troupe’s skill is measured by the synchronicity of the gunfire, both of which require a high degree of coordination and harmony between the horse and the rider.

Each October, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the east coast city of El-Jadida to experience this exhibition of horsemanship at the weeklong Moussem Moulay Abdellah Amghar festival.

Morocco’s most skilled teams compete in a national event in Rabat to win the prestigious Hassan II Trophy.

Although Tbourida, also known as Fantasia, has been dominated by men, there are now some troupes of women riders who also participate in the national sport. In 2004, the Fantasia festival allowed the participation of women for the first time in Morocco’s history.

While men dress in white linen robes, women can wear bright colors. The horses are also decorated elaborately, wearing elegant breast collars, saddles, and blankets that feature handmade embroidery.

The equestrian art form is part of many Moroccan weddings, festivals, as well as national and family celebrations.