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Ancient traditions in Oman empower youth and nurture mental well-being

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As the sun sets over the dusty village roads of Oman, a palpable sense of anticipation fills the air. Villagers gather, immersed in animated conversations, while children perch on cars, eagerly awaiting a majestic spectacle.

Reinilda van Heuven Dernison, a Dutch neuro psychotherapist and cognitive behavioural therapist, is also a devoted photographer and advocate for mental well-being, who has made it her mission to capture these precious moments and embrace the rich cultural tapestry of Oman.

Residing in Oman for seven years, Reinilda finds inspiration in community work and her voluntary engagement with children with special needs, particularly through the joy and belonging fostered by horse riding.

During the Eid Al Fitr holidays, Reinilda ventured into rural villages, immersing herself with the local community.

Assisting the ‘Knights of Oman’ Equestrian School, led by Rashid bin Salim al Abrawi and his dedicated team, Reinilda organises events that bring the knowledge of horses and the Ardha tradition into schools.

Believing that ancient activities like camel racing and horse Ardha provide an exceptional platform for youth development, Reinilda envisions more than cultural preservation.

“They strengthen community bonds and instil vital personality skills such as risk-taking behaviour, friendship building, emotional regulation, grit, and perseverance,” she says.

During the vibrant Eid al Fitr celebrations, Reinilda accompanies Rashid and his team as they visit various wilayats, immersing themselves in cherished traditions alongside families and friends.

These experiences grant Reinilda a deeper understanding of ancient customs as she interviews passionate supporters gathered around the tracks, participating in the communal Ardha activity.

Reinilda firmly asserts that community-based activities, like horse Ardha, foster social connections and a profound sense of belonging.

Mohammed Al Rahbi, a young engineer, returns from abroad to support his brother in the race. For Mohammed and his family, horse riding is interwoven into the fabric of Omani society. The young riders chant local poems, adding an enchanting melody to their mesmerising performances.

On the second day of the festivities, the team attends a special Ardha event organised by the Bausher volunteer team, showcasing the skills of young male and female riders.

Enthusiastic audiences are captivated as the Knights Equestrian’s young riders demonstrate acrobatic feats, including standing on horses and even letting them sleep. Children delight in short rides and the opportunity to pet these majestic animals.

Yahya al Maskri, an oil and gas sector professional, attends the race in his hometown with his beautifully attired children on the third day of celebrations. Yahya emphasises the importance of passing down these traditions to future generations, as they foster a love for learning, reading, and character-building, shaping the path to a bright future.

Among the participants is Mohammed al Maskri, a manager at Oxy, who races alongside his 14-year-old son. Encouraged by his younger son, Mohammed revived the family’s horse-riding tradition, which had been temporarily halted due to busyness and expenses. Horse races originating from the stables of Barka to the interior keep these traditions alive.

Reinilda highlights the profound impact of participating in these ancient activities, as they develop essential mental health qualities such as establishing friendships, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and promoting resilience.

During the pandemic, she collaborated with senior therapists from the Ministry of Health, and The Royal Hospital to provide online mental health sessions for healthcare workers, underscoring the significance of community support for mental well-being.

Recognising the fading of risk-taking behaviour and playfulness in the modern age of technology, Reinilda firmly believes in cultivating ancient races and traditions as a buffer for improving mental health and enhancing important life skills.

With a steadfast commitment to preserving this invaluable cultural heritage, Reinilda envisions a brighter future for individuals and communities in Oman.


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