Misrata – A trainer walks a mare around a grassy pen under the gaze of potential buyers from across Libya, where passion for horses is undimmed despite years of violence.
The three-day auction in the Mediterranean city of Misrata found homes for 96 of some 150 horses on sale.
And despite years of conflict and division since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, breeders and buyers from across Libya were able to attend.
“There were horses from the west, the east and the south — from every city in the country,” said Hussein Shaka, one of the organisers.
Equestrianism has a prominent place in Libya as in other parts of the Arab world, with weekly horse races as well as shows and parades.
Libyan horse-lovers have managed to keep their traditions alive, including the crafts of making saddles and tack — and breeding pedigree chargers.
“I present you with Labaris,” the auctioneer said enthusiastically, as a carefully groomed brown stallion was led around the show pen by a handler in a white T-shirt.
Prospective buyers in the all-male audience held up numbered wooden plaques to place their bids.
The highest price of $8,000 went to an off-white mare who, according to the auctioneer, “has run in 21 races in France, taking first, second and third places”.
Dozens of buyers sat on white plastic chairs around the sun-drenched show pen as the auctioneer extolled the virtues of the beasts on show from a small stage.
The auction was in Misrata, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Tripoli and hometown of both interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah and his rival Fathi Bashagha, who heads an administration currently based further east in Sirte.
The first day was devoted to ponies and foals, the second to mares and the last to stallions, said Shakan, who wore a traditional black embroidered vest and a white cap.
The auction’s catalogue included both English pedigrees and pure-breed Arabians, famous for their beauty, speed and stamina.
“Auctions should be encouraged in Libya to improve European horse breeds as well as local breeding,” said breeder Ali al-Himaidi.