Maher had clear ideas on what was holding back the sport in Tunisia and how these obstacles could be surmounted.
With Tunisia itself undergoing a significant political shift in 2011, the FTSE shed its previous designation as a military federation to become one overseen by the Ministry of Sport, giving it a wider scope for self-governance and the implementation of its own strategic plan.
FTSE has since overseen a near-complete revamp of the processes that govern it and the way it structures the sport.
“Before 2011, there weren’t any real objectives for the sport in Tunisia. No national training, no long-term perspective, but from the moment we focused our objectives on an international level and implemented a calendar, interest grew very rapidly,” says Berrachid.
“There’s been an entire dynamic created thanks to the trust that the people have in the Federation since 2011. The sport becomes more attractive, parents invest and allow their children to take part from a younger age, and clubs have more incentive to develop their offerings.”
The effect of these changes is perhaps most evident in Endurance competitions, which has seen some impressive results.
At the 2017 FEI World Championships for Young Riders & Juniors in Verona, Italy, Tunisia finished seventh in the overall rankings.
For a country with little interest in the sport six years prior, this was an incredible achievement – even more so when one takes into account that Tunisia was the highest ranked African country, beating established Endurance nations such as South Africa and Namibia, while also topping Germany, USA and hosts Italy.
Accompanying the team in Verona was Jean-Louis Leclerc, formerly French national team coach for 15 years, who now provides technical assistance to National Federations for FEI Solidarity.
Launched in 2011, the programme offers support in several key channels, including financial aid, consultancy services, and technical programmes; for Tunisia specifically, it targets developing equestrian sport in a sustainable manner.
In tandem with FTSE, Leclerc has put in place a clear strategy for competitions, giving instructions on the details of Endurance riding, such as target speeds and rest times, while including Tunisian national trainer Abdel Khafi in the process to ensure that his expertise is passed on. Leclerc’s position is not limited to pre-competition preparation, though, as he also regularly conducts a series of developmental courses for athletes, coaches, and officials alike.
“There’s a whole load of work for training and schooling the horse, whether that be in a class or on the ground itself,” Berrachid explains.
“There are group sessions where Mr Leclerc comes over to explain how to train the horse, how to feed it, how to properly prepare the horse for competition, and how to transport a horse from Tunisia to abroad. The objective is for there to be a transfer of knowledge, and the effects of this are clear.”
Further to the provision of coaches, FEI Solidarity also plays a key role in developing plans for a National Equestrian Centre in Tunisia.
Having recognised the need to advance Jumping, FTSE obtained nine hectares of land on which to build a national training centre, which will give the national team’s athletes the opportunity to practise in modern facilities. The demands of designing such a unique and ambitious facility, however, require a great deal of specialist knowledge.
“Today, in Tunisia, to evolve the sport, we want to have a ground that is safe for the horses,” says Berrachid. “We discussed this with FEI Solidarity and they agreed to support this project in providing consultancy services via an Expert in equestrian infrastructures. This Expert will develop a rigorous plan that focuses on the needs of the horses and athletes.
“The Expert will come to look at the quality of the ground, to advise us on the installation, on watering, on anything that could help us realise this project.”