In the historic Roman city of Jerash in Northern Jordan, I was able to try one of the most unique equestrian experiences I could have ever imagined, riding in a horse drawn chariot- rather racing- as a part of RACE, Roman Army and Chariot Experience. It’s the NASCAR of over 2000 years ago, a fast, exhilarating Roman chariot reenactment race in the well-restored city of Jerash. If you go to participate, you’ll definitely want to bring a sense of adventure. I had mine and was still giddy as I raced around the hippodrome.
The RACE show is open to the public and features forty-five legionaries in full amour demonstrating drill and battle tactics, gladiator fights and Roman chariot races around the historic hippodrome. The show is kitschy and engaging, as the audience decides who gets sacrificed during each ?fight to the death,’ but also educational. The creators have tried to be historically accurate with the performers’ clothing and gear.
Ibrahim, one of the horse trainers who races these chariots himself, asked me to hop abroad for a few laps around the hippodrome after the performance. Ibrahim’s English was good, but not perfect, and I emphasized that I didn’t want to go too fast. The chariot felt a little rickety, maybe too light for me, as the wheels began to turn and we started off. I wasn’t sure if Ibrahim understood me or not as we began trotting and then cantering around the arena. As we picked up speed, I gripped the front of the chariot. We were going fast and Ibrahim definitely didn’t totally understand slow down. That or he wanted me to get the full picture of what the Romans felt as they raced.
It was fast and bumpy and those turns are not for the faint of heart! Hippodromes are not circular tracks, but ovular, meaning the two end turns are sharp and treacherous. The turns were the most exciting part of the race for spectators of old, as that’s where your biggest chance of having an accident or having our opponent sabotage your chariot occurred. I felt like we might topple over at any moment, as we shakily rounded one end, balancing as best we could. (You can hear and see the action in this short video clip from Jerash ) Even though I knew Ibrahim had done this countless times, I nervous and also exhilarated as we quickly took off down the straightaway. It was an intense ride and we weren’t even racing anyone else!
Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and the Equitrekking episodes on DVD and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations, including the Jordan equestrian vacations and tours, at EquitrekkingTravel.com. Follow Equitrekking on Facebook and @Equitrekking and @DarleyNewman on Twitter.