The global equestrian community is mourning the deaths of a father and son who were killed when a white supremacist gunned down 50 people worshipping at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday.
Khalid Mustafa, 44, was a farrier and horse trainer and had quickly become a beloved member of the equine community near Christchurch. His son Hamza, who celebrated his 16th birthday two days before he was murdered, was a student at Cashmere High School in Christchurch and planned to become a veterinarian so that he could work with horses like his father.
The Mustafa family had fled war-torn Syria and spent two years in Jordan before they chose to settle in New Zealand, which they were told was one of the safest countries in the world. A refugee resettlement program had arranged for Khalid to work with local farrier Gareth Griffiths at Selwyn Forge, where his skill and attention to detail made him a valuable part of the team.
The father and son were buried on Wednesday, the first victims to receive funerals after the shooting. Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral in downtown Christchurch, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Cashmere High School to talk with students who had lost their friends.
Hamza died carrying to safety his 13-year-old brother Zaed, who was injured in the shooting and subsequently underwent a six-hour surgery. Hamza died while he was on the phone with his mother, Salwa, who had stayed home with the family’s 10-year-old daughter on Friday.
Speaking from the hospital, Salwa told stuff.co.nz, “Everyone loved Hamza, he was very caring, very polite. Everything good that you can imagine in this world was in my Hamza.”
Beloved By the Equestrian Community
Local horse owner Maithe de Rybel, who moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands 10 years ago, remembers Hamza as a beautiful young man who had a gentle way with the horses. Maithe’s daughter Elysha, 18, took riding lessons with Khalid three times each week, with Hamza translating for his father as Khalid was learning English.
“My daughter had lost her other horse, and now she has an off-the-track Thoroughbred, and he’s quite an aloof horse. We had trouble floating (trailering) Ollie, and Gareth suggested that Khalid help her. Khalid saw that there was something wrong with the horse; he was quite lame in front. It was amazing, he came back with Gareth and started hammering away and created a shoe that was absolutely amazing and the horse has no problem anymore.”
Elysha remembers, “He was one of the best teachers, he was awesome, my horse used to bolt and the first time he took off with me, Khalid understood I was a little bit scared. He had a scar on his face from falling off when he was little, and he never wanted me to ride alone, so he came three times a week to help me with my horse. I’d lost a lot of confidence, especially with show jumping. He was very patient and even though I was nervous, he’d keep setting the jumps up, and he jumped every jump with me, flapping his arms. He had a lot of pride in his work, and really lit up when he was around the horses.”
Photo by Maithe de Rybel.
Maithe and Elysha described Hamza, who had competed in show jumping in Syria, as a talented rider who had grown up around horses and riding was second nature to him.
“We had a little she-devil in the paddock as well — only 14.3 — and Elysha got on one day and she was she was bucking and rearing. Elysha was scared, and Khalid put Hamza on. Elysha can ride, but Hamza could RIDE. You could see they’d been training for the whole of Hamza’s life. Hamza came along a lot. He was only 15 when we met but he was becoming a miniature version of his father. They really loved the horses.”
Maithe recalls that Khalid once invited them for coffee with his wife and children. “His wife is such a nice lady and they had so much fun together; she’d make fun of him in a funny way. They were so nice together.”
Jules Askin met Khalid and his family through a Baptist church which sponsored the Mustafa family after they arrived in New Zealand. She had asked what they could do to help and brought them to the countryside to see their horses and meet a friend’s Connemaras.
“The family really came alive around the horses. Salwa knew how important it was for Khalid,” Jules says. She invited the family for a Kiwi-style, Halal BBQ at her home, and her daughter Fern Wilkinson also took lessons with Khalid. “He was a brilliant teacher even with only a few words and Hamza translating. He came alive watching my daughter improve and ‘get’ things he was working on.”
Remembered for Spreading Love and Peace
The shooting has forced a reckoning in New Zealand, a small island nation that has the reputation for being a safe haven but where immigrants do not always feel welcome. “We’re from the Netherlands and we’re immigrants ourselves,” Maithe says. “New Zealand is a great country, Christchurch is amazing, but it’s still there, that we are outsiders, even when people hear my Dutch accent.”
She recalls, “One day getting Ollie on the float, Khalid hurt his hand and we took him to the doctor. It was shameful the way they treated them — it was not professional, it was very dismissive. They treated him as if he wasn’t intelligent. His wife wears hijab and you could see people talking around her. There’s a lot of stigma around the Muslim community but they are such peaceful, good people; Khalid and his wife and children were the ones to show us that.
“Zaed is such a calm, sweet, soft spoken boy, and very observant. Hamza was more outspoken, but Zaed watched everything his father did. I think he wanted to be like his father, too. The love between father and sons was amazing to see. We are hoping that at one point his wife will start healing, and if the children want to, that they can come back to us and the kids can ride. For now I think they are in the worst place ever. I’m a mum and I think everything goes out of the window if your children are hurt, or in this case, murdered. I think I would hate the world.”
Equine veterinary Lillian Bonner, DVM, who practices near Christchurch, had met Khalid professionally and is helping to plan a memorial service for the equestrian community to celebrate the lives of Khalid and Hamza. “It’s all beyond words really,” she says. “I think the most important thing is for as many people as we can keep in the loop, to try to wrap their love around this family. That will be Khalid’s legacy.”
Maithe says that there has been an overwhelming response from the horse community. “A lot of people knew him overseas as well and people here were really touched by his way of working with the horses. The horse world is small, and so many people were affected.”
She says that Khalid had plans to start a horse training program in New Zealand, and Elysha had planned to join their team. “They had dreams,” she says. “They had so much to give.”
Contributions to the family can be made directly through Selwyn Forge on Facebook.
Feature photo via Selwyn Forge on Facebook.