The horse occupies a special place in the culture of Qatar, in particular the Arabian thoroughbred. In this edition of Qatar 365, we discover this breed prized for its beauty and endurance, meet riders who overcome obstacles to success and visit an elite equestrian center which is a breeding ground for future champions.
Riding at its highest level
In the Education City area of Doha, the Al Shaqab Breeding and Riding Center has no less than 700 horses and transmits the passion for equestrian sports. The waiting list is long to be admitted to this center.
Abdulrahman Eisa Al Bukhari comes from a family of riders and has been riding since the age of nine. Now, at sixteen, he has already won some of the most coveted prizes in his age category.
One of his trainers, Benaissa Kennous, explains that his dream would be to “see one of [ses] riders participate in world championships or the Olympic Games.”
Also on-site coach, Cyrine Cherif puts her career at the service of the younger generation: “I wanted to share the knowledge I have gained over the years competing and training with many other Olympic riders in Europe,” she says before explaining her role according to her: “The coach is someone very important in a rider’s career because he must support progress in the sport, but also the rider himself, psychologically and physically.” His colleague Maysam AlShhab adds: “If there is a strong and sincere bond between rider and horse, success is guaranteed.”
If the trainers come from all over the world, so do the horses. Many riders say they feel confident with the way this elite center treats their powerful mounts. The stables that host them are the height of luxury. Their fodder is delivered specially, as well as their hypoallergenic bedding and every six weeks they are fitted with new irons. Their physical preparation includes spa, pool and phototherapy sessions.
Bringing together equine expertise in a whole series of fields in one place was Al Shaqab’s objective, as Khalid Al Jehani, head of the breeding and show department at the centre, recalls, even if the mission from the start of the structure when it was created in 1992 “was to bring Arabian horses back to their homeland and preserve their breed,” he points out. “Since that time, our center has managed to do this and bred more than seven horses that have become world champions,” he points out.
The Al Shaqab Center also hosts some of the biggest competitions on the world equestrian calendar such as CHI Al Shaqab where 95 riders from 24 different countries came to compete in the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and para-dressage. It is the only such championship in the Middle East and Asia region. Local riders distinguished themselves during this competition such as show jumping champion Mohammed Haidan and dressage rider Wejdan Al Malki. This one measures the path she has traveled: “I never could have told myself when I was little that I would find myself in this arena alongside twenty of the best riders in the world. I tell myself that if I can do it, then everyone can do it,” she says.
International rider Shane Breen, originally from Ireland, was impressed by the difficult course of this first 2022 stage of the Longines Global Champions Tour. “The public appreciates our performances very much, so we have no excuses, we are where we need to be, at the highest level, in one of the best places in the world for riding and that is a pleasure to be here,” he confides.
Other major competitions take place on site such as during the Katara International Arabian Horse Festival where the most exceptional Arabian horses are judged on their specific light trotting of this breed. The judges are also attentive to the silhouette and grace of the animal, as well as its relationship with the person presenting it.
For millennia, Arabian horses have lived alongside Bedouin nomads. Due to the harsh desert conditions, their species evolved. Which endowed them with great lung capacity and incredible endurance.
As Katara’s Director of Events and Cultural Affairs explains, this equine breed _”_is part of our culture: it is present in poetry, history and individual stories,” he points out. This is why the country honors its horses, but also wants to inspire a new generation of equestrian champions.