In just a few generations, the UAE has gone from crossing the desert by camel to a spacefaring nation orbiting the planet. Yet, amid such rapid development, the country still holds tradition and heritage close to its heart.
Horseback archery today might seem like a thing of the past, but it was once a state-of-the-art innovation – one that helped the Rashidun armies simultaneously defeat the two strongest empires in the world.
Emirati Saeed Al Dharif is keeping alive this ancient skill. The 62-year-old began practising archery as a child and has a long background working with horses. He says mounted archery has enjoyed a recent renewed surge of interest.
“Each year, new hobbies emerge – the latest being archery, which has historical roots going back to the era of the companions of the Prophet Mohammed, who wielded the bow and arrow,” he says.
Having traversed the Arabian Peninsula, and endured well through the Ottoman Empire, mounted archery has found a new generation of fans through a wave of popular historical Turkish TV dramas, Al Dharif says.
Four years ago, determined to generate a passion for archery in the UAE, he began honing his craft
Training at his farm in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi, after mastering archery from the ground, he started conditioning his horses to the sounds of arrows being fired.
Once the horses were ready, he then learnt to shoot from the saddle, before going on to compete in tournaments in Turkey.
As he documented his exploits on Instagram, people across the UAE started getting in touch, asking him to train them too.
“Every Arab possesses an innate passion,” says Al Dharif. “All they need is someone to open the door for them to channel their enthusiasm.”
He believes the most important part of mounted archery is remaining calm and keeping the horse relaxed. A nervous rider makes their horse anxious; making riding and shooting harder.
Encouraged by the popularity of his mounted archery lessons, Al Dharif is now planning to open a camel training school, where he will teach students how to handle and ride camels.
He said he has been impressed by mothers in Abu Dhabi who encourage their children to get out of their homes and engage in outdoor activities.
However, Al Dharif believes that any activity that has an element of danger should be learnt slowly and carefully. This is why he teaches his students archery first, and then equestrianism if they have no horse-riding experience.
“It is necessary to enjoy the experience and not put oneself in danger,” he says.