Horse riding is one of the UAE’s most popular sports, and the number of world-class racing facilities and riding clubs across the country is testament to that.
It’s something that appeals to all ages, from toddlers whose parents enrol them in a riding school to familiarise them with the animals, to those children a few years older who join the local pony club to learn to ride, and adults who are either beginners or have had some riding experience and want to perfect their skills.
Tina Al Qubaisi, the founder and manager of Dhabian Equestrian Club in Abu Dhabi, says riding is challenging but not too expensive. “I would say that probably 75 per cent of my [500 or so] full-time students have gone from being total beginners to competent riders or are well on their way to being competent.”
Al Qubaisi, 48, has had a passion for horses her whole life, and since moving to the capital 20 years ago, has made it her mission to share that passion.
“I started almost 10 years ago with the rescuing of horses in my garden, and then built Dhabian seven years ago. I have learnt a lot over the years – I’ve learnt that horses help build a person; they help to develop your personality and empathy, among other things,” Al Qubaisi says, adding that the most popular activities that Dhabian offers adults are the desert and beach rides, while for children it’s the “Filliez and Coltz” familiarisation programme for children ages 3 to 6.
“The kids come once a week for one hour, and they do 20 minutes in the classroom, then 20 minutes in the stable, and the final 20 minutes is spent riding,” she says.
For Taher Afridi, signing up his daughter, Alana, with their local riding school in Abu Dhabi was one of the best decisions he and his wife have made.
“I was desperate for her to be doing something outdoors as well as something that would teach her to appreciate animals and be kind to them,” he says. “Horse riding does all that, and improves her posture and promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, too.”
According to Afridi, Alana, while a little tentative at first, is now beginning to develop an affinity with the horses, and says she “loves the ponies”.
“She rides once a week at the Royal Stables, and the entire experience is 30 minutes long, which seems to be perfect for her age.”
One British expat, Jeannette East, is far from a beginner – she has been riding since she was 2, and at 58 years of age, still rides four times a week. “I livery my horse at a yard in Al Wathba, and ride on my own or with my friends. My daughter has recently starting riding again, so she joins me most weekends.”
East, a teacher who has been in the UAE for three years, believes riding is something every child should learn. “Your kids will never be the same again,” she says. “Working with horses teaches children to be patient, selfless and dedicated.”
East believes the reason horses are such big business in the UAE – apart from the world-class race meets and endurance rides that draw interest locally and from abroad – is because horses were “the Ferrari of the ancient world”.
The Arabian horse was developed in the desert climate, and was prized by the Bedouin people. Today, it’s one of the most recognisable and sought-after breeds in the world.
While many people choose to ride as a hobby, and do it for the pure enjoyment, there are many competitive options for those enthusiastic riders who perfect their technique and want to challenge themselves further.
“There are a number of equestrian sports which range from flat racing, show jumping, dressage and endurance racing,” says Al Qubaisi. “Out of these the most popular are flat racing, endurance racing, and showjumping is becoming very popular too.”