Sheikh Shakhbout boosts showjumping

UAE fast becoming a growth area in the world of showjumping, thanks to the success of the likes of the Abu Dhabi prince.

The lucrative Global Champions Tour got under way in Qatar yesterday but Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's leading showjumper, is already looking forward to showcasing his skills in front of his home crowd later this year.

Abu Dhabi will stage the finale of the Tour in November - joining nine other cities, including Monte Carlo, Cannes and Rio de Janeiro, as one of the stops for the €1 million (Dh5m) event.

The three-day competition will be held at the new Al Forsan Club and is expected to attract the best riders in the world.

The top 30 showjumpers in the International Equestrian Federation's rankings will be invited to compete in the capital, and special invitations are likely to be offered to the UAE's best riders.

"It is a big step forward for the world's sport, in general, and sport in our country," Sheikh Shakhbout said.

"Young Arab riders, who have not got the chance to compete overseas and only see those riders on television, will get to see those riders ride and their horses live. They each have a difference principal and way of riding.

"And it is good for tourism.That is what put UAE on the equestrian map."

Jan Tops, the president of the Tour, has welcomed the inclusion of Abu Dhabi to the series.

"Qatar and the UAE are two leading countries in the Gulf where the equestrian sport is concerned and in terms of the riders competing at national and international events," Tops said.

"Both Qatar and the UAE governments are very much promoting and supporting the sport."

Sheikh Shakhbout and Sheikha Latifa al Maktoum have helped to raise the profile of the sport in the UAE, most notably with a strong performance at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

"Standards are growing every month," Sheikh Shakboot said. "I am very happy to see a lot of young riders come on in the UAE, and that means our horse riding future will be bigger and more challenging. I can see that they are going on the right track."

The creation of the Al Forsan Club in Abu Dhabi, which boasts a world-class equestrian centre, is a significant boost for the growth.

"I am very much excited about Al Forsan Club," Sheikh Shakhbout said. "The sport is growing and the number of clubs to ride in gives more opportunity to choose which club they want to ride with. As an Emirati I am very proud we have something such as this for youngsters.

"The more sports places we have to go is better for the youngsters, it is better than walking in the malls and going to the cinema.

"They can improve their talents."

The 20-year-old will be competing alongside talented riders such as Manuel Suarez Anon, 19, who won team gold and individual bronze at the 2009 European Championships, and Janika Spunger, the 24-year-old Swiss, who is a double European team gold medallist.

The two riders to beat, however, could be the German pair of Marcus Ehning, who won last year's event, and the decorated Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who won gold in the team event at the World Championships last year.

"It's a great experience to ride with the top riders," Sheikh Shakhbout said.

"It's an honour riding and competing with them. It's a different world to the Arab showjumping sport. You learn a lot just from looking at them.

"You can't say who will win. Jumping horses are not like motorcycles or cars. One day they are good, one day they are bad.

"It depends on the environment, the atmosphere and the ground. You can never know."

Sheikh Shakhbout will pilot Muscarus D'Ariel in the CSI 5* class, the highest level of competition for show jumping.

The obstacles begin at 1.60 metres in height - as opposed to 1.4m in the CSI 2* class - and the prize money at Doha is €675,000 compared to €40,000.

"First of all, the Sheikh is a very good friend and a great ambassador for the sport," Tops said. "Besides that, he's a talented rider with a very good feel of the horse and he has the potential to go a long way in the sport."

The Emirati has made significant progress after taking up the sport seven years ago, but he is not setting his sights too high over the next two days.

"Every rider's target is to win the Grand Prix," he said. "Personally, I would be satisfied if I came out with a good round.

"If my horse jumps well I will be very happy. I need to concentrate and ride with my mind.

"Preparation has gone very well and my horse is in good form."