The UAE has a very strong relationship with horses. These magnificent four-legged creatures bring the country to an annual standstill for the Dubai World Cup, then there are the showjumping, polo and beach polo competitions that pop-up around town…
While they may not be unicorns (we hope they’re working on that in some laboratory somewhere), horses are known to have very strong healing powers. They may be harder to cuddle than your Persian cat or golden retriever, but despite their size, an equine is surprisingly one of the most calming and soulful animals to be around.
As anyone I’ve ever met – even for five measly minutes – can attest, there’s nothing I enjoy (or crave) more than cuddling animals – whatever shape, size or texture they present themselves in.
So when I arrive at Mandara Equestrian Club in Abu Dhabi on a chilly, incredibly foggy morning for my first lesson in horse whispering and healing, I’ve only got one question for my instructor, horse whisperer Amru Alabidi. “When can I channel my inner Robert Redford à la the classic 1998 film and hug a horse?” With Alabidi’s piercing blue eyes locked in on me, I can’t help feeling like I’m already living some sort of Hollywood dream.
Horse whispering is a way of communicating with horses and finding that powerful moment when the animals see you as one of them, eventually trusting you enough to treat you as their pack leader. Being one of the leading horse whisperers in the Middle East, Alabidi has been studying this ancient art for years. After quitting his corporate career in 2016 and turning his hobby into a full-time job, Alabidi has never looked back. He has now worked with more than 100 unsaddled, untrained or problem horses and trained them within hours using techniques hailing from the cowboys of California. “They don’t call me a cowboy for nothing,” he smirks, as he settles his cowboy hat on his tousled ombré locks. “The horse tells me everything. I can tell straight away what the owner or rider is doing wrong.”
Alabidi is opening his new horsemanship facility at Mandara Equestrian Club, Elite Horsemanship, early next month. With a stable and many obstacle courses for horses, this unique, one-of-a-kind space is a dedicated training area to test out a horse’s respect and trust in its owner. It’s where Alabidi currently practises his horsemanship skills on performance and endurance horses. As he takes me through the facility, where we’re ankle-deep in sand, the dense fog envelops us and the horses neigh in the background. I already feel calm and wonder how much calmer I can possibly be once the whispering starts…
Alabidi brings his number one horse, Aseel, to the field – which happens to be a gorgeous white Arabian pure-bred with a perfectly groomed mane – and demonstrates his unique training method (or whispering) on him. A cowboy on a white horse. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” I start to hum as I watch. But instantly stop as I see how Aseel is obeying Alabidi, as uses words, noises and hand gestures to guide the animal. He doesn’t whip the horse or make him do anything he doesn’t want to. Soon I understand that horse whispering has much to do with respecting the animal in discussion and using commands as a mode of communication. As soon as the animal begins to see you as the lead mare, or almost like his mum, you’ve won his confidence.
After a walk through the stables and watching the cowboy in action, I get my chance to ride Aseel and use the techniques I’ve learned on him. I may not be the alpha mare in this situation, but within seconds on the saddle I’m able to make Aseel walk, stop, turn right, turn left and reverse. This is easier than learning how to drive a car,I think (though I might have a different perspective if I’d ever passed my driving test). Natural horsemanship has seen a meteoric rise in popularity since the 1980s, and if experts like Alabidi can create winning horses (and movies) from it, it’s got to be worth a try…
Dhs300 (per session), Dhs9,000 (per month), Dhs1,500 (three-day clinic). Elite Horsemanship, Mandara Equestrian Club, Rahba Farm, Abu Dhabi. Find Amru on Instagram @AbuDhabiCowboy (050 545 1843).
Four to try Equestrian events this year
Beach polo cup
Set against the warm sun at Skydive Dubai and the glistening skyline of Dubai Marina, this annual polo weekend is luxurious and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The competition starts after sunset with some great polo being played before it.
Early April. Skydive Dubai beach area, www.beachpolo.net.
Dubai show jumping
This weekend is for Olympic medallists and the UAE’s brightest showjumping stars to compete for a cash prize at the annual Dubai Show Jumping Championship. The three-day event is free to the public and open to kids of all ages.
February 1-4. Emirates Equestrian Centre, Dubai-Al Ain Road (050 553 7986).
Dubai world cup
The world’s richest horse race returns to Meydan Racecourse with a US$30 million (Dhs110 million) prize. Drawing spectators from around the world, this event is always a treat.
March 25. Meydan Grandstand & Racecourse, Nad Al Sheba (04 327 0077).
Polo masters cup
A newbie on the city’s polo calendar, this mid-level tournament is played with a 14-goal handicap. There’s also a gourmet brunch to enjoy over the weekend of the game. The St. Regis Dubai offers a package deal.
February 7-14. 1pm-6pm. Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club, Emirates Road (056 520 5081).