If you’re a non-horse lover, or even ambivalent to all things equestrian, you mightn’t think Al Saheel – The Voice Of The Horse would hold much appeal. The Dubai-based show, which opened last week and is set to run until June 27, traces the ‘history and influence of the Arabian horse around the world’. It’s a dizzying 90 minutes of flamboyant costumes, trick riders and dancing horses. Sound weird? Well, it kind of is. But that’s exactly why Al Saheel is entertaining, whether you’re the horsey type or not.
The show has been six years in the making, reveals Eileen Verdieck, Al Saheel’s concept creator. Verdieck is an American ex-rodeo queen who has considered Dubai her second home for 25 years. She recently settled here permanently after meeting husband and business partner, Anwer Sher, with whom she co-founded multi-purpose equestrian management company HoofbeatZ Entertainment. Verdieck says of Al Saheel: ‘It’s probably the only thing like it in the entire region.’ Seeing as the show explores ‘the unique relationship between man and horse’, and will soon feature talking CGI puppet horse Mr Zhed, Time Out has to agree.
But for all it’s peculiarities, Al Saheel is an admirable venture. A home-grown affair, the show employs local riders to perform and prematurely retired or injured horses are re-trained for the show. ‘We’ve trained a couple of our grooms to be performers too, which we’re very proud of,’ says Verdieck. ‘These are people that have all the talent and ability in the world. They just needed the chance.’
Also performing are HoofbeatZ’s equestrian architect (the person who designs accommodation for HoofbeatZ’s equestrian communities) and the stable manager, making it a project where everyone has mucked in and given up their spare time to ensure a success.
Even the costumes – an elaborate collection of outfits for both human and animal performers, from fairytale-like creations to medieval and cowboy designs – were put together by a local Russian seamstress and her mother, with help from HoofbeatZ staff. Verdieck agrees it’s a real group effort: ‘When we’re not doing our day job, we’re making costumes and rehearsing,’ she says.
Even if you’re not a horse fan, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the array of breeds appearing in Al Saheel. From muscled Iberian steeds to pint-sized falabellas, they are fascinating and beautiful animals – and this from a Time Outer who lacked the requisite girlie childhood obsession with such things. Also, because the main performers are animals, you’re never quite sure where the show’s going to go – these horses can have a mind of their own.
Especially the falabella that Verdieck rides in her comedy act. ‘He loves to do whatever he friggin’ wants,’ she laughs. ‘He’s a character. I never know what we’re going to get in that performance.’ So it’s always going to be entertaining, whether for the right or wrong reasons.
This is just the beginning for Al Saheel. Verdieck has big plans, from introducing new acts to incorporating more of Mr Zhed, who is currently doing a stint at BurJuman and can’t make the show until its later months. ‘I’d like to see him MC the whole show but we’d need better facilities for something as big as he is,’ Verdieck says. For horse lovers it’s a must. For everyone else it’s possibly the most surreal thing you’ll see in Dubai – a considerable achievement in itself.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until June 27, 7.30pm. Dhs50-85 for children aged six to 12, Dhs110-190 for adults. No admittance for children under six years old. The HoofbeatZ Pavilion at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, Arabian Ranches. www.timeouttickets.com or call 800 4669 For info visit www.alsaheelshow.com.