‘We have 436 goats and sheep,’ declares the voice next to me. I feel compelled to interject. ‘436? That’s very specific.’ ‘Well, it’s changing a lot at the moment – we’re in birthing season,’ laughs Brian Galligan, general manager at the new Al Tamimi Stables in Sharjah. And they’remerely the figures for things that go ‘baaa’.
Brian is showing me round the centre which, as it happens, is more of a farm and educational centre than stables – although horses live here, riding lessons are not currently offered. As we wander round what at first seems to be an impeccably cared-for garden, I begin to see signs of an exotic farmyard full of animals, including a particularly noisy cockatoo, loudly mimicking the sound of a telephone ringing from an as-yet undisclosed location.
Despite having only been open for a matter of days, the centre – located between the Outer Bypass Road and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road (formerly Emirates Road) – has already hosted several school trips. There are a handful of brand new classrooms, designed to accommodate dance classes, arts and craft sessions and cooking classes – the former are already open to adults, while the latter will be available for adults soon, with a capacity for five in each lesson. The centre is also seeking freelance teachers to conduct some of the classes: as Brian says, if you’ve always fancied yourself as an art teacher, they’d be happy to consider you for the post. Once the centre is more established, they’ll aim to add permanent staff to the rota.
It’s important to note that though there is a heavy emphasis placed on education for kids, with five main areas (nature, sport, horses, creativity and animal care), Al Tamimi Stables aims to become a venue for the whole community. For a Dhs35 entry fee, you can come in, wander around and see the animals, have a picnic, play sports on the football field or in one of the courts (there is equipment for hire if you don’t have your own), and the centre can even accommodate private functions, such as weddings. There are also plans to introduce yoga slots and personal training. It feels like the sort of place you could hold a village fair, and Brian explains that’s the community feel they’ve been going for.
With so much greenery, the space has a European feel – until you look a little bit closer, and realise the trees are growing produce as exotic as mangos and pomegranates. Brian explains that anything grown on the farm is given away by the owner to friends, family and neighbours. Spaced out in different corners are pens housing everything from cows to falcons, emus to guinea pigs, peacocks to reindeer, and Brian explains that in the summer, each area has cooling systems to protect the animals from the heat.
Right now, however, the weather is perfect. Even better, it’s spring, which means there are plenty of babies to see, adding to an already impressive population of animals. For Dubaians old or young, Al Tamimi Stables offers a lush pocket of nature, about40 minutes from your front door.
Entrance Dhs35 adults, Dhs20 under 12s, free for under fives. Pitch rental from Dhs10 per hour. Horse care for beginners Dhs200 for adults, Dhs150 for under 12s. Open Sat-Thu 9am-6pm. See website for map and directions. www.tamimistables.com (06 743 1122).
Three more places to get back to nature
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
This designated area aims to protect desert species, from Arabian oryx to skinks, hares to hedgehogs, indigenous trees and shrubs to reptiles. Stay overnight in the reserve at the Al Maha Desert Resort, or take a day tour with one of the four operators licensed to enter.
Off Dubai-Al Ain Road, Dubai, www.ddcr.org (04 809 8710).
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
A reserve that hosts a wide variety of wild bird species, including brightly-coloured flamingos.
Ras Al Khor Road, Dubai, www.wildlife.ae (04 606 6822).
Sir Bani Yas Island
The Abu Dhabi island is home to a sprawling wildlife park, housing cheetahs, hyenas, Arabian oryx and more. Wildlife drives can be booked through the hotel on the island.
Desert Islands Resort, Abu Dhabi, www.desertislands.anantara.com (02 801 5400).