Most kids go through a horsey phase at one stage or another, but if you’re a novice, it’s difficult to know where to start. Rider and horse enthusiast Cursty Mitchell investigates.
Dubai offers numerous opportunities for the equine oriented, whether you’re a high-level pro or a complete beginner. Its fun, good exercise, teaches kids to be responsible around animals and is great for their all-round fitness too. But where on earth do you start, who is best for beginners, and what’s it going to cost? After all, children are notoriously fickle. You don’t want to end up parting with your hard-earned cash unless you know it will all be worth it.
Places to ride
Emirates Equestrian Centre
As the only fully approved British Horse Society riding and training centre in the Middle East, it boasts British Horse Society instructors and an approved BHS pony club. Most of Dubai’s show-jumping, eventing and dressage competitions take place here too, from beginner through to international level.
What makes it unique?
The size and scope of Emirates Equestrian Centre makes it possible to start at the very beginning (pony rides for tots) and potentially work right through to adult advanced competition work. With its British Horse Society accreditation, riders know their tuition is current, qualified and of the highest level. The Pony Club is also a unique element of the centre. Established over 20 years ago, it gives kids an opportunity to ‘feel’ like they actually own their own pony, with stable management courses and the mega popular Easter camp. The centre also gives kids a chance to compete to a high level on horses from the stables. Additional events include regular dressage, eventing and show-jumping competitions from novice through to advanced, for both spectators and competitors.
Emirates Equestrian Centre is located off the D40 past the Bab Al Shams Hotel turn off, follow the signs to the centre. Approximately 50kms from Dubai.
Prices start from Dhs100 for 45 minute lead rein lessons through to a bumper pack of five, one-hour lessons for Dhs600. Lessons from 7am to 11am and 4pm to 7pm. www.emiratesequestriancentre.com. (050 558 765 or 050 553 7986).
Horse lovers could get lost in this magical place, with its mellow stallions, welcoming staff and inspiring techniques. Using natural horsemanship methods perfected by founder Eileen Verdeick, this place offers something a little special. With a focus on understanding and reading your horse, Eileen’s system sees her clients advance rapidly through the balance and confidence aspects of riding with speed, deeper seat and better understanding of the horse.
What makes it unique?
This is a place where conventional horsey-wisdom is turned on its head. Think painting horses, fancy dress performances; impressive (and amazing) trick riding and the gorgeous art of vaulting (gymnastics on and off the horse.) With focus on understanding the horse from the ground as well as riding, students learn what their mounts are saying, and even more importantly, how to listen to them. Hugely popular and often with a waiting list, their two-hour pony club is one of the best in town. A fantastic introduction to horsemanship for children aged eight-18 years old, the course covers the basics of stable management, riding, simulators and SpeakHorse™.
‘The Club’ sessions are on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 4pm onwards. Students get handouts, and hands on experience working through different areas, from riding and grooming to horsey arts and playing with their horses.
From Dhs275 per session for members and Dhs350 for non-members. Plus there are magical school holiday camps too. Hoofbeatz, Al Qudra Rd past Studio City. www.hoofbeatz.com (050 181 0401).
Mushrif Equestrian Centre
This relaxed riding centre offers experienced tuition from male instructors. Lessons are available from lead rein beginners through to more advanced classes both private and in a class environment.
What makes it unique?
Mushrif Equestrian Centre is famed for its parkland and the gorgeous riding opportunities that provides. Catering for beginners through to advanced level riders, the park location makes this is a unique hacking experience. Possibly the most popular (and unusual) are the full-moon rides held monthly. And after you’ve finished riding, the action doesn’t stop there. One of the most popular activities is helping to hose down the horses after the ride. The stable offers infrequent and hugely fun gymkhanas for both adults and children. The yard has two large floodlit arenas for lessons, a pony ride track and miles of space for picnicking while you watch the little ones ride.
Open daily the stables accepts riders for both lessons and park riding..
From Dhs300. Open 8am to 11am and 3pm to 9pm Located in Mushrif Park,on Kawaneej Road. www.mushrifequestrianclub.wordpress.com (04 257 1256 or 050 103 0243).
Al Dhabi Stables
Al Dhabi may not be huge, but this little place has a BIG selling point: not one, but two great locations for its farm and stables.
What makes it unique?
If you want to experience an Arabian horse in the actual desert, without heading out of town to what seems like the Empty Quarter, then try the farm location on the outer bypass road. Boasting real desert wilderness, marauding camels and fabulous views, this place really is the genuine thing. However, if you live or work in the heart of town and fancy lessons, but want a convenient location, head for the heart of Umm Sequim, where the Al Dhabi teaching arena is handily located. Tuition is mainly carried out in Jumeirah by BHS qualified female instructors.
You won’t find a more relaxed riding centre than the desert farm. Lessons are available here but it’s really the desert everyone comes to experience. Some of the horses are not for novice rides and its becoming known as the place for competent riders to head to if they’re looking for interesting horses, adventure and more than a little fun!
From Dhs150 or Dhs100 if you purchase a block of 10 lessons. hour. www.dubaicitystable.com (055 855 6399 or 055 167 0188).
Al Sahra Equestrian Centre
This surprising find within Dubailand has everything little riders need to get learning some serious horsemanship.
What makes it unique?
Al Sahra offers their fab and fun 10-week Horse Care programme for groups of children based on their riding ability. Aimed at kids five to 10 years old, the programme covers; grooming, equipment, brushing, showering, feet care, feeding, leading, tack care and cleaning and stable care. Each session is packed with fun and games with suitable learning outcomes and practical participation.
Dhs2000 per child and each session is an hour and a half long. Each child also receives a certificate of achievement from Al Sahra. Al Sahra Desert Resort Equestrian Centre. www.alsahra.com (04 427 4055 or 056 177 2856).
Desert Palm Equestrian Centre
This oasis in the city has a lot more to offer than just polo and its surprisingly inexpensive too
What makes it unique?
With five full-time instructors and seven riding arenas with everything required for show jumping and dressage training plus general lessons from beginner to advanced are all catered for at this glitzy yard. If you’re competent, why not consider taking an amble around the stunningly manicured 150 acre grounds of Desert Palm. With competitions and events held regularly in the winter months plus Riding for the Disabled charity riding regularly there’s always something happening.
From Dhs180 per hour. Email email@example.com (050 451 7773 or 04 323 8010).
Getting involved with horses doesn’t have to mean spending out on lessons straight away. Try out these equine activities first and see how it goes
Meydan Stables Tour
If you want to learn about the finest racehorses in the world then head to Meydan stables. Start with a sumptuous trackside breakfast at Farriers restaurant, before taking a tour of the stables and venues in the Meydan Grandstand including the Saddling Paddock, Jockey’s Lounge, Horse Connection Lounge and Parade Ring.
Tours are held every Tuesday and Wednesday until April 10. Dhs250 (adults), Dhs150 (kids aged four-12). Children under four are not permitted on the tour.
Along with a whole host of wild and wacky animals, the centre has a collection of Falabellas, the world’s smallest ponies. Originally used to haul coal in Argentine pits, these tiny ponies, the height of a large dog, maybe devastatingly cute but they are also remarkably strong. At posh paws you can help groom, wash and walk them all for free or let the staff saddle em’ up. And you can have a pony ride too.
Dhs20 (per pony ride) Open daily, 9am-5pm, PoshPaws, Off Academic road behind the Municipality Veterinary Section centre near Al Khawaneej. www.poshpaws.com (050 2730973).
Al Tamimi Stables
For Dhs30 per person, families can enjoy a fur-tastic day out at this vast and stunning farm and stables. Home to over 500 animals, which of course include the equine kind, little ones can acclimatise themselves gently with these large creatures in serene surroundings. Kids can enjoy a pony ride for Dhs20, which consists of four rounds of the paddock – and the ponies are so gentle, mum and dad can lead too if they like.
Dhs35 (entry for adults) Dhs25 (for kids aged six to 12). Under fives go free. Dhs20 (per pony ride). Open Sat-Thu, 9am-6pm. Closed Fridays. Al Tamimi Stables, on the E311 road just past Sharjah Airport. www.tamimistables.com (06 743 1122).
Riding for the disabled
Since 1998, the Riding for the Disabled Association of Dubai (RDAD) has been helping those with disabilities feel empowered, improve their coordination, increase fitness and so much more. Weekly, the RDAD teaches approximately 50 students from over 11 countries. The therapeutic lessons are designed to suit each individual in the class .Instructors trained through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, and adhering to their safety standards and guidelines lead the lessons each week. The group also has numerous volunteers who help the riders mount and dismount, lead the horses and assist the team through the various exercises.
(050 450 4204).
Why is riding good for kids?
Horse riding encourages and helps so many aspects of a child’s development. It improves their confidence by teaching them to handle and control an animal many times larger than themselves. Their little improvements during class are in fact, giant confidence leaps in their abilities and judgement. To ride well, children need to understand many new terms, words and phrases given by the instructor. Because it’s fun and not in a classroom, children absorb huge amounts of information quickly and effectively. For non-native English speakers, this also greatly improves their language skills. Children who ride, learn to empathise with an animal which although can’t ‘speak’, communicates volumes through body language. Kids learn to read what their pony is telling them and the effects of each movement they perform upon the animal. Learning to read and ‘feel’ if their pony is performing accurately, is unwell or just plain ‘horsing around’ hones their empathy and intuition. Riding is also great exercise; a cardio workout, which also builds coordination, balance, core strength and greatly improves posture.
Horse riding can be dangerous and it’s essential to always use the best safety gear. However, most stables let you borrow hats to begin with. Dubizzle is good for boots and chaps, although you should never buy a second hand hat. Even if it looks fine, you won’t know if it has been structurally damaged in the past, rendering it worse than useless. Riding footwear requires a heel so the foot doesn’t slip through the stirrup. Many parents send kids to lessons in trainers, but this can be dangerous. Rather, try and find a boot or well-secured shoe with small heel. You can always buy proper boots later when you know riding is an interest they are serious about. Decathalon in Mirdif City Centre has a great and affordable range, and most stables have their own tack shops which run good deals for their regular riders. Body protectors are a more recent addition to the rider’s safety arsenal. These can be bought relatively cheaply and offer significant protection for the torso.