It’s been called- ground-breaking, unconventional, magical and unique; but just what is it, that Dubai equestrian centre Hoofbeatz does, that others don’t? Cursty Mitchell went along to find out…
I’ve heard this place is different, but nothing prepares me for stepping out my car and coming face to face with a horse idly playing with a huge oversized football.
Things get stranger still as I step inside the cavernous and air-conditioned tent, and immediately do a double take when I see a seven year old children trotting around with no bridles, only simple rope halters. Next, I witness a group of 8-10 year olds charging, not for the three perfectly preened white horses waiting patiently, but to shoot basketball hoops from the back of a bucking mechanical bull.
I’m confused, this isn’t like any riding centre I’ve been to before, but then again, this is Hoofbeatz, and here they don’t much care for convention.
The Hoofbeatz system, brainchild of owner Eileen Verdieck, produces riders with balance, strength and a complete lack of fear. Developed over several decades, it teaches equestrianism through a variety of components, including natural horsemanship, vaulting and trick riding.
The Horsemanship Club (held Friday and Saturday from 4-6pm) is designed to introduce nippers (five and up) to all aspects of horsemanship. It covers much of the foundations of the system from stable management and ‘speaking horse’ to vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) and of course general riding.
The kids I meet are enthusiastic. The revolving schedule sees them move through each discipline in half hour slots, leaving no time for boredom. Ten year old Raia Flines has been in the club for just over five months, “I love EZ ride, the vaulting is the best,” she says before vanishing. When I see her next, she’s kneeling elegantly on the horse’s back arms outstretched and grinning from ear to ear.
Sister Milla, eight, is more pragmatic, she says she EZ Ride is also her favourite part of the club, however, “it’s the birthdays here that are the best!” They pick you up in a little carriage pulled by tiny ponies and we have treasure hunts for sweets. I had my birthday here last year and now it’s almost time again- I’m begging mum to have it at Hoofbeatz this year too.”
It seems like the Hoofbeatz bug has truly bitten the Flines Family. Mum and ex-dancer Tammy says, “I ride here too. The vaulting is amazing for my general fitness, core strength and balance.” “Really,” she says, “you can’t let the kids have ALL the fun!”
With a programme so, ‘unusual’ it would be easy to simply ‘chalk it up’ as gimmick. I put this to Lisa Hanson and daughter Jasmine, a shy 15 year old who helps out with the club. “I started four years ago at Hoofbeatz and love it,” says Jasmine. Mum Lisa goes on to say that for the past few years Jasmine has successfully competed against some of the biggest names in UAE dressage.
Instructor Roberta Zanetti, is new to Hoofbeatz and is still learning the ropes. She says, “This is my first time to encounter the system, but I’m amazed! The children’s seats are so much more secure, their leg position is good and their upper body so much less tense.”
I observe a ‘Speak horse’ session, where the kids learn the basics of natural horsemanship. The kids appear rapt as they discover how to communicate, using newly learned body language techniques.
I wander over to the ‘Horse Sense’ station, where kids are creating works of ‘horsey-art.’ “Some days we do arty things, on others we learn the parts of the horse or saddle, but I love the crafts the best,” says Milla. Drawing and pasting away alongside three arenas, each filled with the kind of white horses that prance through most little girls’ dreams, I begin to think that inspiration for the creative part of the club probably isn’t too hard to muster.
But Hoofbeatz isn’t all about having fun, as mum Tammy says, “Over the past few months I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the girls’ posture and strength, but don’t tell them that, they think it’s all just great fun!”
As I drive away, I realise I never did ask why that horse was playing football, but I reason, I did learn a whole lot about horses and discovered just what seriously good fun can be had at Hoofbeatz!
Hoofbeatz Horsemanship Club is available Fridays and Saturdays from 4pm to 6pm. It costs Dhs275 per lesson for members and Dhs350 for non-members. Hoofbeatz is located behind Qalaat El Remaal, on the Al Ain road, Dubai. Call 056 942 4551 or visit www.hoofbeatz.com for more information.