The morning sun blazing down on miles of magnificent dunes, horses contentedly munching hay in their stables and the sweet smell of earth filling the air. For many, this is the allure of desert riding; galloping over golden sands astride a muscular steed, conquering nature, taming the beast and feeling the wind through their hair. For others, of course, it’s less philosophical than that. They just want to ride a horse.
Let’s assume you’re after the magic of the desert, though, in which case, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is the perfect place to tap into that spirit of adventure on your doorstep. The stables are set some distance away from the hotel, so you’re instantly transported to a more rustic setting. Ponies wobble unsteadily in their pens under the watchful eyes of their mother mares; sandy desert lizards skitter off into the bush in the wake of horses’ hooves.
The Bab Al Shams riding instructor, Joe, clearly knows a thing or two about riding and the school he manages has some fine horses. This stable includes endurance horses that are trained for 80km rides.
These animals are equally suitable for a long hard gallop over the dunes or a relaxing stroll around Bab Al Sham’s picturesque surroundings for the less experienced of riders. The latter option is a great introduction to horse riding. You’ll get the chance to savour the views, get comfortable in the saddle and – should the worst happen – you’ll have nice soft sand to land on if you fall off.
But this sport really comes into its own if you’ve had a few lessons in a conventional paddock and are able to trot, canter and gallop. It’s then that you’ll experience the true freedom of roaming free in this vast, beautiful landscape. Joe is a great guide who will offer advice and caution where necessary, but is mostly happy to ride along pointing out the various creatures darting about in the bushes. You’ll see lizards, beetles and even gazelles who stare inquisitively before beating a hasty retreat as the horses approach.
The horses respond well to even the clumsiest commands. Once you’ve mastered rising trot, sit back in your seat and kick, and the horse will roll steadily into a canter. Joe will let you charge on ahead and only slows you down if he thinks you’re losing control. If you’ve never ridden this fast before, particularly in the open land, you will find it truly exhilarating.
The desert itself is pure perfection in the early morning light. Although the sun ascends rapidly after 8am, there’s a constant, strong breeze that carries with it the promise of thousands of miles of empty dunes. With a bit of imagination, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like years ago to ride through these sands, and, thanks to the lack of development out in this part of the desert, it’s probably much the same. There is one difference, though. When you ride back to the stables, hot, happy and weary, you can wander back to the hotel. Fresh coffee, a newspaper and breakfast by the pool awaits. Bedouin riders, of course, didn’t get this option. Shame.
Where to learn
You’ll have far more fun on a horse if you’ve learnt how to ride properly. Desert Palm Riding Club, out past International City, is a great place to get started. Lessons cost between Dhs150 and Dhs300 depending on the time and number of riders in the group. You’ll get a decent grounding in the basics, learning to trot, canter and then gallop correctly. As you progress you’ll be able to sign up for rides round the extensive grounds. If you’ve never been here, you’ll be amazed by the green and well-developed fields, and nothing beats a Friday morning outing before breakfast and a cappuccino at the picturesque hotel next door. Advanced riders can also sign up for lessons in dressage and jumping, with the option of entering regular competitions. It’s a great way to meet people, learn a new hobby and escape the city routine.
Desert Palm Riding Club, Desert Palm Resort, call Jo 050 451 7773 for bookings