Turning off Al Khawaneej Road into Mushrif Park, our car becomes shrouded in the shadows of looming trees, the full moon bright and no one in sight. The atmosphere is a touch spooky and my friend and I begin to feel like two blondes in the opening of a cheap horror flick. We’re here for a full-moon hack – no, that’s not the finale in a bad splatter film, but rather a 90-minute, leisurely moonlit horse ride.
Finding Mushrif Equestrian Centre proves a challenge in the 1,300-acre, scarcely signposted park – so much so that the Emirati manning the gate leaves his booth, hops into his BMW and drives us to the centre. Now that’s service.
The spookiness is abated when we arrive at our destination, and our preconceptions of snobbish, horsey folk fly out the window when we meet Zimbabwean instructor Andy, the man in charge of the hack – he chooses to ride wearing plastic Crocs. My friend and I are both a little green when it comes to riding, so we’re given the two calmest horses. Mine is called Parking because he often stops to snack. He’s a horse after my own heart – we’re beginning to bond already.
Hoisting myself onto Parking proves more of a challenge than getting chummy with him, and embarrassingly I need a stool to help me mount. Thankfully no one bats an eyelid – there’s a real mix of experienced riders and complete newbies here. Before we set off there’s a safety talk on how the horses can get spooked at night, so if one bolts we must all dismount immediately.
At this point I realise I don’t know how to dismount a horse – it should be obvious, but when I’m actually sat on one it seems a little more problematic. I tentatively pat Parking on the neck, attempting to channel Robert Redford and willing him not to bolt.
My nerves begin to slip away once we get going – Parking plods along, occasionally stopping to munch on some grass, and we get into the swing of things. It’s 8.30pm, but the full moon’s glow and the ambient light from nearby Mirdif mean it’s not pitch black. The pale horses look almost luminous in the light. There’s full-moon drumming going on somewhere in the behemoth park, providing a rousing soundtrack. The trees shimmy as we brush past them and the sand puffs up with each horse’s step, looking like dry ice in the soft light. The only minor distraction to the Zen-like atmosphere is a plane booming overhead every now and then (aah, the joys of Mirdif).
There are four guides who move around the group, making sure everyone is okay. Their horses are a little feisty and ready to buck and roll, which makes me worry Parking will want to join the party. But he seems unfazed and it’s magnificent to see the control the trainers have over their rambunctious fillies. I pick up tips on how to handle the horse as we navigate the park. That said, this may not be the ideal activity for someone who needs a lot of coaching – the guides suggest booking a one-on-one lesson first. ‘They’ll have anyone cantering within a lesson!’ an enthused club member assures me. A serious rider who wants to feel the wind in their hair may also find full-moon riding a little frustrating – we go very slowly to ensure everyone is comfortable and safe (fine by me!), although sometimes the hacks split into two groups so experienced riders can let rip and canter.
This moonlit stroll is more about the experience than the riding, and despite having a sore saddle the next day you won’t work too many muscles (although the little burst of trotting that Parking and I manage suggest it’s great for the quads). I started out wondering whether 90 minutes of riding might drag, but as we turn a corner and see the stables in front of us I feel a little despondent that my time with Parking is up (it seems as though we’ve made a connection, although sadly I doubt he’ll even remember me once I’m gone). Spending time outside enjoying the night is a rare treat, and doing so on horseback in Dubai’s most expansive park is unbeatable.
The 90-minute Full Moon Ride costs Dhs300 and is held twice a month. The next is on April 28. The centre also offers lessons: a private 45-minute lesson costs Dhs200. Call 04 257 1256 for bookings