With annual seasons ranging from hot to very hot, most of Dubai’s residents and businesses have learned to adapt where necessary. Mushrif Equestrian Centre is no different, and instead of closing for summer, it offers evening classes as well as desert rides through Mushrif Park that are ideal for beginners.
The park itself is a vast, dune-filled place, with an interesting, hilly landscape that makes a change from Dubai’s typically flat topography. Driving through on my way to the equestrian centre as the sun sets, the park is, unsurprisingly, empty (it is July, after all), but the scattering of slightly older and quirkier children’s playgrounds and houses (giant toadstool, anyone?) offer a charm that Dubai’s newer green spaces lack. And though some areas of the park have a slightly abandoned feel, if anything it only provides a further incentive for horseback exploration.
As I park up and wander over to the centre, Maria, with whom I’ve arranged the desert ride, expresses concern at the sight of my shorts. ‘You’ll get bruised,’ she warns.
I’m already slowly melting in the warmth of the evening, and can’t face the thought of donning any more clothes. ‘I’ll risk it’, I reply. The horses have already been saddled up, so all that’s left to do is pick a helmet. Yes, you have to wear one – you may be heading into the desert on horseback, but this isn’t an Indiana Jones movie.
Our ride begins just as dusk sets in, with Iranian guide Admad leading the way. We make our way mostly downhill into the parts of the park I’ve just driven through, across paths and sand. It’s noticeably cooler in
these parts than in the rest of the city, and I can’t help wondering if it’s the slight elevation that helps.
My rudimentary knowledge of the physical differences between horses and camels tells me that stalking through soft sands and clambering up dunes is not as easy for the former as the latter, and I begin to hope my extra weight isn’t putting my beautiful Arabian horse under too much strain. While we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that horse riding is far more comfortable than barrelling around on a camel, and involves far less work from your core and legs to stay upright. Our ride continues with little incident – unless you count a toilet stop by my horse, which leaves me rushing to catch up with the group – though later conversations with others who have done the rides when it’s slightly darker reveal that sometimes the horses can get spooked. While the rides may be good for beginners (you’re led rather slowly and are essentially just following a guide), they’re not ideal if you’re nervous around horses at the best of times.
But really, there’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s not an intensive expedition where you will be expected to gallop around – it’s an enjoyable way to learn the basics of steering (albeit outside a paddock) and to get a feel for the animal’s temperament. I’m certain my horse has a mischievous streak, and I’m convinced he checks how tightly I’m holding the reins on more than one occasion. When he starts to speed up at one point, Ahmad calls over to remind me how to slow him down. I know this, but I’m actually hoping my horse will pick up a little speed anyway, just to see…
Riding around, observing everything from insect prints in the sand to the faint outline of the city in the distance, there’s a lot to be said for the quiet of Mushrif Park. It’s a very relaxing way to spend an evening, and if you take one of the full-moon desert rides, you might also discover a spiritual side to the experience.
If nothing else, the draw of cooler evenings should prove attractive to most – it’s only a short drive from the city, and definitely worth a break in your usual routine.
Dhs300 per person for a 90-minute desert ride or full-moon ride. Lessons from Dhs450 for four private 30-minute beginner sessions. Mushrif Equestrian Centre, Mushrif Park, Al Khawaneej Road, www.mushrif
equestrianclub.wordpress.com (04 357 1256).