‘Check out the townies,’ booms Phillipa Barlow, the manager of Al Awadi stables, an equestrian oasis just 50 minutes out of Dubai towards Fujeirah, as Time Out flounces up the drive in a floral print Topshop number. ‘We’re not Nad Al Sheba,’ she drawls. And even though there are few stables that can boast a gazelle named Noddy, 28 chicks, a mouthy Michelin-starred chef and a one-eyed duck called Nelson, as we deposit our pristine Samsonite in a nearby tent (where is the five-star luxury to which we’ve become addictively accustomed?) on first impressions, we can’t disagree.
Despite the incongruous start, however, it’s not long before we see Phillipa – who lives in a T-shirt sporting Animal [from The Muppet Show] and isn’t shy of a word or two – for the true diamond she is. The 37-year-old ex-show jumper has a CV that boasts a stint for the British Show jumping team and managing stables across Italy, Germany, Greece, the UK and US before working for the British Royal Family as a Michelin star chef. For Phillipa, ‘Horses come first, then humans,’ she says, ushering us around the pristine stables housing a 31-strong troupe of steeds. For the record, there was hardly a nasal hair out of place. ‘They’re family,’ she explains.
There’s 35-year-old Tanker, who is being nursed into retirement; a giddy pony called Prince (Time Out’s personal favourite) and Phillipa’s horse Texas (named after her stint in the US state). And that’s only the tip of the equestrian iceberg. Meander through the white-washed corridors, which offer welcome respite from the plus-30°C temperatures, and you’ll be greeted by the likes of Peter, Hamish, Ringo and all 18 hands (the car equivalent would be a Hummer) of Polo, who is apparently divine.
‘They all get treated equally,’ Phillipa assures us, batting off compliments from Time Out about the feast that awaits our return; while the horses quaff barley, we chow down on stone baked pizzas (from the on-site oven), succulent roasts and, if you stumble across the right night, a medley of Mexican fare to knock the socks off Speedy Gonzalez.
But it’s not all pizza and ponies for Ms Barlow. The moment Pradeep, the stable hand, does something errant, she’s onto it: ‘I’ve told you not to use that bridle on Ben [the horse, not person for anyone querying],’ she booms, making us feel like someone has been chastised for chewing gum in school assembly, but feeling reassured that safety is key.
‘Every rider is issued with a brand new BHS accredited hard hat and before you can gallop off into the sunset, I’ll put you through your paces,’ she warns, confirming that desert riding is a whole different kettle of fish to prancing about in an arena. If you think you are Frankie Dettori, this would be a good time to do a swift U-turn to Nad Al Sheba because ego is best left at Al Awadi’s gates. A case in point is the moment Time Out mentioned our membership to the Grafton Hunt branch of the pony club in the UK. Needless to say it was met with a hearty chortle.
For those that show signs of basic horsemanship and limited ego, on the other hand, the benefits are endless. If John Wayne thought he had it good as he trotted into the horizon in The High And The Mighty, then he certainly hadn’t stumbled across Al Awadi, for the sunset and balmy temperatures of the evening are second to none. And if it’s frivolity you’re after there’s no better person to be at the helm than Phillipa and her two boys,eight-year-old Sam and 10-year-old Edward, who epitomise the down to earth vibe of this genuine city escape, creating an atmosphere that’s as close to cowboys and Indians as they come. If you play your cards right, you may even have the pleasure of meeting Spud, Sam’s pet gecko.
That’s not forgetting Nelson the one-eyed duck, Noddy the Gazelle, a tub of chicks, a paraquite called Sarah and two goats who have now been renamed Time and Out in our honour. Our tip: Just don’t mention you were a member of the Grafton Hunt Branch of the Pony Club, but do swap your Topshop for tatters.
To find out more, contact Phillipa Barlow on 050 965 6870 or email alawadistables@ gmail.com. The stables are open to groups, including children’s parties, team building days or romantic escapes for two. Themed nights run regularly. Visit www.alawadistables.com.