When Peter Jackson assembled his cast for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they had to learn to speak the constructed elvish language, sword fight and horse ride. And where would Indiana Jones or John Wayne be without some slick horsemanship? Hoofbeatz riding school runs a programme of trick riding, where students can learn impressive, film-worthy stunts that look great, are fun to perform and are safe for the horses.
And although it looks like you need to have been born in a stable to manage these acrobatic feats, you really don’t.
Khurram Shahzad, trick riding instructor at Hoofbeatz and a former jockey, took up the skill after seeing stunts being performed in a show. He has been taken with it ever since. ‘What I like is that every act you perform is up to you,’ says Khurram. ‘When I see difficult tricks I want to learn how to do them. That’s my hobby, learning the risky manoeuvres. I love to do vaults onto and off the horse.’
Khurram invites us into the riding circle where he’s training with a beautiful, calm white horse named Bello who seems happy and is oblivious to all the theatrics taking place around him. Mounting the horse, the first trick Khurram teaches us is the side stand and we get straight into it. The trick requires the rider to stand up in the stirrups and while holding the reigns, swing one leg over so that both legs are on one side of the horse. It feels daunting trying to stand up in the stirrups just a few minutes after we’ve mounted.
‘Keep your balance, look ahead, raise your arm and count to three,’ Khurram advises as Bello slowly walks around the ring with us flanking his side.
The Hoofbeatz team have taken part in many shows across Dubai, including last year’s hit show Cavalia. The cast visited the facility and Khurram helped performers to train. Our moves are a far cry from the precise stunts seen in Cavalia but once you realise that the horse is fine and happy and won’t bolt, then it really is just a matter of finding your balance, as Khurram points out. ‘For trick riding you need to be physically fit. Don’t worry about whether or not you’ve ridden before. If you are physically fit, are lightweight and flexible, it’s easy to do. You just have to learn the technique and be brave – some people get scared and wonder how they can pull off these moves on a moving horse.’
When the tricks are performed by pros the horses gallop at full pelt with the riders gracefully hanging on. Khurram loves nothing more than to really let the animals rip when he’s riding. ‘When we perform, the horse can go very fast, and it looks more beautiful when the horse is going faster. But for teaching it is, of course, different. We have to start from a low level – from standing, which progresses to walking and then onto cantering. It takes time.’ For the purposes of our class, the horse moves at walking pace.
The saddle used for trick riding is also different to those used for ordinary riding. For trick riding, it has two little wooden ledges inserted into slots, so when performing a free stand, riders can fling their legs back and appear to be standing on the back of the horse. ‘The saddle is flat and has more girth than an ordinary saddle so it cannot move and we can do what we want easily and safely,’ Khurram says. And the safety and comfort of both the horse and rider is paramount. Khurram shows us how to get back into a seated position without distressing the horse.
Trick riding at Hoofbeatz is currently open to members and non-members. Youngsters on riding programmes at the school can take classes as part of their equine curriculum. So even if you’ve never tried horse riding before you can still have a go at tricks that show you’ve got proper true grit.
Dhs175 per session (members), Dhs200 per session (non-member). Tue-Sat, times vary. Call to book a session. Hoofbeatz, Dubai to Al Ain Road, www.hoofbeatz.com (056 942 4551).