Horse riding in the UAE

It may be hot outside but Time Out rises (and trots) to the challenge at the Al Ahli Horse Riding Club

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It takes a certain something to ride at this time of year. Passion, dedication and the unerring willingness to sweat it out are three prerequisites for anyone hoping to straddle a horse in the summer. Fortunately Al Ahli Horse Riding Club attracts a group with just these qualities, and intends to stick it out right the way through the hotter months. Tucked away in the dust and chaos of Al Qusais, this true city-stable was opened in 1998 by former UAE national team show jumper, Rashid Suhail Al Darbi. It attracts a markedly local group of riders and, when Time Out turns up on a Sunday evening, the place couldn’t be livelier.

There’s a group of teenage Emiratis hanging around, young riders making their first attempt to jump a post and the recurrent wail of the call to prayer from the club’s in-house mosque. It’s a refreshingly Arab atmosphere, and one that, for anyone looking to witness first-hand the local passion for horse riding, can’t be bettered.

We meet up with Trina Mole, one of the club’s long-standing reps, on a particularly balmy summer evening. ‘These guys are all training for the endurance team for the race later this year,’ she says and beckons over a group of young Emiratis in jodhpurs and ghutrah leaning on one of the smaller riding fields. They tell us that they’ve been coming to the club for years, and their passion for the sport is palpable. The Al Ahli endurance team compete in an annual ride starting from a camp in the desert and looping back 40km on a tough stretch of sand. I ask how long it would take to become an endurance rider, to appear alongside them in the upcoming race in November and immediately they all become animated. ‘Four months, five months – no problem,’ says one, holding back a considerable and unexpected burst of enthusiasm.

What sets this stable apart from the vast number in Dubai is its overtly relaxed atmosphere. Similar to a community social club, there is a buzz of activity, plenty of people to chat with and, refreshingly, it’s not
a bad place to engage with locals. Mole is insistent that the UAE has some exceptionally gifted riders. ‘There is some real talent out here and it needs a place to shine,’ she says. ‘The problem is that as a lot of people progress through the levels of testing, they hit showjumping and lose interest.

As well as steering a lot of these riders towards the endurance team, we’re moving into getting them involved with polocrosse, a horseback mixture of polo and lacrosse.’ After (semi-)convincing me that I have a potential future as an endurance rider, the group of young locals disperse and I’m taken to meet Mohammed Mubarak, an Emirati horse riding coach who earned his stripes at the club and has now progressed to being one of Al Ahli’s most popular coaches. Mohammed asks about my minimal riding experience and I urge him, on the back of the encouragement I received, to give me a lesson as if I was aiming to become endurance rider.

Saddling up, Mohammed’s instructions are short, sharp and to the point: ‘Keep your legs tight against the saddle. Keep your reins short. And kick.’ In a group of six, we’re instructed to walk steadily around the slightly small enclosure. ‘First is balance,’ says Mohammed. ‘Hold your reins right out in front of you. Now walk!’ We begin a steady plod. ‘Let go of the reins, and arms out.’ Like a line of bouncing kids pretending to be aeroplanes, we do another circuit of the enclosure.

‘Now kick, and – trot!’ With that, the horses bound into life, we grip onto the saddle and rise in rhythm to Mohammed’s shouts of, ‘and up and down’. I’m surprised to find that, after a few circuits, and more of Mohammed’s confidence-inspiring if curt shouts, I’m rising somewhere close to comfortably.

It’s sweaty work, no doubt about it. But, amid the greenery of the stable, the moon overhead and the occasional wail from the mosque, there’s something exhilarating about riding in the night, even in this heat.

Readers’ rates

Al Ahli Horse Riding Club is offering TIme Out readers who present a copy of this magazine lessons for a reduced rate of Dhs85 when making a minimum of six booked lessons (standard price Dhs150). One registration per copy of the magazine and the price will be fixed for one year at this discounted rate.
Call 04 298 8408 or see www.alahliclub.info.

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