The Passion of Riding
The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club wears its love for horses on its sleeve. Trainers, students and administration explain their fascination.
By Sujata Devadas, December 12, 2015
A magnificent horse, glossy brown all over with a splash of white down its forehead, glows with grace, strength and energy, running free. It is 6am Saturday morning at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club (ADEC), located in Al Mushrif area, Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE. Free of a bridle, romping around without a rider, these heady and powerful beings are innately friendly and empathetic. The huge, magnificent horse stops in front of me as I stand gazing at him by the corral, and watches me too — his soulful, empathetic eyes expressing love and affection. He maintains his friendly stance until he is led away.
I look around the vast expanse of ADEC and spot a young rider. As she rode past me, she smiled a greeting. Deema, from Jordan, first acquainted herself with horses while pursuing college studies in Dubai. In her free time, she visited family farms and riding clubs with friends and cousins. “Watching them, I was lost in admiration.“ Soon, she enrolled for beginner lessons, learning how to sit on a horse, hold the reins, get it to walk or to trot.
But her passion for horse riding rose under the tutelage of Moroccan trainer, Anwar Najim at ADEC, in the past 2 years. “Anwar is not verbose. He comes straight to the point. He taught us all a lot in a short period of time. This is not just my opinion, but shared by fellow riders in my group too. They have been taught by other trainers as well and appreciate the difference. We whine and complain but Anwar is not dissuaded from his belief that if we put in the time and the effort, we will succeed. His dedication is exceptional.”
How do you ‘get along’ with a horse? How much do you benefit or gain? Is this just a phase in your life or do you aspire to continue?
My horse and I
Trained in Morocco and Spain, professional rider, Anwar, recalls with hesitation, an amusing ‘Oh-No!’ blast - from - the - past memory. He learnt riding at the age of 11. All his family were riders. The youngest of 3 kids, he wished to win a prize and gain acknowledgment for his riding skills. He entered a local competition.
In the middle of the race, however, his horse forgot the frail, featherlight Anwar riding on his back, and trotted off the track to buckle down for a nap. It took all Anwar's boyhood skills to get his horse moving again, acutely aware of the laughing spectators, watching his mettle.
“You learn over time the right way to relate to a horse.” says Deema, “I did it wrong earlier. Now, I am more aware of how a horse can get hurt. In seconds I know if my horse is relaxed, excited or angry. For instance, ADEC organizes desert riding events each season. No fences or barricades - just open land. It is a mind-blowing experience: the impact of freedom, even for a horse…overwhelmed with excitement.”
A bank employee, Deema is in the midst of people’s economic ordeals at work. Horse riding is a splendid escape from such dreary human concerns. “I would be thrilled if I had daily show jumping classes. Leave troubles behind. If the rider harbors tension or stress, it reflects on the horse’s disposition. The horse picks up on the tension at which the reins are held and responds with tension. So leave past incidents behind. You cannot change it. Focus on the joy of riding. I am a lot more patient now… calmer. I come early sometimes to hang out with my horse and groom it. Or I watch other classes, observe and learn.”
Like humans, horses too differ in personality, abilities and skills. Some are keen to jump hurdles; others love to test their limits in racing. “I have ridden different horses here. I know them by name and state my preference at times for practicing my show jumping. Some horses - particularly mares, I feel - can ruin the class if you upset them. Others need a stronger grip.“ Deema elaborates softly. “You cannot predict any horse’s behaviour. Trust them but be aware that although they are innately friendly and will never hurt anyone on purpose, despite their strong, statuesque, muscular body, they are very sensitive. If they get alarmed or frightened and panic, it can cause unintentional, serious injury to them and us. Horses remember. Treat them well, show your appreciation and they are more amenable to team up and cooperate while you ride them. It is their gift to you, based on trust.”
Deema has already completed her ADEC schooling levels and is in competition level now, for show-jumping. If she ever picks up a career in this field, she would teach riding to children or become qualified to train horses.
Gains spell ‘satisfaction’
“I have been with ADEC for 8 years. One key aspect of satisfaction comes weekly. School children visit us.“ says Ousama Alkhatib, executive administrator. “ADEC is in Al Mushrif area, Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE. All schools in Abu Dhabi can contact us to schedule weekly visits, including those educating special needs children.”
“Our trainers impart information to school children on how to care for horses, then take them for rides.” says Ousama, “Riding horses is good therapy for those with special needs - well documented. The rhythmic gait of a horse stimulates the rider’s ambulatory nerves. The special needs rider’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive, communicative, behavioral and motor skills are activated.” Autistic people become more socially interactive if they ride horses. If he or she wants the horse to move a certain way, that request has to be expressed clearly to the groom or the trainer leading the horse, enabling speech and socialization. Grooming a horse also contributes. Brushing a horse, patting them, hugging them quietens turbulent emotions and tranquilizes anxiety. The accrued gains vary with the special needs rider’s abilities and skills. ADEC provides this free public service, a contribution to the community, each season.
Anwar has 2 years experience as ADEC trainer. “Student enroll with us who has never touched a horse before. The proof of success is when they become excellent riders, because of training received here.” he says.
The first flat race conducted in ADEC was in 1991. Now it hosts many international events: His Highness The President’s Cup, The National Day Cup and Abu Dhabi International Show Jumping Event, among many others. Another source of satisfaction: “a lot of spectators witness the thrill and marvel of horses racing, anticipating a great race, choosing their seats carefully to gain the best viewing advantage, cheering it along, giving full vent to their enthusiasm. All emotions are anchored to the suspense. The audience holds their breath as horses race to the finish line. All necks crane to spot the winner… then roar their applause out loud, clapping and jumping with ecstatic joy, uninhibited…like children.” grins Ousama.
“In show jumping, my whole spirit is riding with him, if our Anwar or his student is competing. As the horse crosses each fence, my heart pounds with intensity as I wish that it clears each challenge flawlessly - incurring no faults, avoiding all risk of elimination.”
Anwar listens to Ousama, smiling. After joining in certain show jumping competition events held in the second weekend of November at the ADEC, he won first place in 2 of the riding challenges set in that event. Anwar aims to rank first in a 5-star show jumping competition. Riding reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the rider. It evokes spontaneous admiration from a spectator as he paces his horse and coordinates his actions with its stride as it masters each hurdle effortlessly. As a professional rider, Anwar is in shape all the time. There is self-esteem and repute in his job. He loves the company of horses.
There are 2 riders in Deema’s family, “My Mom and I.” Deema tells. “She raised 4 children and then learnt riding at the age of 60.” Do you see any difference in her? “Yes, I do. She is passionate about riding.”