2002 UAE Endurance season kicks off

The opening event of this season's United Arab Emirates (UAE) Endurance calendar was the 'Lipton Cup' run over a distance of 100km on the 8th of November. The Lipton Cup was held at 'Seih Assalam'. Seih Assalam is situated between Dubai and Abu Dhabi - where the International Endurance Village has played host to international competitions since its inception in 1999. The first event hosted there was the '1999 Worlds Most Preferred Endurance Championship' now known as the 'UAE World Cup'.

H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's support and sponsorship of such international events has continued to lift the heights of competition for local riders, giving them exposure to the "world's best" competitors.

The Lipton Cup was won by Ali Mohammed Al Muhairi riding DS Kiwi. They completed the 100km course in 4hrs 38m 42sec, with average speeds of 29km and 26km in the first two legs, and an average of 27km for the final leg of 19km. Ali Mohammed Al Muhairi has recently been promoted from Endurance Trainer to Racing Manager of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's stables. DS Kiwi was trained by an Australian, Gayle Holmes. This was her first competition in the UAE and she was obviously thrilled with the result. Second place went to Abdulla Saeed bin Huzaim on Laheib, and third to Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri riding Brandy with Abdulla Khamis Ali Saeed riding Kelkette Park Nadina in fourth place. Three of the top five placings all came from Al Wathba Stables in Abu Dhabi, which indicates a very strong challenge to all others this season.

The second event on the UAE calendar was the CEI B category 'Al Wathba Cup' which was held on the 15th of November and hosted at the Al Wathba Endurance Village in Abu Dhabi. This event is run over a distance of 120km. The four legs of the ride was run over a new course of varied terrain which included more sand hills rather than the fast graded tracks, which predominated the ride last season.

A battle for the win was fought between four very successful and skilled UAE riders, they being Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri and his younger brother, Fahed Khalfan Al Jahouri, along with Ali Mohammed Al Muhairi and National Champion rider, Mubarak Khalifa bin Shafya. The Al Wathba Cup was eventually won by Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri riding FMR Jubilee, whom he trained himself for the ride. He won in the winning time of 5hrs 59m 38sec. He was closely followed by Ali Mohammed Al Muhairi riding Ramalea Passion and Fahed Khalfan Al Jahouri placing third. The Al Wathba team brought home four of the top five placings, including the winner. In doing so they again showed their strength.

The first two rides of the season displayed the strong competitive spirit and skill of two UAE riders, Ali Mohammed Al Muhairi and Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri, with both claiming a win and top placing. This season is set to possibly be the most competitive endurance season we may witness in the UAE.

Coordinated and run by the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation under FEI regulations, the ever increasing support and interest in endurance riding in the UAE is evidenced by the prominent figureheads that attend these rides, not only as spectators but as competitors. There is no greater sport to display the skill of horsemanshipthan competing against the clock, the elements and the horse's metabolics, along with physiology of the horse as an athlete on the day. With ever increasing speed and completion times being set over distances of 100km to 160km across the desert (we are seeing horses average speeds of 29kph), this is not a sport for the faint hearted!

Pure Arabian and part Arabian horses are most suited to this sport, and along with the "flat-racing" breeding programs that are in place, there are now a number of breeding programs established to breed endurance Arabians for the future.

A great deal of knowledge has been gained during all the training in the desert over the past couple of seasons, and we are now seeing highly competitive finishes with horses recovering quickly. Horses are monitored closely and regularly by stable veterinarians and strapping teams are more professional and capable at attending to every detail of the horse's recovery, maximising all that can be offered from massage therapy, cooling and rehydration methodology, feeding and watering to maintain gut sounds, and heart rate monitoring. With all this gained knowledge and experience we are now seeing champion horses of the past returning successfully to competition after injury.

Along side the main competition, children's junior competitions are held with increasing participation year on year, encouraging the youth to understand the relationship between the Arabian horse and the desert. The Arabian horse is returning to his homeland and is repopulating the heart of the UAE.

The Australian-bred Arabian horses have dominated the top 10 results over previous seasons but as UAE home-bred horses are coming of age. Several qualifying events of 40km and 80km have been scheduled for the current season. The international endurance community will watch these horses proceed over the next few seasons with great interest, as it is expected that they will become competitive in their homeland.

The UAE attracts many skilled endurance trainers from around the world. With the 2002 season there will no doubt be some movement of endurance trainers from stable to stable. The American, Emmet Ross, has relocated from Jebel Ali Palace Royal Stables to the Al Wathba Stables in Abu Dhabi. Australian trainer, Gayle Holmes has taken up a position this season, already with success. After three very successful seasons training in the UAE, Australian trainer Brooke Sample has returned to Australia from the Dubai Maktoum stable's to run the families 'Gheerulla Stables' at Kenilworth. Preparing horses not only for UAE events, but also to compete in Australian endurance rides for the forth coming season. Englishman, Tim Stakemire, has been working closely with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum at his Al Aweer Stable in Dubai, and judging from last year's finishes and with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum's personal focus and commitment, the Al Aweer stable will be more competitive than ever this season.

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan's Al Reef Stable has been performing on a gradual up slide, gaining 50% completions in the later part of the 2001 season and has begun this season, under the guidance of Managing Director Dr Jaber Bittar, with very promising completion rates. New Zealand trainer, David Marshall, is another international trainer who not only manages his own endurance team, Holly Farm Bloodstock in New Zealand, but manages and trains the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club endurance team for Director Adnan Sultan Al Nuaimi. David has brought home some excellent wins and results last season. He has also trained and started Sheikh Zayed Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the junior endurance events. With such experience, David's role has been expanded to managing an endurance team in South Africa on behalf of ADEC.

H.H. Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nayhan maintains a keen interest and involvement with his Al Wathba Stables which are now run under the guidance of US based Managing Director, Salim Nice, who had exceptional results late last season after he took the post in January 2001. Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan finished last season with exceptional results, and with H.H. Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nayhan's personal wins last season and now the Al Wathba team's success in the opening two rides of the season backed by the strength of the ADEC stable a strong challenge exists from the Abu Dhabi teams to the Dubai based teams who have dominated over the past seasons.

No doubt we shall see H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai and his sons competing early in January 2002 to push the competition as riders via to secure a place on the 2002 World Endurance Championship UAE Team.. H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's many training stables around the globe have produced highly competitive and impressive horses. This season should be no different.

The 1999-2000 Endurance Champion, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, head of the Ajman Economic Department owns a string of international winning horses whom he trains and rides, and he will surely present another competitive season this year.

These are but a few of the winning combinations we shall see this season. With the ever increasing interest in the sport locally, it has attracted more expatriates to the UAE events and many new faces and local stables are participating. This, along with the global running of teams on behalf of UAE stables, there is no doubt we shall also see more UAE representation on the international competition circuit during the 2002 season.

The 2002 World Endurance Championships to be held in Spain in September as an event of the 2002 World Equestrian Games, are fast approaching. A fanfare of equestrian competition will be held over a number or weeks. Participating countries already have their preliminary nominations in progress for team and individual representation, and as the qualifying period draws closer the early months in 2002 will decide who will represent the UAE at this prestigious event.

The support the UAE has shown the sport of endurance riding on an international level has lifted this sport to new heights of competition. The generous sponsorship from the UAE which allows the best from around the world to compete against each other on their chosen mounts has put the UAE on the endurance map. With globalisation, the sport of endurance is coming of age and there is much interest being shown in providing endurance riding a position at the Olympic Games. The one thing better than a World Championship medal, a Quilty buckle or Telvis Cup win, would only be Olympic gold!