Endurance -- in the desert

Endurance rider Camille Jackett had the chance to take part in a "local ride" while in Dubai early last year. She relates her experiences.

While visiting the UAE I had the good fortune of participating in a 'local ride'. For the past three years the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation have hosted the 'Hamdan Cup' on the 31st of March. This has been a fast gallop race rather than an endurance ride, over a distance of 40km around a 10km camel race track within the city of Dubai.

Stories abound about the danger of up to sixty horses racing at a flat gallop around the camel track. The Hamdan Cup has been previously won each year by Ali Al Amri of Al Wathba (from the Presidents stables of Abu Dhabi), first prize being a luxury vehicle, one of which Ali still cruises the freeways in. With mixed feelings about the Hamdan race I decided to stay in the UAE to see this ride, but as the 31st of March drew closer it became clear that the race/ride details were to change, and even only days before the ride, the date of the event was changed.

This year the Federation changed the ride distance to 80km (or 78km to be exact) with the first 38km leg through the desert followed by two 20 km legs around the 10km camel race track. This ride was renamed the 'Dubai Shopping Festival Ride' as the annual shopping festival was coming to a close. The city of Dubai was like a Christmas tree for the festival with fairy lights covering buildings, trees, bridges, and draped over anything that stood still. A glorious sight.

Many festive activities were planned at this time, with the 'family unit' the theme. Fireworks, family shows, fun parks and many international events are held during the festival including the Dubai World Cup, the richest thoroughbred race in the world.

A race with a difference, the criteria for entry into the 'Festival ride' was that horses must be registered pure Arabians with the Emirates Arabian Horse Society and that they must be owned by a UAE resident, registered with the UAE Equestrian & Racing Federation. Riders to ride at 74k weight. The ride organisation is world class with all amenities provided - ample water and ice and a most efficient vetting area. With only a few years' experience in the sport, the Federation has surely mastered the officiating of running an endurance ride event.

Many international riders secured a local mount for the ride including Australia's champion endurance rider, Ms Shannon Parker. At only 16 years of age Shannon placed 4th at the "Worlds Most Preferred Endurance Ride" held the week prior. With tough competition and a champion effort in representing Australia, Shannon has earnt great respect from the local UAE endurance fraternity. Shannon's mount for the festival ride was the Australian bred 'Fair Haven Rial'. Unfortunately Shannon did not complete the distance but nevertheless was all smiles, and supported her sponsor SH Ahmed Bin Humnd Al Muaini (along with her father Martin Parker) enjoying the local spirit this ride had.

It was a truly family affair with many of the Royal families participating and supporting brothers, fathers and sons in a very different atmosphere to the UAE International rides I have previously attended. The families were more involved, cheering along the riders and participating in the watering of rider and horse. White cloaked supporters adorned every watering stop along with4WD's left idling ready for a speedy exit.

The ride was to start at 6am but due to a very heavy fog and dew, reminiscent of a ride start at St Albans, starting time was delayed until 7:30am followed by a very hot day, with water stops every 5km. The dew proved to be an advantage settling the desert sands and making it easier for the horses to travel over the 38km desert leg which was rife with heavy sand dunes. Even the support 4WD's were finding it difficult terrain. Riders set their pace early. There was no galloping across the desert - only a jig jog in the heavy sand and then moving out accross the level areas holding their mounts all the way.

Local riders stayed off the 4WD tracks as much as possible indicating their experience of riding this tough terrain. But even some of the locals had cut and blistered hands due to their horses' enthusiasm. With support vehicles allowed to help and assist riders and horses with water throughout the course, the 'race' was on.

It was a unique experience, to travel along-side your rider discussing tactics and placings, shouting with enthusiasm and even singing along with wild music, all to keep the momentum and pace of horse and rider going.

David Marshall of New Zealand and myself where fortunate to be invited to join of the UAE President's stables' team. And support, crew and strap we did. Our team started with 6 riders all on Australian mounts and we had 3 successful completions. They were 5th place to Anzaq Mehmood/UAE on Bahrein Morhia (Arabic name = Forest) at an average ride time of 18.89km per hr and a completion time of 4:07:47, 6th place to Ali Al Amri/UAE on Kurrajong Traveller (Arabic name = Sattam, previous winner of the Hamdan Cup and owner of Ali's mercedes!) with an average ride time of 17:67km per hr and a completion time of 4:24:52, and 12th place was taken by Salem Ahmed Hawas Al Amri/Oman (Ali Al Amri's cousin) on Darkside (Arabic name = Sarhan) with an average ride time of 17:35per km per hr and a completion time of 4:29:44 There was very little between 6th place and 12th place with a terrific gallop finish accompanied by much tooting of horns and screams from support crews, owners and relatives.

One of my favourite endurance horses in the Emirates, 'Cameo Lion Hart', unfortunately did not complete as he vetted out lame after the first leg. However, with our three successful completions and two in the Top 10 we were all smiles.

The pace of 20:05km per hour was set by race winner, Ali Mohamed Al Muhairi/UAE who had placed 12th in the "Worlds Most Preferred Ride" the week before. For the Festival ride Ali rode 'Lisburn Hamid' and his ride time for the 78km was 03:53:28. Lisburn Hamid is trained by Australian, Brooke Sample, who is enjoying great success with his stable this season (gaining fittest horse at the World's Most Preferred Ride with another Australian horse, Ramalea Bruiser). Second place was Mubarak Al Arti/UAE on Souaman D'Aroco in 03:56:15 and third place was another of Brooke Samples' horses, Pembac Park Omar, in 03:56:16 ridden by Hassan Bin Ali/UAE. Hassan placed second at the Worlds Most Preferred Ride. Yet another Australian bred horse followed in fourth place, Oak Lyn Lassiter's ride time was 04:02:51, ridden by Ahmed Amin/UAE. It is interesting to note that Oak Lyn Lassiter had only arrived in the UAE two weeks prior to the ride, giving credence to the thought that Australian horses do acclimatise very well to the Emirates' heat and ride conditions.

Ride placings were given to 15th place, and looking at the start list of 69 entries many Australian horses were listed, including these few - Kelkette Park Fascination, Cameo Windemere, Cherox Jaz, Banazim, Glen Maris Cairo, Kelkette Park Dardinelle. All are obviously Australian, and to me they are flying the flag for our country. Many Australians can be found at these rides, some now advising and managing endurance stables and teams.

Chris Gates, Meg Wade, Brooke Sample and Sue May are a few of the successful Australian trainers, and more recently Peter Toft has been competing and placing horses in the UAE for the past few seasons. It is no surprise to see him milling around a ride base, mobile phone attached, managing horses, teams and individual riders from not only Australia but also from Japan, New Zealand and Canada.

The Australian endurance community should be very proud of the quality of horses they have prepared and sold onto the UAE, and of our Australian international riders being consistently competitive with the local UAE riders, who are on OUR horses trained by OUR horsemen. A look at the UAE Endurance calendar for the 98/99 season proved an interesting read, with most rides of a distance of 120/130km and only including one 78km ride and one 3 x 80km marathon ride over three days.

We should stand tall and be proud of what our trainers, riders and horses are achieving over good distance rides in this very unforgiving environment. I look forward to my next visit to this wonderful United Arab Emirates desert, where you know (can't help but feel) you are in the heart of the mother country of the pure Arabian horse.