Imagine combining the physical toll of running or cycling a long distance race with the challenge of maintaining a living, breathing vehicle. That’s exactly what endurance horse riding entails, acting just as much as a relationship as it does a sport.
Rashed Al Kaabi, the activity manager at Al Waha Equestrian Club, is as aware as anyone as to just how important building that relationship with your horse is in order to be a successful endurance rider.
Since taking up the sport in 2000, Al Kaabi has focused on training beginners to qualify in endurance for the past five years. At Al Waha, that training begins first and foremost with horsemanship.
“From the beginning, you have to train on the same horse,” said Al Kaabi. “When someone comes for training, I keep them on one horse only, every day. They groom the horse, they train the horse, they make the saddle on the horse. They ride the horse for a minimum of one-and-a-half hours of riding.
“After that, they clean the horse and get it back in the stable, watch it, make sure it eats well and make sure it’s not tired. The endurance training is a minimum of three months.”
The club, which opened at the end of 2010 and is located at Al Ain Sportplex, has three sections: one for training beginners, another for progressing endurance riders and the third for flat race horses.
The complex boasts three arenas, two of which are 50 metres by 30 metres for beginners’ training. The third arena, the largest of the bunch, is 80m by 50m, while an outdoor track is for endurance training.
There are currently 25 who are training in the club, with 15 horses available for beginners, 20 horses for endurance and 20 for flat racing.
Endurance riding is appealing for a number of reasons, but Al Kaabi believes the connection necessary with your horse separates it from other sports and truly makes it unique and special.
“It makes you more patient,” he said. “It teaches you how to feel your horse because endurance races last like 40km, 80km or 100km. So you have to feel your horse if he’s tired or not well. You have to take care of him.”
It’s easy to confuse endurance with horse racing and other equestrian activities, but the horses required differ. The most obvious contrast is that endurance horses are significantly older.
“First, you have to choose a horse based on blood. For sure, we are looking for Arabian blood,” Al Kaabi said. “Then we see the horse’s body, what shape it’s in. From the shape, I can see if the horse is good for endurance or not. Then we start training and after two months, the horse will show if they’re good for races or not. For regular racing, you want young horse. But for endurance riding, you want horses above six years of age so the body is ready for tough training.”
A three-week training course is currently under way for children, in addition to the regularly offered lessons. Al Waha also have showjumping training and host competitions for children, as well as events and birthday parties.
What: Al Waha Equestrian Club
Geared towards: Endurance riding and equestrian enthusiasts
When and where: Located at Al Ain Sportplex, open Monday to Saturday from 08:00 to 20:00
Contact: Visit www.alwahaec.com and www.facebook.com/AlwahaEC for more information