For the love of horses: An Emirati equestrian experience

Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.
Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.

In a special interview with Rhonita Patnaik, Dubai-based and UK-trained doctor Ahmad Al Falasi shares tips on how to train horses and become a good rider.



By Rhonita Patnaik

Published: Fri 24 Jul 2020, 11:45 AM

Last updated: Sun 26 Jul 2020, 1:58 PM

Royal, rich and exclusive: This is what comes to our mind when we think of a race in Dubai. Displaying a whirlwind of excitement, horse racing has been a part of the Emirati culture for eons but moved to the international scene in 1980s. Today, Dubai hosts some of the biggest races in the world.

The love His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has for horses is renowned. Sheikh Mohammed's passion grew into a major bloodstock operation and resulted in the world's largest and most global racing team, Godolphin, as well as the successful stallion operation, Darley.

Dubai-based and UK-trained doctor Ahmad Al Falasi also shares the same passion, which he realised early on during his career days in government services. He went on to become a trained specialist in horses and one of the very few who has come in direct contact with the Ruler's horses. He is also the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.

For Al Falasi, his passion for horses is not an acquired behaviour. Rather it comes to him naturally. This became more pronounced when he found his calling while on his previous job at Dubai Ambulance Services. He had met Sheikh Mohammed and discussed options, which led him to move to the UK for further studies. Since 2016, Al Falasi has been working with the horses and advocating the benefits of horse riding. Horse riding, according to him, may look like an expensive affair but in reality, it isn't.

In a special interview with Rhonita Patnaik, he shares tips on how to train horses and become a good rider. He says that horse riding is a fun and exciting activity for all and you should give it a try.

START YOUNG

Al Falasi believes that:
.    Children as young as five years old can take up riding classes.
.    Start with schooling horses that are trained to soothe and be patient with children. The horses are calm and do not react to the sudden movements of children.
.    Children should be taught to be respectful towards horses when interacting with them. When on its back, the horse and the rider are the same.
.    Horses are thought to be therapeutic to kids with autism. The benefits are immediate as well as long-lasting. It reduces irritability reduces and improves social skills.
.    The controlling nature of bullies can be eased by horse riding as well. The need to dominate, when transferred on a 'trained' horse, can be reduced drastically. But remember, the horse is a living being and it has feelings too. So, do not be over-powering.

WHAT'S YOUR CALLING?

After schooling if you decide to be a rider, there are three disciplines to choose from, according to Al Falasi:

Dressage: Dressage is a French term meaning "training". The most fundamental basis is to develop a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximising its potential as a riding horse or increasing its overall rideability. Benefits of dressage are vast for any horse as it hones natural balance, obedience, flexibility, and boosts mental and physical confidence.

Endurance: 'Endurance' riding sounds exhausting but it isn't. You have a lot of stables in and around Dubai that specialise in this after basic training. Endurance horses not as hot-blooded as people might expect, so they are easier to ride. The discipline of endurance tests a horse's fitness and stamina as well as a rider's horsemanship skills in a long-distance competitive format where the condition of the horse is paramount.

Show jumping: Show jumping is a horseback riding discipline where horses and riders clear a jumping course with the lowest amount of faults and the fastest time. If you are looking for show jumping, head to the Equestrian Club in Dubai. Most of the rulers' families are adept show jumpers.

KNOW YOUR BREED

Once you decide on your discipline, Al Falasi says that the next step is to choose your partner:
.    For show horses that dominate Arabian events, the mammals have to be pure-bred with bloodlines that can be traced upto 10 generations.
.    For endurance horses, they have to be pure Arabian horses from the Wahoo race. However, to achieve stamina, the breeds can be mixed, such as Anglo Arab or others from respectable lineage.

SPORT ON

Horse riding is a very popular sport and is encouraged. But people are worried to approach as everybody looks at it as an expensive hobby. Al Falasi says that reality is very different. You don't have to buy a horse to ride a horse and riding options are available to residents and citizens alike at a very nominal per hour basis right here in Dubai. "Equestrian clubs offer affordable packages with a ready horse and a trainer. In case, you want to experience an actual horse-keeping without buying the horse, visit a livery. It is a well-maintained stable with best of the horses wherein you can 'care for a horse' on a monthly basis. You are the sole rider and can experience what it is like own a horse if you ever consider getting one."

VET YOUR RACE HORSE

Horses are quite elegant creatures, says Al Falasi. To spot a good race horse may be a challenge but not impossible. He advises to:
.    Start with breed lineage: Pure bred or thoroughbreds
.    A good walker is a good galloper: watch out for his hoof beats

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR HORSE

Al Falasi believes that you should never try to 'break in' the horse. In Western movies, dominating the horse by fighting and powering over the horse might seem to achieve the purpose but it defeats the true essence of partnership that the rider and the horse are meant to be in.When in the US for training on how to approach a horse, he was trained by acclaimed horse whisperer, Monty Roberts. Al Falasi explained that as a child of a cowboy, Roberts was opposed to the idea of empowering a horse by dominance as done by his father. "He was colourblind and a compassionate kid. He spent hours outside near his father's horses to learn their body language. And wanted to promote his own technique going forward." Echoing his views, Al Falasi recommends:

.    Learning the body language of the horse is very important. A horse always gives you a sign - approach or back-off.
.    Never approach the horse from behind. Most of us tend to do that because we are scared. Never do that. A horse needs to see you to trust your body language.

BE A BETTER RIDER

The horse whisperer shares some insightful tips to master the art of riding. He says:

.    Always sit up straight. Draw a straight line from your ear lobe to your shoulder then to your hips and finally your ankle. This will ensure your posture is right and you are well-balanced in your seat.
.    Look where you are going. While changing direction, be patient and consistent in your decision. Sudden movements can confuse the the horse.
.    Learn to be a horse whisperer and send the right message.
.    Confidence is the key. A horse can smell your fear. Trust him and let him trust you.

THE LEGEND
Dubai Millennium, a thoroughbred racehorse and sire, owned by Godolphin was notable for winning a series of nine major races, including the Dubai World Cup. He was owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He was the fastest horse in the world when alive. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he died from grass sickness at the young age of five.
In the 46th chapter of his latest book, Qissati, Sheikh Mohammed talks about greatest horse he has ever owned.

Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.
Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.
Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.
Ahmad Al Falasi is the first in the UAE to be awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Equine Studies (Sports Horse Performance) from the University of Essex in the UK.

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