On 2 December 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed. The seven sheikhdoms of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain were united, the English retreated leaving a structured society, and the country rose out of the desert to become one of the most iconic countries in the world. From the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to the Emirates Palace, the only 7 star hotel in the world, the UAE seems to have a fascination for being the best.
In the 1990s there were but only a handful of Arabian horse breeders. These were mostly the leaders of each emirate, most notably Dr Sheikh Sultan al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, and HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country’s founder and affectionately named ‘Bubba Zayed’ by his adoring nation. His farm, The Royal Stables, had some 800 horses at its peak with Arabians for racing, endurance and, of course, show. Soon, these great men’s sons would also create stables filled with some of the globe’s treasures. By the turn of the 21st century, these studs started to send their horses to conquer the world’s arenas once more with horses from the desert. At this time, I remember that Qatar was at the head of its game, with top horses heralding the national flag and a breeding programme enviable to the world’s best. The young Shaqab colts Gazal (Anaza el Farid x Kajora) and Al Adeed (Ansata Halim Shah x Sundar Alisayyah) were coming to the fore as was the ever-beautiful Ashaal Al Rayyan (Safir x Ansata Majesta) and then Marwan al Shaqab (Gazal Al Shaqab x Little Liza Fame) burst onto the scene to change the worlds breeding for ever.
In 2003, Sheikh Ammar from the emirate of Ajman was one of the first to make a stamp here in the UAE when he decided to hold his own show on the beach, with a Dhow boat signifying the UAE’s pearl diving heritage, lit up in the warm waters of the Arabian gulf. Prize money, cars, firework displays were all on offer while prominent breeders and trainers soon had invites, and Ajman was on its way to International glory. I remember showing the Junior Female Champion and Senior Male Champion that year for The Royal Stables, but this was the show that fuelled the passions of the many as slowly, more and more top horses came into the UAE and Ajman was set as their debut show.
Rumours of million dollar deals were whispered and over the next few years, a whole host of fresh faces made the UAE their home with the birth of many new studs. Marajj (Marwan al Shaqab x RGA Kouress), Escape ibn-Navoronné-D (AS Sinans Pascha by Navarroné-P), Psyches Amber Gem (Padrons Psyche x AK Zabiya), Maleik el Kheil (El Shaklan x Muneera), Bess Fa’Izah (WH Justice x Sharon el Kendal), Palestra (Penitent x Patera), Eskalopka (Monogramm x Egzotyka), Panerea by Palawan (WH Justice x Palawan), Baila de Djoon OS (Ajman Moniscione x Shak Shakira), Crusader (Salaa el Dine x AK Kastana), Om el Azadik (Sanadik el Shaklan x CH Azhnaba) and more recently FA el Rasheem (FA el Shawan x Virtuosa MLR), FT Shaella (Shael Dream Desert x Soul Pretty TGS), Shanghai EA (WH Justice x Salymah EA)… The list goes on and on. Champion after champion, the UAE’s influence soon became formidable collecting titles across the Middle East in Jordan, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and then slowly they began to conquer Europe.
The Europeans have bred some of the world’s finest Arabian horses, with the State Studs showcasing their unique bloodlines for us all to see. I remember as a young child, being transfixed by Pilarka (Palas x Pierzga) and Penitent (Partner x Penza) both going European Champion in Ostende; I was amazed at the power and beauty of these Polish horses. There was Robbie den Hartog, with the Russian horses flying with their tails over their backs, snorting without a hint of a plastic bag, just honest charismatic horses who loved to show, and the Ismers with their ethereal white horses, so serene and beautiful. So many memories…
Europe made great use of these imports and together with Crabbet, Spanish, and Egyptian horses, they crafted the bloodlines together to create magic. The Egyptian/Spanish cross was created in the Black Forest in Germany to give birth to El Shaklan (Shaker el Masri x Estopa). Meanwhile, from a Crabbet mare and sired by a Russian stallion, whose sire was from Egypt, and bred in the Netherlands, Padron (Patron x Odessa) emerged before the world. Where would be without these horses now; that is for another article on another day.
Fast-forward ten years and Europe’s best are now some of the foundations for the Middle East. Horses have come far and wide from Australia to Brazil to South Africa to North and South America, and so many countries in between, all in the search for the next best thing. A call here, to a contact there, had people clambering on to planes to finalise deals, and the Arabian horse industry was now hot property.
In 2004, Dubai held its first Arabian horse show and invited some of the best to compete, and then in 2009, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan had an idea to host an international show in the capital, the picturesque Abu Dhabi. With the white sandy beaches, pristine gardens and flawless organisation from the Emirates Arabian Horse Society, this show was to attract the world’s attention by offering 9.75 million dirhams in prize money and the chance to see a whole host of champions in one arena. The showing boom was about to explode. With 100,000 dirhams for the first 10 horses in each class and 250,000 dirhams each for all championship titles – and debuting the Gold, Silver and Bronze system – people became addicted to the sport, and so breeding horses suddenly became profitable. The many new spectators watched the Sheikhs, the leaders of the country, walking side by side with their fellow countrymen and the seed was sown. At this notable show, three out of the four top medals all went to the United Arab Emirates – Escape ibn Navarroné-D for the stallions, El Palacio VO (Al Lahab x El Dorada) for the colts, and Bess Fa’Izah for the mares. Such was the quality that the Junior Female Championship went to Juwanda OS (WH Justice x Shak Lavanda) with Felicia RLC (Shael Dream Desert x Camelia K), dam of AJ Mardan (by Vervaldee) in Silver and Najdah Al Zobair (Marwan al Shaqab x JFN Bint Ludhan), the UAE’s first homebred World Champion, in Bronze. Just amazing.
In the recent years, show venues around the world have played the UAE National Anthem as the top accolades have been awarded to the Middle East with over 40 World Championship winners calling the UAE their home – an impressive record. Now, the UAE has forged itself as the number one country for breeding the modern day show horse and these modern desert-breds are slowly being made available once more to the European breeders; and so the cycle continues.
In just over two decades, the UAE have done what the world has achieved over the past millennia, and new benchmark of the Arabian show horse has been formed. Only time will tell what happens next.
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