Mohammed discusses endurance riding
Q: The UAE is preparing to host the World Endurance Championship for the second time between January 26th and 27th in Seih Assalem. What is your vision and what instructions have you given to the relevant committees and riders?
A: In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, first I'd like to point out that our riders - the champions who have proven themselves in the rides in which they participated, whether in the UAE, Britain or Ireland - our participation in Europe was for the purpose of training and qualifying them, but even with the participation of world champions we achieved results of which we can be proud, which is an indication of our riders' experience and skill.
It pleases us to host the world's best riders in the 10th World Endurance Championship in Seih Assalem in Dubai. I hope the organising committee will receive the world champions in a way that creates a great impression of the UAE and I hope that this championship will be an organisational and technical success. Allah willing, our riders will do well.
Q: You ordered the organisation and sponsorship of the 2005 European Endurance Championships in Britain. What is the idea behind this championship?
A: It's good for our riders to have the opportunity to compete overseas, because it helps them to determine their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, our horses get the chance to train on different terrain, whether plains, valleys or mountainous regions.
Q: The Emirates' office for international endurance rides is constructing Dubai Endurance City to the highest international standards under your direct supervision. What are your expectations for the future of competitions and races in the UAE?
A: In the past, we built villages and cities for each event, but we decided to build a permanent city for endurance rides. The city will be inaugurated with the coming ride at Seih Assalem. We will host the World Endurance Championship at this new city in a way that will satisfy riders and make those who are keen to attend such traditional events more comfortable.
Q: You are credited for the growing popularity of endurance riding and some see you as the champion of this traditional sport. What are your priorities with regards to popularising this sport - the sport of fathers and grandfathers?
A: The first credit for promoting equestrianism in the UAE goes to UAE President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan - may Allah protect him - to His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum and to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, because they encourage sports, especially equestrianism, as sports promote love and peace between nations. For this reason, we support sports and competitions such as these.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our champion Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum for winning the gold medal for shooting at the Olympics in Athens. His victory is an honour for us and for all Arabs, and it proves that sports are the best means of achieving international recognition.
Q: We appreciate that all your achievements - at both regional and international levels - were made not for personal acclaim but to promote the true spirit of equestrianism among future generations and to promote Arab heritage. You have also encouraged your sons and other UAE riders to participate in endurance rides. So what are your plans to encourage their interest in the sport of their fathers and grandfathers?
A: Shooting, swimming and riding are well known parts of our heritage. We are Arabs - equestrianism runs in our veins - so it comes naturally to us. And Arabian thoroughbreds are the best horses in the world - we are very proud of this - because there are Arabian thoroughbreds at every racetrack. For all these reasons, horse races and equestrianism receive a lot of support and encouragement from the rulers of our country, which is lead by UAE President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan - may Allah protect him. We have established many schools and clubs to teach horse riding in order to preserve the heritage of our fathers and grandfathers.
Q: It is clear that equestrianism in the UAE is making steady progress. You recently introduced the Dubai International Racing Carnival, the Maiden Stakes and other races. Will the new season bring any more surprises?
A: Equestrianism is always growing, thanks to the joint efforts and the exchange of ideas between Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Hamdan and our brothers Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. For example, the Maiden Stakes, which we introduced last season for the first time in endurance ride history, was developed to promote endurance and to encourage riders who haven't won anything in previous rides, so that they could get a taste of victory. This ride attracted the interest of both owners and trainers. Our next surprise will be the inauguration of Dubai Endurance City in preparation for the World Endurance Championship.
Q: You participate in most of the Arab and international rides, be they in plains, valleys, mountainous terrain, forests, rivers or deserts, even in the rain. What type of terrain do you prefer?
A: Marathon endurance rides depend on the abilities of the rider and the horse to cover a certain distance. According to the rules, both the rider and the horse must reach the finish line in good health regardless of the nature of the terrain - be it plain, valley, forest, river or desert. The weather - if it is rainy, hot, cold or dusty - also affects the outcome of the ride.
Q: What achievement do you consider the most important, and why?
A: The most important victory was that at Athens Olympics 2004, when we won the gold medal. I am also proud of the medal that Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Maktoum achieved for the 9th World Endurance Championship in Spain, because he was the youngest participant and he was competing with international champions. We thank Allah for this great achievement. We look forward to winning the gold medal in the forthcoming Endurance Championship.
Q: Given the growing popularity of endurance riding, we would like to ask about your attempt to have this sport included as one of the Olympic games' equestrian events, given that it was among the games at the first Olympics in 767 BC. We have heard that there will be discussions about including this sport in the next Olympics?
A: Endurance riding is one of the fastest-developing sports in the world. It will be included, Allah willing, in the Olympic Games, in the near future. We have great hopes for this; the Federation Equestre Internationale is working towards this and in the UAE we are sparing no effort to achieve this noble target.
Q: Your Highness is behind the innovative ideas that have become successful projects and there are endless examples of these, from endurance rides to flat races to Godolphin's achievements and Dubai World Cup. On January 29, 2004, you launched the idea of the 9-week Dubai International Racing Carnival, which was a great success with owners, trainers and other people in the industry. What will be done to promote these races at the international level?
A: In Dubai, we have created a very strong infrastructure that provides for the needs of the participants, be they owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms or the press. We achieved the goal of improving Dubai World Cup's position on the list of international races. The Carnival met with unprecedented interest; there was encouraging feedback from international trainers and the finest international horses participated in these races. All this helped to promote our races from the regional to the international level and made them more exciting.
We are very proud of the Carnival's success and we are looking for innovative ideas to turn into successful realities.
Q: On national TV, you once talked about there being special communication between rider and horse and you explained that it is a language known to only a few riders. You said this at Newmarket. So what are the nature and alphabet of this language?
A: Yes, there is a special language between the rider and the horse because when the horse feels that you are investing care in it and feeding it well, it repays you gratefully by doing what you ask. You might even feel that it is waiting for your instructions, as if it is asking whether to keep going forward or to turn.
The rider must have a spiritual connection with the horse because the horse can feel the rider's pulse. Racehorses like those who take care of them and feed them well; horses are generally dear to people's hearts. They are highly sensitive. They can feel happy and sad, just like us, and they have become increasingly obedient to men - they were very wild when they were first domesticated. Man has become closer to horses, treating them with great care and feeding them. The Arabian knight made his horse a part of his being - he used to like horses more than either family or self. He used to honour horses and make sacrifices for them and Arabian horses are well-known for their loyalty. When a rider falls, his horse will wait for him to remount, taking care not to trample him.
Q: Some historical studies claim that the renowned Antara bin Shaddad spent his last days in the Emirates and is buried here. What's your opinion of this?
A: The Emirates and the Arabian Peninsula are among the richest geographic and historical areas. In the past, the Arabian Peninsula was covered with rivers, valleys and greenery and the valleys of the Empty Quarter were wadis full of rain, greenery and rivers. Tribes in the pre-Islamic period lived near sources of water. It is worth mentioning that the first Arabian horse came from the Arabian Peninsula. Antara bin Shaddad travelled through the Arabian Peninsula towards the Emirates.
We should not forget that the Bani Hilal (Al Hilaliyyun) migrated in the 6th century BC, from the Arabian Peninsula to Northern Africa. From Egypt, they settled in Tunisia and there a knight won repute. His name was Abu Zaid Al Hilali and he fought Al Zinati and captured Tunisia. This tribe gets the credit for bringing the Arabian thoroughbred to these countries. With the Islamic campaigns into Europe, these horses reached Europe and then from there they reached America. We are proud that the Arabian Peninsula is the origin of the original Arabian thoroughbreds.
Q: What pleases you? What is the secret behind the number 7, which you always wear when you race? What does the colour blue mean to you?
A: It makes me happy to see my country prospering as a result of young people's efforts and loyalty to their work, raising our flag high at all international meetings. And I am very happy when I am on my horse. So I agree with our famous poet, Abu Al Tayeb Al Mutanabbi, who said:
The most precious place in the world is horseback
And the best companion of all time is a book
As for the number 7, there's a simple story behind it. In the first endurance rides, I was given two numbers - 7 and 27. Since then, the number 7 has almost always been reserved for me. Don't forget that it has many connotations: Allah, Praise and Glory be to Him, created 7 heavens and the universe in 6 days, then He established Himself on the throne on the 7th day. There are 7 days in the week and one must circumambulate the Ka'bah 7 times. Also, there are 7 vertebrae in the neck.
As for blue - to me it is the clearness of the sky, the water and the world, it stands for friendship and wisdom and it is a colour that carries a lot of weight. It conveys confidence and symbolises the nobility and their values.
Q: If the horses, the camels and the falcons were in danger of extinction, Allah forbid, which would you save first and why?
A: Horses, camels, falcons, Salukis and other animals that Arabs used to use for hunting and transport and to feed before their own children, will, Allah willing, never become extinct because the Arabs depend upon them and see great goodness and blessings in them. They look upon these animals as a symbol of the heritage of their fathers and grandfathers.