Show jumpers from across the Emirates, Olympians and amateurs alike, came to compete yesterday in one of the most important dates in the sport's calendar. Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, who made it to the second round of individual show jumping in last year's Olympics, was one of the most high-profile riders to take part in the three-day Emirates Show Jumping Championship, now in its 10th year.
She was joined by Ahmed al Junaibi, who narrowly missed the sport's World Cup in Las Vegas earlier this month when US authorities failed to issue him a visa in time, and his brother Khalid. They were expected to be joined in the ring by Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, head of the UAE show jumping team. The equestrian stars competed alongside show jumping enthusiasts in a class open to all nationalities with fences up to 1.2 metres high arranged around a tough course.
The event at Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club outside Abu Dhabi, billed as a family night out, drew a crowd of about 200, including proud parents, competitors and fans of the sport. Fiona Cunliffe, 50, whose 15-year-old daughter Katie was competing in an open round against the clock, said: "There is a thriving equestrian scene here. "From mid-October to early May, there are events most weekends and this is the culmination of them.
"We mothers turn up religiously to support our daughters but it is a great event for anyone to watch." Emirates-born Mohammed al Owais, 29, who was competing in the open class on the horse Saydoon van de Haaipander, said: "We are very lucky to have events such as these and the venue has good ground to jump on. "I have been training for six hours a day for the past month as the sport is so highly regarded here. Families and society here attach a lot of importance to show jumping."
Yesterday he missed out on first place, which went to Salim al Suwaidi, who completed the course in under 47 seconds. Sheikha Latifa, on a horse called Peanuts, also missed out on a top slot with seven jumping and time faults, while Khalid and Ahmed al Junaibi came in at 63.07 and 70.99 seconds respectively. They will have several more chances to scoop prizes from a pot of Dh235,000 (US$64,000) over the next two days before the event culminates tomorrow. The championship will include dressage and displays of purebred Arabian horses.
Most classes are restricted to UAE nationals but there would be one class open to all nationalities on each day. Sarah Drakeley, whose daughters Charlotte, 15, and Madeleine, 13, were taking part in the ridden Arabians category, said: "It is all part of the heritage here. Sheikh Zayed started breeding Asyl Arabians 30 years ago and his sons have done the same, setting up foundations for breeding world-class Arabian horses.
"Horses are very close to the hearts of people from the UAE." Caroline Revell, 47, who attended with her daughter Hope, 16, added: "It is a great family day out. You do not need an interest in show jumping to come and enjoy it." firstname.lastname@example.org Sport coverage, page s10