x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Arabian horses buck the sporting trend

The Arabian horse is unrivalled in the world of sport for its over-the-top descriptions and well-deserved compliments.

Fans can go to see some of the finest Arabian horses at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club this Sunday.
Fans can go to see some of the finest Arabian horses at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club this Sunday.


When defending sport during all the times it seems indefensible - corruption, drugs, corruption, everyday cheating, corruption, lousy sportsmanship, corruption, Wayne Rooney's contract saga, corruption - it can help to point out that sport intersects with almost every other department of life.

In a sense, sport is just about everything.

Study it long enough, and even if you wish only to meld yourself irretrievably into a couch before a flat-screen television until you and your couch steadily become one, you will find yourself learning about sociology, psychology, physiology, pharmacology (of course), biochemistry, geography, dentistry (in the case of ice hockey), commerce (ever more so) and history.

On rare occasions, it even prompts the pondering of ancient history.

Such pondering will be apt on Sunday when the finale of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup series will be held at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.

It will come on the capital's first race meeting of the season while climaxing the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival. It will precede an awards ceremony citing successes from a series that has promoted Arabian horses and UAE heritage while coursing through the year and through France, Holland, the United States, Germany, Poland and France again.

It will reiterate that while we often see athletes of a rarefied calibre, none possess this much calibre.

Read histories of Arabian horses, and you invariably come across raves about their toughness, balance, bravery, athleticism, fortitude, sure-footedness, symmetry, lightness, power, ability to metabolise, muscularity, purposefulness, nimbleness, otherworldly proportion, stamina, chiselled bone structure and, all told, indomitableness.

In other words, they are everything we all hope to be when we go to the gym.

Yet while all those descriptions might seem just a tad over the top, even if describing, say, the performance of Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale against Inter Milan in the Champions League, they do not commit overstatement in the case of Arabian horses.

Clearly there was indomitableness both aplenty and rarely surpassed. Archaeologists - see, now we are in archaeology - have found evidence of 4,500 years of existence as these animals survived their way through not only the usual wretchedness of human wars but hard, hard desert climate and terrain that demanded some indomitableness.

"A Gift from the Desert," went the title of an exhibit this year at the Kentucky Horse Park in the United States, and one key word there is "desert".

To those accustomed to horses who thrive because of the water or the grass or the limestone of Kentucky for one place, these beings can seem uncommonly indomitable. As Albert W Harris wrote in US Remount Magazine in 1944 of the Arabian horse: "His gaits are so smooth and elastic that one does not grow fatigued."

Of the practice of extended galloping, Harris wrote: "At this he is swift, sure-footed and tireless." Observing the horse in general, he wrote: "They have been bred to hardship."

He - and she - had to be.

As if that were not praise enough, Harris noted these stalwarts even "eat less" than other horses. And rather than growing insufferable from that avalanche of compliments, these beings generally earn yet another in history after history: "loyal".

Given such remarkableness and its positive effects upon human survival - here we go with some anthropology - the push to increase the knowledge of the oldest horse breed in the world qualifies as important work.

It is best that their contributions and devotedness not fade against the shinier - but less nimble - vehicles tooling down the concrete highways of this era. The intricate bond between people and horses can come as strange to people who grew up far from any equine familiarity, but the rugged history of the Arabian horses explains it flawlessly.

With the proper eye, people can look at these familiar marvels and see forever. John Hervey, the prominent turf writer from the mid-20th century in the American staple the Daily Racing Form, who was quoted by Harris as writing: "The dominant quality of Arab blood is its eternal, its immortal persistence."

Hervey surmised that horsemen could observe Arabian horses and see not only "beauty, speed, grace, fire, activity, docility and fineness, yet toughness of fibre".

They also could spot "that eternity, that immortality incarnated".

That might be more than a few blokes going out to watch some racing anywhere on Earth would wish to ponder. Yet the fact remains that, on a day like this coming Sunday in Abu Dhabi, a person could look and see an event on Sunday or a person could look and see all through several thousand years. This kind of vision can make sport defensible.



Meydan off to flying start, s8-9