x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

My life isn't just about horsing around

To reach his elite position in a very unique field, this specialist mucked out stables for years for just Dh2 apiece.

While studying in California, Satish Seemar cleaned out 40 horse boxes a day for Dh72 ? that?s less than Dh2 apiece.
While studying in California, Satish Seemar cleaned out 40 horse boxes a day for Dh72 ? that?s less than Dh2 apiece.

I've just signed the paperwork for two horses running in the Dubai Sheema Classic, a US$5 million (Dh18.36m) race, and the Al Quoz Sprint, which carries a purse of $1m. That's a lot of money to win. Ten per cent goes to the trainer if the horse wins, which is nice for morale and for my pocket. I manage the stables of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai. I came to the emirate in 1991 and was involved in building Zabeel Stables from the ground up.

When we started, there was nothing here at all. Much of the land around the stables now taken up by skyscrapers was just sand. Many of my friends advised against moving to Dubai, but I was convinced by a simple fact: Sheikh Mohammed is a premier name in horse racing. So it didn't matter that I was leaving the United States and moving to the middle of a desert. If you work in IT and get offered a job by Bill Gates, you go.

And I've been very well looked after since moving here. The perks of the job, such as my house and car, are very good; I remember calling up a few friends when I moved here, very excited about being given such wonderful fringe benefits. For instance, I get a new Range Rover from the company every two years. I'm not really after the luxury life, though. When it comes to spending and lifestyle, I'm a middle-of-the path kind of guy.

I'll go to a five-star restaurant only occasionally, such as when friends or family are in town, or if I fancy something particular to eat. But it's not a habit, and I prefer the company of smaller, informal groups. When I travel, I like to go to countries where my friends live. I'm not a tourist, and I don't want to spend money visiting this or that. I like to stay with friends and have an authentic experience rather than sleep in a five-star luxury hotel.

But Dubai is dangerous; the city, because of all the flash and the fancy malls, can make you live beyond your means. In the 19 years that I have been here prices have risen markedly; when I first arrived, Dubai wasn't this expensive. Of course, I admit that I like some luxuries. Until last year, I played polo - not an easy or cheap sport to get involved in - and in fact I spent a lot of money. I won't say how much, but let's just say it's a wealthy man's sport and the expenses can rack up surprisingly quickly.

I don't think I'm either a saver or spender. I don't save much, and if I have to buy anything I prefer quality items only, be it a shirt or cuff links. I don't compromise on quality. It's easy to buy 10 of the same things in a year, but if you buy one classic, quality item it will last longer and give you more pleasure. I might buy a nice watch every year or every other year; the last really expensive thing I bought was a pair of white gold cuff links for Dh10,000. They were custom made with 4 carat tanzanite stones. I see them as an investment, though, as much as anything else. We men have limitations on what we can buy: our jewellery is watches and cuff links.

I haven't seen much need to buy a property in Dubai. I have a place in France, and of course there are my family's various properties and farms back home. I've also made a few investments in mutual funds, but I see myself as a conservative investor, not a punter. I am originally from Abohar, in north India. I was the youngest in the family, so a little bit spoilt. I was given what I wanted, to a certain degree, but I had a decent upbringing.

My father laid down the rules in one way: I didn't get anything, or get to do anything, unless I finished college. I was given more than enough pocket money, but I had to study. I finished college in India in 1983, having studied world history, and applied to Shasta College in California - famous for its equine programmes - to study horse husbandry. I have always been involved with horses - riding and competing, playing a bit of polo. I come from a well-to-do agricultural background, although my siblings are not into horses. My family had citrus orchards, large plantations. Our ancestors were always involved in horses, so I suppose it was in my blood.

My family were happy to support me financially through college, if a little puzzled. It's not really normal in our society to sit down at a dinner party and have to admit that your son is working with horses all day. I mucked out a lot of boxes in my college days. Although my family put me through three years of college, I also wanted to earn my own money. More importantly, I wanted to learn everything about horses, from the ground up. Literally.

When you come from a well-to-do family in India, that isn't something you ever get the opportunity to do - it's not the done thing to muck out boxes. The horse owners would have said "no way" if I'd ever asked them. It's just a social thing. But in California, it didn't matter, so I did everything connected to horses: care, veterinary assistance, helping with exercise. I used to clean out 40 boxes a day. That paid minimum wage, about $3.25 (Dh11.94) per hour.

I still remember my first week's pay: $3.25 times six hours a day times five days a week: a grand total of $97.50 (Dh358). It was the first time I had earned my own money. In the west, it's normal for young people to work in a cafe and have a part-time job, but my late mother never found out about mine. It would have broken her heart to know her son was mucking out horseboxes, but it was all part of the learning process for me - and it continues to pay off to this day.

Maybe I can sit in this nice office at the stables, but I know exactly how long it should take the grooms to clean out a horse box and if it is being done properly. I know what is going on at every level, because I learnt to do it myself. During summer holidays at Shasta I was appointed head herdsman to look after the other animals: cattle, sheep, pigs. I had a team and we had to cut and bale the hay, clean the barns, milk cows, help with the foaling, protect the cows from coyote.

It was hard, physical work, and unpaid, but it was the best time of my life, and I loved living like a cowboy. I was also an unpaid intern for Monty Roberts, a famous horse whisperer, and learnt a lot about horse psychology from him. I spent five years in Kentucky working for Taylor Made Farms, one of the biggest horse-sales companies in the world. I managed a few divisions there, mostly looking after younger stock. By this time, I was financially independent from my family.

Our industry is small, and I was lucky enough to catch the eye of the right people. In 1989 I was asked to come here, and in 1991 I arrived. I still live in a large villa provided for me by my employer, at Desert Palm next to the Polo Club - so I am near horses at home and at work. I have lived there for about nine years. It's a good place to live, as out in the "country" as you can get here, and very green.

* As told to Jola Chudy