x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Cavalry arrives to break new ground

The British Army's equine display team land in Abu Dhabi before their first performance outside of Europe.

Talal al Hashemi, a member of a delegation from Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, meets Household Cavalry troops in London's Hyde Park.
Talal al Hashemi, a member of a delegation from Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, meets Household Cavalry troops in London's Hyde Park.

ABU DHABI // The first members of the British Household Cavalry's Musical Ride equine display team arrived in the capital yesterday ahead of their first ever performance outside Europe, which takes place at the end of the month.

Fifteen of the group's 30 horses are due to arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport today, with the remaining troops, including two female trumpeters, and animals arriving in the coming days. The 36-strong team are due to appear at the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex) on September 30. The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is traditionally responsible for protecting Queen Elizabeth II.

Its Musical Ride, first performed more than a century ago at Britain's Royal Tournament, sees riders display a host of fast-moving cavalry drill skills set to music. One of the most celebrated features of the ride is the soldiers' ability to make their steeds lie down on command, a skill that traditionally enabled cavalry troops to hide before surprise attacks or use their horses as cover in battle.

Bringing the show to the UAE is a coup for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach) as the regiment rarely performs outside the UK. Capt Edward Olver, 28, the adjutant of the regiment, said: "We are delighted to be in Abu Dhabi and delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this event. "This is really going to appeal to the people of the UAE. People here are used to Arabian horses, which are quite small, so we are confident that they will be wowed by our Cavalry Blacks [horses], not least because of their size."

The displays will take place in a specially customised hall in the hi-tech steel-and-glass edifice of the National Exhibition Centre. Capt Olver said his soldiers were very keen to take the horses into the desert once they had become accustomed to the warmer climate. "Horses are just like people and it's a long flight over from London. "It will take a little while for them to become acclimatised. They will be stabled in an air-conditioned environment. Mostly we will look to exercise them early in the morning when the weather is cooler.

"The boys are so excited to be here. It's an amazing opportunity for them to perform here at this kind of event. Their eyes are on stalks with this fascinating country." Capt Olver said the team had been training for more than six months. This would be a longer performance than their UK routine and would be more in line with the regiment's original display, first performed in 1882. There will be five performances, each lasting more than 20 minutes, over four days.

The regiment is made up of a combination of squadrons from the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards, the two oldest and most senior regiments in the Army. In addition to their mounted duties, all the soldiers are frontline troops, many having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Abdulla al Qubaisi, the director of communications for Adach, said: "We are very pleased to be hosting this performance. The soldiers' skills encapsulate some of the best traditions of horsemanship and this is something that I am sure will resonate with the people of the UAE.

"The horse is very important to our heritage and this is an ideal opportunity to reinforce the link between our two cultures. "I have not yet seen the show, so I am also personally looking forward to seeing the performance." The Musical Ride will be one of the few events during the four days of Adihex that do not draw on traditions honed over generations by the people of the Gulf. For all the headlines attracted by multimillion-dirham prices paid for camels and bejewelled hunting rifles, the promotion of an outdoors lifestyle is the driving force behind the exhibition for its host, the Emirates Falconers' Club, and Adach, which supports the event.

This year, the organisers toured Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the assistance of UAE embassies in those nations, to promote Adihex in a bid to make it the biggest event of its kind in the region. Up to 170,000 visitors are expected. The Arabian Saluki Beauty Contest, for the smooth and feathered variations of the breed, is open to dog owners throughout the GCC. Among the cultural programmes will be the Emirati equivalent of the world barista championships, with coffee roasted, ground, then brewed over open coals in the traditional Arabic way. Emirati cultural skills will be fostered by poetry competitions on the subjects of birds and hunting trips, and by painting and photography contests with hunting and equestrian themes.

Research into traditional ways will be recognised in another competition organised by Adach for papers investigating Arabian hunting and equestrian traditions. Last year's Adihex was marked by heated bidding wars for camels, horses, salukis and falcons. A two-year-old camel was sold on the first day for Dh6 million (US$1.6m). Immediately after the 2008 Adihex closed, about 80 per cent of the 526 exhibitors signed up for this year's event, which quickly became oversubscribed. This year the floorspace has been increased by a quarter.

Instead of contracting in the more difficult financial climate, several sections are expanding. There was one taxidermy stand at last year's show - this year there will be four. The equestrian segment remains strong, with participation by the world's top racecourses and stables, including Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's horse breeding facility in Normandy, France. chamilton@thenational.ae jhenzell@thenational.ae