x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

A special place for horses

Some of the most prized inhabitants of Al Hosn lived in the Royal Stables.

The original caption for this photograph reads: 'Pirate Coast: The Sheikh of Abu Thabi and his stalwart sons, Sheikh has just dismounted, sons on horseback'. The image dates from circa 1910.
The original caption for this photograph reads: 'Pirate Coast: The Sheikh of Abu Thabi and his stalwart sons, Sheikh has just dismounted, sons on horseback'. The image dates from circa 1910.

In a time before cars and roads, the stables at Al Hosn were of great importance in the everyday life of the men living in the palace.

Among the Al Nayhan family, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, also known as Zayed the Great, had a reputation as a great horseman, as did Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and Sheikh Saeed bin Shakhbut.

Called Stabilat Al Khiyool, Marbat Al Khayl - which translates as the place where horses are kept and tethered - the Royal Stables were home to around 30 horses and 40 or more camels. It was a simple structure, with plain walls and a roof made of palm leaves to help with cooling.

Inside, the animals were kept in individual stalls, with a separate stall for female camels or mares who were pregnant or who had newly delivered.

The stables stood to the west of the palace gate, outside the fortress walls, in front of a small mosque. Daily life followed a set routine. First the horses would be groomed, ready for the sheikhs to ride them later in the day. After the maghrib prayer in the evening, the horses and camels would be fed, then covered with blankets to keep them warm at night.

For the sheikhs, the end of the asr prayer saw them heading to the stables. Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan would spend the afternoon among the horses, where they would be served fresh camel milk.

For those who went riding, a popular destination was down to the beach, where the horses could wade into the sea before being scrubbed down and ridden home.

It is recorded that the sheikhs encouraged both their friends and visiting Bedouin to sit in the saddles.

Not everyone was a skilled rider, with some taking a fall, much to the amusement of those watching.

Among the horses kept at the stables were some whose magnificence earned them a place in history, including Rabdan, ridden by Sheikh Zayed the First, Sagraqiya, Al Hamdaniya, Al Wazna and Al Shakra.

Change came in the early 1960s, when Sheikh Shakhbut assigned some horses to be used by the new Abu Dhabi Police. During the day, the horses were ridden in patrol around the city, returning to the Royal Stables at the end of the day. In the end, as the city grew up around Al Hosn, the stables were moved to their current location in Mushrif.