KSA’s Arabian Horse Festival delights equestrian fans

There is no better place in the world to experience the majesty and beauty of the Arabian horse than in Saudi Arabia, the breed’s ancestral home. Hoping to pique interest and raise awareness of the country’s rich horse heritage, the kingdom is hosting several high-profile events. February’s inaugural Winter at Tantora Endurance Cup race offered a record-breaking racing prize estimated at US$4 million, and in March, the Equestrian Club of Riyadh, home to King Abdulaziz Racetrack. 

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Saudi-bred Raney Al Khaled taking the bronze in the Junior Male Champion category. Image: Elizabeth Davis

In January, visitors had the opportunity to admire the best of the breed at the annual Prince Sultan Abdulaziz International Arabian Horse Festival in Riyadh. The festival was hosted by Al Khalediah Farm, opened to the public just once a year for the festival, which was transformed into horse lover’s paradise with show arena, equestrian-themed art gallery, racing events and a handicraft market. The festival showcased top Arabians from around the world and they were judged according to the European Conference of Arab Horse Organizations' scoring system. Qualifying show rounds began with yearling and colts and later included senior mares and stallions. The top prize of SR700,000 (about US$186,000) for championship gold meant the competition was fierce.

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Bedouins consider the horse as an extension of their family. Today the bonds between owners and their steeds remain remarkably strong. Image: Elizabeth Davis

An iconic symbol of Saudi heritage, the Arabian horse has also been represented in beloved children books, such as King of the Wind and classic films like The Black Stallion. This wild-spirited animals’ distinct facial features and delicate almost floating gait make its beauty the stuff of legends.

"Saudi has a strong history with the horse, and they are proud of that," Christina Marotti, veterinarian consultant at Khalediah Farm, explained to Lonely Planet News. "Whether racing or show, you can feel the history here." The breed’s striking features aren’t only about aesthetics. Marotti said the Arabian breed is versatile and that the horses’ large hairy nostrils offer protection from the region’s harsh climate and sand. With an innate air of regality, Arabians run with the head held high for better airflow and to lessen the intake of sand.

Words & Images: Elizabeth Davis

KSA’s Arabian Horse Festival delights equestrian fans

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