Al Shaqab Academy is considered an instrumental educational institution for the majestic practice of equestrian sports in the Middle East. To gain better insight into the sport and the academy’s role, we sat down with Mohammed Sultan Al Suwaidi, Assistant Manager of equestrian sports at Al Shaqab in Qatar Foundation, and he told us about what the Academy offers.
What kind of training do you offer?
How does the Academy function?
We are trying to implement a German system called EPO. It is a 10-level curriculum combining theory and practice. Some of the levels include course planning, riding practicalities, and gearing up. I believe it would take two to three years to train our new generation of riders from when they start off. Equestrian sports are about passion, not just practice.
Can children participate?
The best time to present this training to the community is in the younger years, from 6 to 9 years old. However, we can’t force them to learn the sport, so we give them the practicality first, then after age 9 they can be introduced to the theory to better comprehend it. The practicality of the training lies within core principles; some include enjoyment, confidence, and breaking fear patterns. This sport is part of our heritage; we all know it has been used for years as a weapon by our forefathers. That’s why our training program combines practical training with historical background.
How demanding is equestrian sport?
What components make it appeal to the wider community?
When it comes to horse riding, it is a very demanding sport and so it can be challenging. It requires a lot of thinking on the part of the rider, because of its speed and the control needed. Horse riding is considered the second best sport to work all your muscles simultaneously, the best being swimming. Obviously, you can’t force someone to like something or do something they don’t want to do. So we try to appeal to the community and encourage them to like the sport and the competitions. We have training and multiple events that we participate in throughout the year.
One of the benefits of horse riding is medicinal. What is Al Shaqab doing on that front?
We know that there are mind and body benefits to be had from horse riding. We saw it work with both mental and physical disabilities. Specifically, in cases of autism and improving posture. We had a lady once who came to us and couldn’t maintain her upright posture for longer than fifteen seconds. After riding the horse for a while, she could hold herself upright for more than twenty minutes at a time. We also know that animals have a very strong connection with humans — as much as you give them care, they give you care.
Some people connect with horses and other animals to make up for their social disconnect, and that helps with their self-confidence. We used to work with Shafallah center to provide some healing exercises. However, we noticed that it was hard to diagnose the mental or physical illness and how to solve it or help improve its symptoms with the horses. We plan to have some sort of therapy and an expert to run and manage it, in the future. It was wonderful to see improvement during our interactions with Shafallah center.
What is the difference between Al Shaqab’s Equestrian School and Al Shaqab Academy?
The Qatari team has qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games in show jumping, positioning Equestrian sports as the strongest sport in Qatar. As an academy, we have to teach the Olympic disciplines, which are showjumping, taming and training the horse, and cross-country.
It is often said that equestrian sports are elitist sports. What do you think?
I disagree, if there is passion for the sport, it will be performed regardless. Equestrian sports are expensive, so if you are looking for quality training, of course it would cost you. Most of the riders are sponsored. The top riders get sponsored by big companies, but if they underperform, the sponsorship will not last. It’s not about the money, it is about the passion for the sport. Also, if you look at it from this perspective, equestrian sports in Qatar are much cheaper compared to other nations. Because we are part of Qatar Foundation, we follow their stance; it is for education, science, and community development.