Issue 97 October 2012
In the 2012 London Games, the Saudi Equestrian team won bronze in the team jumping event. Ali Khimji meets some of the riders to find out what drives them.
An Arab poet once wrote: “The dearest place in the world is the saddle of a charger, and the best companion for time is a book.” Horsemanship has always been a dear sport to the Arabs, with references to the animals appearing in both the Qur’an and hadith, so it was quite odd that until this year, the Saudi Arabians had only won one medal in equestrian since the start of the Olympics. To rectify this, King Abdullah issued a Royal Decree in November 2009 that Saudi Equestrian, an independent body, is formed to overlook the equestrian team, and ensure that a foundation was built upon which the country may enjoy success at a competitive level in the sport. Nearly three years later and the investment has already paid off, with the Saudis winning two medals at two competitive tournaments.
The first medal was won by Abdullah Al Sharbatly at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, when he took silver in the individual event. He was encouraged to ride from a young age by his father and uncles, and sums up his passion for horses well: “If I don’t see a horse for one day, then I don’t feel comfortable.” His equestrian talent, which he says comes from God, is that he can get a feel for horse from the moment he gets on it. In fact, Abdullah had only been training with the horse that he won the silver medal with for six weeks before the championships. “It was a good thing for me, and a surprise for everyone that a guy from an Arab country can be one of the top in the world at the World Equestrian Games,” Abdullah says. “It shows the world we are doing a great thing, we have a great programme, we are working hard, and it was good for our team as well.”
Following the World Equestrian Games, the next event in focus was the London 2012 Olympics. The team successfully qualified for the event, and while it was Abdullah’s first Olympics, it was the fifth for Kamal Bahamdan and Ramzy Abdullah, two of the team members. “The Olympics is the highest level of our sport,” says Ramzy. “The experience of being in the Olympics is something; it’s very tense, very nerve-wracking, but you have to control yourself, and really focus on each jump by itself and try to do your best. You also have to have the horsepower, because without the horse, it’s impossible.”