“The love for horses run through my family’s’ blood like blood runs through our veins and oxygen in our lungs.”
I come from a family that calls the harsh unforgiving atmosphere of the desert, home. We learned to survive in it, see the beauty of it and learn valuable lessons of life through the many times of hardships and struggles. Our horses, camels, falcons, and salukis were our best friends and most loyal companions. We lived and ruled amongst other families of the Bani Yas Tribe in Liwa (part of the UAE in the empty quarter-near the Saudi borders) for over 800 years, migrating to wherever the existence of water was.
My great great-grandfather Zayed bin Khalifa also known as Zayed The Great and Zayed The First, ruler of Abu Dhabi (1840–1909) was known as a great horseman and a warrior in his days defending his people and tribe. He was known for his wisdom, generosity, and his great love for horses. Zayed The First had a great pure Arabian stallion named Rabdaan gifted to him by a member of the Al Romaithi family. Rabdaan was famous for being white with a perfect confirmation and often recalled as a giant compared to any other pure Arabian stallion of his time. The renowned Rabdaan, in his spectacular figure, was mentioned in major Arabic poetry related to those days.
Following the footsteps of Zayed The First came his son Sultan bin Zayed (ruler of Abu Dhabi 1922-1926) who owned up to 180 horses within his family. Passing on this rich legacy, his son Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan the late ruler of Abu Dhabi (born 1918-2004) grew up with a passion of riding and falconry to hunt “The Houbara”. My grandfather grew up raising his young horses in the freedom of the desert where they were fed camel milk and dates. He would recall his childhood saying, “As children we learnt to love the horse, the foal became part of the family in the care that each member took in its’ rearing. And in return, the horse had learnt to become a partner to man, enduring physical hardship and facing any danger for its’ master. The horses’ presence was permanent around the tent and camp fire, often sharing the place of sleep. So close did the relationship become that the Arab horses developed an uncanny, almost human intelligence”. There was always a special relationship between my grandfather and his mares. He valued the importance of having very strong Dam lines in breeding horses which remains imprinted in my heart. He always had a special place built for his mares and foals, where he could sit in his majles on a terrace with his friends and watch his mares and foals play in the paddocks.
Known for his devotion in giving and attentiveness, Sheikh Zayed encouraged a modern method of horse breeding. He was the first to establish special stables in Abu Dhabi, designed to raise and care for horses at an early stage and allow for the preservation of the unique Arabian horse breed. Equestrian enthusiasts and French horse owners praised the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, who has been credited with qualifying Arabian horses into French tracks since 1994 starting from the city of Chantilly, and then into the rest of Europe.Thanks to this high level of diligence, The Arabian racing horses entered the field of international races and became the subject of interest to horse breeders around the world.
His efforts to preserve equestrian sports that have been inherited over generations of our family lineage, the late Sheikh Zayed provided for all the horses’ needs, including facilities and services such as air-conditioned quarters that are very important in The UAE, 6 months a year. He gave access to vast areas of pasture and green landscape for the horses. Not only do his efforts promote the importance of this noble animal, but also it truly reflects the long history of equestrianism and horsemanship in the UAE and the values that the Arabian horses symbolize. While he rewarded horse race winners with large sums of money to encourage and promote the sport, he also stressed on participants’ certificates attesting to the purebred Arab origin of the horses. After all, the preservation of the Arabian horses’ purity was his passion.
From a young age, my grandfather encouraged his sons to ride. He didn’t give his sons a saddle until they could ride bareback perfectly. He always emphasized on knowing our traditions and practice them such as falconry and so all his sons grew up riding horses and hunting with falcons in the desert. This was important to my grandfather because he used to always say “It’s not about the hunt it’s about the values such as patience you learn while practicing old ways of hunting.”. He used to criticize the modern way of hunting unless one is in total utter need because he found it unfair to hunt with such weapons for pleasure. One of his most famous quotes was “I believe one who does not know his past will not understand the present, nor will he be able to prepare for the future"
My father learnt horsemanship at a very young age from his father. He grew up with his father’s expertise on the Arabian horse and soon he continued on to being an International Endurance Champion, contributed to The UAE’s equestrian growth ,and an owner of Race horses.
This great legacy filled my every existence as I grew up in very close contact to this noble animal. The love for horses runs through my family’s blood like blood runs through our veins and oxygen in our lungs. Engraved in my passion for horses are Sheikh Zayed’s words “Proud, independent and generous like its desert master, as sturdy and adventurous as the spirit of the land, the Arabian horse can truly conquer the imagination. As we enter a new millennium, it warms my heart to see the progeny of the mythical horse of Baz spread across the globe and to witness the ever increasing interest shown internationally in this superb animal whose beauty and spirit can once again be seen to grace it’s homeland”.
Ever since I opened my eyes to the world, the love of the Arabian horse has been an indispensable part of me and my very first horse was an Arabian. My vision is to pass on the legacy and dream of my grandfathers to spread the interest in the pure Arabian horse internationally. And also to encourage horse riders in different equestrian sports in The United Arab Emirates such as Show-jumping and Dressage.
Fatima bint Hazza