All photos by Chantelle D’mello
The third edition of CHI Al Shaqab, a prestigious equestrian event in which riders compete in vaulting, jumping, dressage and endurance, kicked off yesterday at the indoor arena at the Al Shaqab stables.
“CHI,” which stands for Concours Hippique International, is the official title given by the International Equestrian Federation (IEF) to international competitions with three or more equine disciplines. The Qatar edition is the only certified event in the Middle East and Asia, and is being streamed live online here.
This year’s event will see 250 riders from 33 countries compete across disciplines, including Carl Hester – a member of the gold medal British team at the London 2012 Olympics; Austrian Lisa Wild – the first woman to complete a backflip on a horse; and World No. 1 jumping start Scott Brash.
A new feature during this year’s event is para-equestrian dressage, in which riders with various physical disabilities compete under the same basic rules of conventional dressage. Participants are divided into different grades based on their abilities, and are judged accordingly.
Competitors under this category include Lee Pearson, a 10-time paralympic games gold medalist who was born with arthorogryposis mutiplex congenita – a disability that hinders joint flexibility and muscle development; and Laurentia Tan, a Singaporean rider with cerebral palsy, and the only Asian Paralympian to win equestrian medals at the Paralympic Games.
“The inclusion of (this category) in the CHI Al Shaqab 2015 competition…serves as a message of social inclusion and equal opportunity,” said the event’s director, Omar Al Mannai, in a statement.
Schedule and events
The six-day long tournament is divided into a series of competitions, each with its own set of rules and requirements.
The event opened yesterday with vaulting, a form of horseback acrobatics where riders perform back flips, somersaults, handstands and other feats individually or in groups.
The Technical and Freestyle events will take place today from 3pm onwards and on Wednesday from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Five squads, six pairs and 12 female and 13 male individuals will compete for a grand prize of €60,000 (QR24,443).
On March 6 and 7, the focus will be on dressage, which showcases the relationship between a horse and its rider and is dubbed the “highest expression of horse training” by the IEF.
Competitors will be expected to perform a series of predetermined movements from memory, in order of difficulty, with minimal visual cues.
Riders will compete on Friday at 2pm and Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30pm for cash prizes of €160,000 (QR651,807) and €100,000 (QR407,379) for the Freestyle division.
Possibly the most Arab-dominated category at CHI Al Shaqab is Endurance, where 20 riders from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman will compete for a grand prize of €200,000 (QR814,759).
The event requires horses to race some 120km at average speeds of 24 km/hr, while stopping periodically for veterinary checks to assess their heart rate and fitness in order to carry on to the next stages.
The race, a 12-hour spectacle, will begin at 6am at the Qatar Endurance Village in Mesaieed, with the winning horse expected to cross the finish line at noon.
In the final category, Jumping, horses are required to clear a set of fences as quickly as possible.
Spread over four days, competitors from 24 countries will participate in this category, for prizes totaling €1 million (QR4,073,793).
The event will feature top Qatari riders from its equestrian squad that qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and will be held at 10am and 3:30pm on March 4 and 5; 3 and 6pm on March 6; and 12:30 and 5:30 pm on March 7.
Day passes to the tournament cost QR35 for adults and QR15 for children above 6 years old, and can be bought at Virgin Megastores or at the venue itself.
Entrance to the event’s festival zone, which includes a spectator plaza showcasing luxury riding fashion and apparel, a kids and toddlers zone, a cultural zone and a food court, is free.
Do you plan to attend any competitions? Thoughts?