Horses are believed to have been part of Bahrain’s culture for as long as 4000 years, dating back to the Dilmun civilisation. The predominance in modern times of the Arabian horse in Bahrain is often linked to the Al Khalifa tribe, the nation’s ruling family, which came to the archipelago in 1783. Since that time, the ruling sheikhs have carefully preserved the original strains of the island nation’s horses. Today, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa strongly supports equestrian activities in the Kingdom, as evidenced by his continued involvement in equestrian sports.
NATIONAL TEAM: The Bahrain Royal Equestrian and Endurance Federation (BREEF), founded in 2003, organises a number of equestrian activities in the Kingdom, including events and games. Show jumping was introduced in the Kingdom in 1976, and in 1986 a national team, Safriya, was established to represent the country regionally and internationally. The Kingdom had the honour of hosting the International Show Jumping Championships in 2004. A Bahrain endurance team was established in 2000, headed by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Both the endurance team and Bahraini show jumpers have participated in many international competitions.
The country also hosts a number of events for spectators and horse enthusiasts. The King’s Cup, a championship comprising four races, is held every year. The first two races (of 1600 and 2400 metres) feature imported horses, the third race (1200 metres) is for Arabian horses, while the fourth race (2400 metres) is limited to entry by Bahraini horses. The president of BREEF, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, also hosts the Khalid bin Hamad Endurance Horse Ride Championship every year.
OFF TO THE RACES: Meanwhile, the Rashid Equestrian and Horse Racing Club, located in Sakhir, hosts a number of events during the racing season, which runs from early November until the beginning of May. Founded in 1977, the club is the governing authority for horseracing. The facility has two turf tracks, each 2400 metres in circumference with 600 metre straights, and hosts some 300 horses in active training. Each race-day programme at the Rashid Equestrian and Horse Racing Club consists of six to eight races, which start around 2.00pm and end at 5.00pm. The season’s race calendar can be accessed at the club’s website, and car parking and entry to the grandstand enclosure are free. Outings to the track during race season are quite popular among locals and are an ideal event for tourists or weekend visitors to get a taste of Bahraini culture.
Also located in Sakhir is the Bahrain International Endurance Village, which hosts a number of different cultural, educational and entertaining events, often centred around equestrian activities.
Endurance Village also hosts the annual Mara’ee Animal Production Show, which includes a number of events, several of which are dedicated to horses, particularly authentic Bahraini Arabian horses.
FOR VISITORS: Bahrain is a good place for visitors or tourists looking to take part in equestrian activities. The Kingdom is home to a wide range of stables and training centres for both beginners and more experienced riders. The Dilmun Club and the Twin Palms Riding Centre are excellent venues for tourists to utilise, as they do not have membership fees. The Dilmun Club, located in Saar, offers 30-minute lessons, at BD12 ($32) for a private lesson or BD10 ($26) for a shared private lesson. The Twin Palms Riding Centre offers 30-minute lessons at BD14 ($37) for a private lesson or BD10 ($26) for a shared private lesson. BREEF also organises frequent desert treks for visitors looking for endurance horse riding and something a bit more challenging.
For visiting spectators, the Rashid Equestrian and Horse Racing Club is a great venue to watch horse racing during the season. In addition, daily training sessions, which are held every day year-round from 5.00am to 8:30am, are also open to the public and offer an alternative to attending the club’s races.