While the long-haul flight from Australia to Europe is always arduous, horse lovers in the know have found a wonderful way to break their journey.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup put Qatar firmly on the map for soccer fans, but it also shone a spotlight beyond the new stadiums to other attractions in a Middle Eastern country with a proud equestrian tradition.
With no expense spared – as you might expect in one of the world’s richest countries – Al Shaqab really has to be seen to be believed. Built to look like a giant horseshoe when viewed from the air, the sprawling 980,000-square metre architecturally designed complex on the edge of the desert features lush, irrigated, emerald-green paddocks framed with white fences, elegant water features, pristine marble-walled stables, and plenty of air-conditioning to ward off the unrelenting summer heat.
ARENA ACTION AT CHI AL SHAQAB
The centrepiece is Longines Arena, an impressive state-of-the-art facility considered among the best in the world. There are actually three arenas under one roof – an expansive, floodlit outdoor arena that looks especially photogenic at night; an air-conditioned indoor arena; and a warm-up area – with total capacity for more than 5,000 spectators.
The three-day Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines is held here every February or March, featuring the world’s leading showjumpers, dressage and para dressage riders. The 2023 event, the 10th edition, came to a dramatic finish when German showjumper Marcus Ehning and his 12-year-old bay stallion Stargold won for the second year in a row by triumphing convincingly in the jump-off of the Grand Prix, contested by seven riders. On a challenging course featuring 1.6m fences and luxury sports cars, Ehning achieved clear rounds of 71.67 secs and 72.8 secs, before racing to a time of 41.74 secs in the jump-off, beating an overall field of 39 riders from 16 countries.
CHI Al Shaqab is followed in Doha by the opening leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour, the world’s premier showjumping event which brings together the top 30 riders from the FEI Jumping World Rankings at a string of glamorous locations across the globe.