HH The President of United Arab Emirates Endurance Cup
February 16, 2006
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Steph's Story
Another President's Cup, another amazing United Arab Emirates endurance event. I've watched the sport evolve in the UAE since the 1998 World Endurance Championship which was a truly extraordinary event; because of it's scope - the sheer number of countries represented at a World Endurance Championship - and because it was the first big International 'gala' Endurance event hosted by UAE. Since 1998 the world has seen a succession of invitational International events hosted by UAE and neighboring Gulf states - World Cup (Qatar, UAE), World's Most Preferred (Dubai, UAE) and President's Cup (Abu Dhabi, UAE). The best riders and horses invited from around the world, all expenses paid, to compete in the deserts of Arabia - against each other and against the local Arab riders.

The President's Cup - HH The President of United Arab Emirates Endurance Cup - is currently UAE's most prominent Invitational Endurance event. Since 2002 it has been held at the Emirates International Endurance Village (EIEV), adjacent to Al Wathba stables. The EIEV is one of three Endurance Villages built in the far reaches of the UAE desert, the other two being in Dubai (Emirates Endurance City) and the newest venue in Al Khatem, Abu Dhabi (Boudthib Endurance Village).

The President's Cup for Young Riders event was also held for the second time this year, and was given an additional boost at it's new location, Boudthib Endurance Village. Follow this link for photos and story on 2006 HH The President of United Arab Emirates Endurance Cup for Junior & Young Riders

This year I was invited to attend the President's Cup by the Organizing Committee and UAE Equestrian Federation as North American Media - Endurance Net. Travel and accommodation provide by the host, and a week in the UAE - what luck! I really do like the UAE - a very young country (1972) suddenly thrust into the modern world with it's massive oil reserves, and abundance of foreigners wanting to share in the wealth. Under the guidance of a visionary President (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nayan, now deceased), the UAE has managed to preserve both it's heritage and it's natural resources while becoming a major world economic player. It is a country 'under construction' with new highways, mono-rails, factories, hotels, resorts, high-rise buildings, shopping centers, cities, islands - you name it - being built across the desert. They are investing their oil money into infrastructure, and a future.

I arrived at the Abu Dhabi airport late Monday night and was met by representatives of the OC, friendly faces standing outside customs, a welcome sight after 24 hours of travel! They loaded me into a taxi with my stuff and sent me off to the Al Mafraq Hotel where the other foreign riders and media were also staying. Greeted at the hotel, given a room key and keys to a Mitsubishi Pajero - 4wd SUV - and away we go!

Tuesday was a day to get organized. I slept till 10am (finally fell asleep around 5am!) ,left a phone message for Cidinha (Cidinha Franz„o - Endurance Brazil) who was invited to represent Media for South America, and then drove out to the Endurance Village. The village was quiet and mostly deserted except for the never-ending construction. There had been a very strong windstorm during the previous night, the wind was still blowing pretty strong, and most of the sponsor banner signs that lined the road into the village had blown over. The aluminum posts had buckled when the wind caught the banners, and were twisted in every direction. Rather sad looking - to see the sand blowing across the pavement in sheets, twisted sponsor banners still flapping. Deserted looking... (but of course within 24 hours all evidence of the hapless banners had disappeared and the Village again looked welcoming again).

Tuesday night was the 'Welcome Party' out in the desert. I asked about time directions, etc - the French riders said they had been told '7pm, just past the village, head out and look for the lights'. Sounded simple. I got out there around 7:30, started out into the desert (following the loops that left the village to the west) and... 45 minutes and many many kilometers later, arrived at the village. Follow which road? which loop? what lights? finally met up with some other lost SUV's, eventually consulted a driver, follow the white loop - and eventually arrived - tents set up in the desert, catered meal, music and traditional dancers (all men), women preparing traditional 'cakes' over small fires, painting hands with henna. A huge tent with tables set up for all the guests, buffet dinner, lots of visiting old friends and meeting new people.

Wednesday morning I met up with Cidinha, and saw many familiar faces - riders from France, Belgium, Spain - some of whom had been here the year before. One of the most enjoyable things about following the International events is the community of Endurance folks, the friendships one makes from year to year - and so often many of the same faces again and again. People from different continents, different cultures who never would have met except for the horses, and the sport of Endurance.

We went out to the Endurance Village after breakfast to get set up at the Media center. One of the 'chalets', small buildings with tiny kitchen and bath, lining the vetting and crewing area of the facility. They were to have installed DSL and WiFi so that we could work online - using their workstations or our own. But unfortunately one of the construction projects out in the desert had cut the cable, and until it was patched we were wireless. Not to worry... it will be fine later, Insh'allah.

Horses and crews were setting up in the crewing stations, getting ready for the race, and preparing for the Veterinary Inspection. I wandered around taking random pictures, seeing 'who' was 'where' - the Emirates Stables (Sh. Mohamed - Dubai), Al Wathba, Al Reef, Wrsan Stables, Al Ain, and a few more. And the foreign riders - France, Ireland, UK, Spain, Australia, US - with flags hoisted above the crewing areas.

I hadn't yet decided how I would approach race day - what angle, what story, what adventure I could find. I could drive around following the front runners (along with all of the other media) or stay in the village doing Internet updates, photos of vetting, etc, or I could look for something a little different. Sheikha Madiya (Sheikha Madiya Hasher Mana Al Maktoum) was supposedly riding (I hadn't seen her yet) and that would always be a nice story - and no doubt a fun way to spend the day. And I also thought of asking the Kanavy's if I could help them out - follow them during the day doing photos of their progress. Two Endurance World Champion riders (Valerie in 1994 and 1998, and Danielle in 1996) invited to represent the USA at a prestigious International event in the United Arab Emirates - it would be a pleasure and a privelege to be part of their 'Gold Medal Team' effort.

I found the Kanavy's before I found Madiya, and they welcomed me along. I could join Jim and Lisa Winburn out on the course, crewing and helping during the ride. Sounded great - I'd much rather be out there with something to do, getting dirty and sunburned and windblown and being part of the moment-to-moment intensity of the competition. Perfect! Jim and Lisa seemed nice and enthusiastic and Danielle and Valerie made me feel welcome and part of the 'team'. Jim and Debra Deshon were also there, they would stay in camp and help at the vetting area along with the two young women who work for Kanavy's. Alex North was also available to help, though she would end up helping crew for the Belgian rider during the race.

I found Madiya a little later - yes, she was riding, and very excited! She and her friend Brenda Cooke (Ireland/Canada) were riding together. Madiya on a 15yr old stallion 'Solid As A Rock' and Brenda on 16yr old CR Goinfor Broke. Both horses were old campaigners owned by the Maktoum stables, having started their careers on the race track, and then continuing with other careers, including Endurance. Madiya's horse, Solid, was just that. A calm quiet stallion that had given many riders their first Endurance experience or qualification, and always always finished. I absolutely fell in love with this horse.

Brenda is employed by Sh. Mohamed (bin Rashid al Maktoum) - she runs a Rehabilitation stable for Sh. Mohamed's race horses. She takes horses off the track, whose racing careers are over due to age, injury, lack of performance, whatever. She keeps each horse for as long as it takes to turn them into companion horses, lesson horses, show horses, etc - and finds new owners for them. Some ship to other countries, some stay in UAE with foreign owners. All are cared for through the remainder of their life, and Brenda keeps track of every horse that she places. If the new home doesn't work out, she takes them back. These horses are not discarded. It's pretty cool, and Brenda was an absolute charm - pixie sized, Irish charm and wit, and a deep burning passion for 'her' horses. Madiya has found a good friend.

Madiya's enthusiasm and brilliant smile are always a joy. She found the Kanavy's and insisted that they move their crewing area over next to hers (with the other Dubai - Maktoum stables). A nice central crewing area, and access to her private chalet- bath, kitchen, etc. Perfect. She also offered her grooms and rig to help out on the trail - since Danielle and Valerie didn't know if they would ride together all day or not, another crew rig would be valuable. (Madiya and Brenda would be crewed by Gary - an Australian farrier/trainer who works with Brenda at the rehab stable- and his 'boys'.) They were all set.

The veterinary inspection went well, everybody was good to go. And it's always so amazing to see all of these very very fit and beautiful horses. Peaked for performance, sleek and well groomed. Oozing fitness. Kanavy's horses looked fantastic - a matched pair of tall grays - cleaned and groomed to a brilliant white, fit and lean, they looked in perfect shape. They were 'dressed' in colorful halters and robes (red for Bull, blue for Ironman) and had red/white/blue ribbons braided into their tails. They looked beautiful.

And finally the Internet was functional at the media center. The cable had been repaired, and the wireless set up, and we were online- woohoo! I started sending images of the veterinary inspection to John (back in Arizona) and we were set.

Madiya invited all of the US gang over that evening for a 'barbeque' outside her chalet. I worked till dark at the media center, then went over to Madiya's crewing area with Cidinha and Gilly Wheeler (resident photographer). I had envisioned an informal meal (barbeque?) but after sharing wine and stories for an hour or so we were all seated at nicely set tables on the chalet patio with a buffet of fantastic Arabian food - a treat. Full, exhausted, and ready for a short night's sleep, Gilly and I then set off to find our bed for the night.

The rooms at the Mafraq had been over-booked for that night (some convention of Italian guys) and Gilly and I were asked to stay out at the village for that night. Gilly had been told 'Villa 2' and given a set of keys. The villas are small houses set up at the village - to house riders, guests, etc. Small kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, baths, etc. Last year the foreign riders were housed in the villas, but for some reason the OC put everybody in the hotel this year.

It was very dark by now (not much light out in the desert) we wandered up the steps of Villa 2. The key didn't work. Now what. Gilly headed off to the center to find the gate-keeper and see what the story was. I wandered around, found a window open in the back (still very dark) and climbed in - opened the front door and went to find Gilly. There were white robed bodies sleeping on the floor of the living room (we had been told we'd be sharing the villa with some guys from Saudi and Qatar). We tiptoed up the stairs (still dark) and she tried to open our bedroom doors. One was locked, key didn't work. The other was cracked open - she opened the door, more white-robed bodies. hmmmm

Back downstairs, back outside, Gilly sent me over to the gate keeper to ask where we were supposed to stay. After some fairly ineffective conversation with the gate-keeper, Gilly hollered over 'wrong villa!'. oops. So we traipsed over to the villa next door (still dark) - this time the key worked. Still more white bodies strewn around, but we snuck upstairs and found the rooms - the key worked, we were exhausted and fell into bed. Early morning - I was to meet Kanavys at their barn at 5:15. I showered and tiptoed downstairs, some of the white robed bodies were up and wandering around and looked quite shocked to see an American female appear from upstairs, mumble some unintelligible words, and slip out the front door.

I drove to the media center to park the car, the center was locked still, so I left my things by the door and walked the 1/2 mile down to the barn. Dark, warm, a few rigs driving into the village, lights in the various barns, the exciting feel of the race in the air. Danielle and Valerie were dressed and ready, looking wide awake. The horses were saddled and ready to go - looking bright and ready, but calm. All the team was assembled, discussing last minute details, loading the rigs, ready to go. Larry got everybody together for prayer, Danielle and Valerie were hoisted onto their very tall snowy white horses and then they disappeared into the dark, along the road headed to the village center and the start.

I loaded into the back seat of the SUV - Jim was the driver, Lisa riding shotgun. We watched the start - it was still quite dark, lights which lined the fenced track into and out of the village illuminated the riders. The crew rigs were off to either side of the track, and we watched as the leaders left - flanked by an entourage of SUV's. Danielle and Valerie left with the middle of the pack, a nice controlled start, the horses pacing well at brisk trot, side by side. We met them again past the track where the fencing ended, and fell into place beside them, for the day.

The course has a lane for the horses, and lanes on either side (mostly) for the rigs. The rigs are supposed to stay on the down-wind side of the course, but often they are zig-zagging back and forth, and even following the horses right on the course. It's much more civil (and safe) then I remember from years past, but still pretty wild. And fun! There are always rigs stuck in the sand, loaning tow cables, phoning for assistance. These events are as exciting for the crew as they are for the riders. Zoom ahead of the rider, jump out and hand off a bottle of water for cooling - quick hand-off, shying horses, bottles flying - then back into the rig until the next hand-off. Stopping at the water checkpoints, assistance? electrolytes? something to eat? tack adjustments? - back into the rig and onward. Intense and fun - this UAE style of riding/crewing seems so strange to the rest of us, but they have truly perfected it.

Danielle and Valerie kept a steady trot for the first several miles, letting the horses warm up and settle in, avoiding the craze at the front of the pack. The horses paced beautifully together. Jim and Lisa and I were settling into our routine for the day - I handed them water bottles from the back and kept the ice chest filled - they jumped out and handed off the bottles. I jumped out and took photos at the hand-off points and water stops, and also took photos from the back seat (longing for a sun roof to take photos from - but the back seat would have to do).

The Kanavy horses gently eased into a working canter halfway through the first loop and the miles passed. This is a very smart, professional riding team. Valerie and Danielle were calm and cool from the beginning, well prepared and trusting their crew. They are both excellent riders, balanced and easy, and always listening, watching, checking in. Heart rates? lead changes? did the horses feel strong, relaxed, was the pacing right? And they rode well together, side by side, using each other to keep the pace and cadence. Ironman was the stronger of the two horses, and the most capable - but they made the decision early in the ride to stay together - they were working well together. I was very impressed by the professionalism of the Kanavy team - training, preparation, attention to detail, and on race day calm and cool.

First vet check - pulsed down quickly, vetted through looking great. A few tack adjustments, a few clothing adjustments, something to eat, to drink, and back out on the trail. The day progressed smoothly, both horses looking strong, no real problems or issues. With Danielle and Valerie riding together, we had two crew rigs and could leap-frog to assist on the trail. Plenty of opportunity to hand off water for cooling. Plenty of help if needed. There was one scary moment, coming into the vetcheck off of loop 2. Too many helping hands getting the horses untacked, and Ironman spun away from the groom with his saddle ungirthed but the breast collar still attached. As the saddle slipped he spun farther, the saddle sliding under him, still attached by biothane straps to his neck. Struggling and kicking he eventually managed to free himself of the saddle while everybody watched in horror and tried to control him. Is he cut? Did he hurt himself? Looked ok, but what a scare, could have been really bad... Danielle quietly saying "Group, we're better than this - we can do better". It was decided that Madiya's eager grooms, whose job it was to help Danielle, would be better off staying out of the way in the vetting area after that, hard to know what the system is without practice.

And then everything came to a screeching halt at the mandatory veterinary recheck after Loop 4. The horses did well handling the hills and heat on the fourth loop - 'Torah Borah' - really a tough loop with steep dunes to climb - up and down - up and down - and really getting hot. Close to 100 degrees by now. The horses passed the first inspection, though Bull was looking a little tired, and Valerie mentioned that he kept throwing her off of his left diagonal out on the trail - maybe getting muscle tired? nothing specific, and he trotted fine for the vets - ready for a break and some food. Ironman looked fantastic - like he was just getting warmed up.

The horses ate and drank well, looked refreshed. Saddled up and back for the recheck before heading back out. Larry trotted Bull ... front end? hind end? hard to tell - but something wasn't right. Two more vets called over to watch, definitely not right. Looked like front left. Bull was out. Jim then trotted Ironman - you could feel the hush - he had looked so awesome 30 minutes earlier, but there it was - a slight head bob - oh so slight, but consistent. Ironman was out. Both were out at 75 miles - Kanavy's were surprised, and greatly disappointed. This had been a perfect ride - smart, well-paced, horses were in top shape, well prepared. Great disappointment. But - that's the game. No whining, take the horses back, ice the legs, let's figure out what the problem is. Thinking back - what could have been done differently, maybe Ironman tweaked something during his battle with the saddle and biothane - maybe. Lots of thinking and wondering, but still a very professional group. The time to ride is over, the time to analyze is now - give it your full attention. Think back, think ahead.

Sooo.... now what? Kanavy's were done, what would I do for the rest of the day. Then Madiya and Brenda came in off loop 4. Horses still looked great, they were going back out - and yes I could come along and take pictures. Ok! Grab my things and jump into the Toyota 4x4 with Gary - the Australian farrier/trainer working with Brenda at the racehorse 'rehab' center. Great guy - big smile, sure - come along, the boys jumped in the back with the boxes of water bottles and crew gear, and off we went.

Madiya and Brenda were another awesome team - riding side by side, on their old campaigners - one gray, one chestnut - the horses kept falling into cadence with each other. Legs stretching out together, hitting the ground at the same time, Madiya and Brenda rocking along together in rhythm of the canter. Brenda is a tiny waif of a rider, perfectly balanced, barely moving on the horse's back, a joy to watch. She's also a sharp witted Irish girl, a sparkle in her eye - and it was great fun to follow along with this group. Brenda and Gary with the familiar banter of friends and co-workers, Madiya enjoying her horse, enjoying the company.

Madiya's brother, Mana, was also following along with his rig. He's a kick - always laughing and joking, and his good mood is very infectious. After loop 4 Jim and Lisa (Kanavy crew) found themselves out of a job, and Mana said - sure, come along, join the group. So they also found themselves back out on the trail, bouncing along in Mana's rig, discussing religion and politics and having a grand time.

Gary was great company, plenty of stories and conversation, but his watchful eye never left the horses. They were cantering along, working well, forward and strong, but at some point Madiya's horse 'Solid' start looking a little odd... not exactly off, but a little less smooth and rhythmic. I mentioned something to Gary, he nodded, he saw it too, "I think he needs to pee". At the next water stop we go out - Gary asked Madiya to dismount, loostened the girth, took Solid aside and whistled. He stretched out - Gary whistled some more - he stretched and tried to pee. (their horses always pee on command - at a whistle - even if it's just a trickle, they make the effort). He peed a little, and then a big horse sigh and a torrent. Very clear - this is one hydrated horse! And he really had to go.

Back on, and back down the trail. The sun was getting lower but it didn't feel much cooler yet, still very hot - but gorgeous evening light and the sweet evening air of the desert. I love this time of day over there. We got to the vetcheck, Solid looked fantastic, but when Brenda trotted out her horse he was off - slight nod, he was out. Madiya was to continue alone. "No problem!".

Brenda joined Gary in the Toyota and I joined Jim and Lisa in Mana's cruiser. I opened the window and sat on the door and watched Madiya and Solid canter along, watched the sky light up, the sun set, and the night sky approach. They cantered and cantered, steady progress, Solid was beautiful to watch. The night air blowing on my face as I perched out the window, watching Madiya and Solid canter down the finish stretch, this was a good end to the day.

Steph Teeter

For more on Sheikha Madiya:

  • 2004 WEC
  • 2005 Presidents Cup