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President’s Cup Aftermath
Sunday February 15 2009

Despite an early Saturday morning, a long ride and a late Saturday night, the Americans were up early for breakfast at the Mafraq (salad, anyone?).

At the stables, where Melika and Leon had been turned out in the sand paddock all night, they were brought in for the first of several smaller grain feedings they’d get throughout the day. Their legs hadn’t been wrapped, but after a cool night walking around in cold sand, there was only the slightest filling in a couple of legs. Both horses looked tired, but content. Leon had lost some weight, but Melika looked the same as she did before the ride.

Everybody worked on packing up gear and hay and grain in trunks and sacks for John to take with him when he traveled with the horses by plane tomorrow, from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam to Florida.

Wendy and John took the horses out for a long walk in the desert, then brought them in for another grain feeding. Then everybody left for the hotel to attend to their own packing. Some were leaving tonight, tomorrow night, and the next night; I’d be moving to Shaikha Madiya’s guest house at her stables in the desert outside of Dubai for the next two weeks.

John and I ended up staying at the Mafraq another night so we could go back to the stables and grain the horses a few more times. At the evening meal when we walked up to the sand paddock, the horses regarded us suspiciously, and wouldn’t come up. “What do you think they are up to, Melika?” “I don’t know Leon, you think they are going to saddle us up?” “Hmm, I’m not sure, let’s wait right here till we know more.” They were quite happy when they got another unexpected grain meal.

Then we went to the night races at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club – 6 Arabian races and 1 Thoroughbred race. The Thoroughbreds were extremely well bred, but obviously not the top class of horses, and it was nearing the end of the racing season here, so many of them were not fresh horses.

John was here to meet up with Ali Al Muhairi, endurance and flat racing manager of the stables of Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who John first came to work for here in the UAE about 10 years ago. Ali just finished 4th in the President’s Cup yesterday, and here he was in his traditional Arab dress – I did not recognize him without his riding helmet on.

Sunday night races at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club were obviously the hangout for a usual set of people: ex-patriots, endurance-riding trainers, foreign endurance riders and crews and veterinarian staff, even the same wait-staff (and same food!) from the Mafraq hotel!

Hallvard Sommerseth, a judge at the Presidents Cup was sitting behind us. Originally from Norway, he’s now been in the UAE for 2 seasons. Someone came up to him and asked him what the secret was to the speed of these UAE horses. I slipped my ear in there because I want to know that too!

Halvord’s analysis: “It’s interval training. They take the horses to some hills with deep sand, and they do fartlek training with them up and down the hills – get the heartrate up, bring it down, get it up, bring it down.”

It can’t be THAT easy (though this isn’t easy), can it? I think John Crandell had good input too about the sand: you can’t get used to running in sand unless you train running in sand, and develop those muscles and nerves properly. And some horses just don’t have that in them. There’s also the fact that with all this crazy crewing and driving alongside the horses every step of 160 km, it is possible to keep the horse cooler, doused in water just about every step of the race.

It’s interesting that the top 3 horses are all from different places: South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. And it’s notable that the 3 top horses are all in their prime, 12 years old. And there is something to be said that they have been on top of their game, the fastest horses in the world, for more than one season.

When the races were over we went back to the stables one more time to grain the horses. We got nickers this time, and no suspicious glances. The horses walked right up to us. The Nepali stable guard, Raj Kumar, brought us hot tea to drink while we waited for the horses to eat. When they finished, we turned them back out for the night.

Grace and Jan and Wendy had gone to Madiya’s, and in the morning, John dropped me off there before he headed to the stables to wait for transport to the airport with the horses. Jan and Wendy left late that night; Grace left late the next night.

Now I’m queen of Madiya’s Guest House Castle for 2 weeks, me and the Raven and my dog-chewed power cable to my Mac computer. The weather is not too hot (and we have AC :), I’m about to finish up with my President’s Cup work, and it will soon be time to climb on some horses and take a ride in the UAE :)

Merri