November 06, 2020

Horsing Around in Qatar

Two of the most popular breeds of horse around the world are the Thoroughbred and the Arabian. Qatar, with its strong cultural association to the Arabian, has some of the worlds best Arabian horses. With its ever-expanding breeding and racing industries, Qatar also has some exceptional Thoroughbreds, not to mention a host of breeds in between. If you want to see some of the most beautiful horses in the world, watch the races, ride horses or learn about all things equestrian; there are plenty of places in Qatar waiting to welcome you.

Going to the Races

Many people will be familiar with the term ‘flat racing’, it’s the most common type of horse racing. However, there are several different types of horse racing, including flat, jump, harness, and endurance. In some races, the emphasis is on speed, while in others stamina or specific skills are put to test.

Two of the most popular types of racing in Qatar are flat racing and endurance racing.

Flat races are run, as the name suggests, over flat surfaces with no jumps. Distances vary from 400 metres up to 4 kilometres (400 yards to 2 miles) and can be a test of the horse's speed, stamina, or both. Racecourses can be on turf, artificial all-weather surfaces, sand or mud. Qatar holds flat races for Thoroughbreds, Arabians and Non-Thoroughbreds.

Endurance races are held over distances of between 25 to 160 kilometres (15 to 100 miles). There are a few races that are even longer than 160 kilometres and last multiple days. The races are generally run over natural terrain. The Arabian breed generally dominates these races due to their natural stamina and endurance.

In Qatar, both types of races draw excited crowds to the race track or course, and the atmosphere is electric as the horses close in on the finish line. Whether you choose to watch flat racing on a well-lit track and from the comfort of a grandstand or follow the endurance riders in an SUV; the horses hurtling past, kicking up turf or dust, and the cheering crowds will be sure to get your heart racing.

Read on to find out where and when you can spend a day at the races in Qatar.

Flat Racing

To watch horses racing, head to the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (QREC) racecourse in Al Rayyan. Though this is Doha’s only official racecourse, there are rumoured plans of a new racecourse being built soon.

The racing season is from October to May, and people from around the world are invited to attend and compete in both national and international events. An exciting, jam-packed race calendar details all the events, festivals, meetings, shows and auctions. Generally, there is a meeting every Thursday and one Wednesday each month throughout the season. Prize money for competitors is currently around the $11 million for the year (as of 2019).

Al Rayyan has earned a reputation as an exciting venue with both sand and turf tracks, a great atmosphere, and opportunities to get close to the horses and riders. The course Grandstand can host up to 1,400 spectators and provides a great and close up view of all the action. Luxury, air-conditioned corporate boxes are available to hire. So, for those who would like a bird's eye view across the tracks, comfortable seating and attentive service, these private suites are worth booking. Outside, there is a giant hospitality tent, food outlets and a kids play area - so, families and spectators of all ages can enjoy the racecourse. Entrance and programmes are free. Invited contestants are funded by the Qatari state. And, as if that were not enough, there are hotels, restaurants and attractions all within easy reach of the racecourse.

For more information on Qatar’s Al Rayyan racecourse, race calendar, and facilities, visit the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club website, Facebook page, or contact the club directly:

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4419 7704

Email: [email protected]

Location: Furousiya Street, Doha

Image: Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, Twitter

Understanding the Races
Horse racing can be complicated and confusing for the uninitiated! The various types of races require specific types of horses or classifications of horses competing at a certain level.

To make you look like a pro when you hit Doha’s racecourse, check out the flat racing classifications below:

  • Purebred Arabian races - races restricted to Arabian horses only.
  • Thoroughbred races - races restricted to Thoroughbred horses only.
  • Handicap races – horses carry weights depending on their rating (an official handicapper rates each horse at the end of the season, then, at the races, the horses carry appropriate weights). The higher a horse’s rating, the more weight it has to carry.
  • Conditions races – horses carry weights depending on their age, sex and official rating. These include:
  • Group races – horses race in Groups according to their official rating (there are three Groups - 1, 2 and 3).
  • Listed races – horses of lower quality than Group 3, race (handicap or non-handicap events and mainly restricted to domestic races).
  • Maiden races - for 2 and 3-year-old horses that have never won a race before.
  • Novices races – for 2 and 3-year-old horses that have won two or less races previously.
  • Sellers and Claimer races – for horses that are available for public auction or to be bought after the race.
  • Apprentice and Amateur races – races restricted to horses ridden by apprentice or amateur jockeys only.

Prize money is highest for Group 1 condition races and heritage handicap races.

Endurance Racing

Endurance racing is one of the fastest-growing international equestrian events. Qatar’s purebred Arabian horses are perfectly developed for the sport.

Developed from horses that spent their lives trekking great distances through harsh desert terrain, Arabian horses have the stamina and resilience required for endurance racing. Indeed, their prowess in endurance races is well documented throughout history. The famous Ocean of Fire race was held with Arabian horses every year for around 100 years by the Bedouins. This race started in Aden and ran along the Persian Gulf and up into Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria – a total distance of around 1000 miles!

Today the distances are somewhat shorter, but the races are still gruelling and not without risk to the rider or the horses. Qatar’s Al Shaqab Endurance Team* regularly train in the desert to ensure they and the horses are prepared for events throughout the year. They compete at home and in races throughout the world, including the FEI World Championships. When competing at home, the team participates in races at the Qatar Endurance Village in Mesaieed, near Sealine Beach. All races are open and free for the public to attend.

Usually, races in Qatar are held on Saturdays and generally, start in the late afternoon and evening. Visitors attending the races can expect a thrilling ride - spectators in SUV’s can follow the riders throughout the race on tracks alongside the racecourse. Bumping over rough terrain in pursuit of the leading horses is an exhilarating experience and one you are not likely to forget in a hurry. After all the excitement, hospitality tents, food outlets and washrooms can be found around the village hub.

For more information about the Al Shaqab complex, its endurance event calendar and facilities, visit the Al Shaqab website or contact them directly:

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4454 1992

Email: [email protected]

Location: Al Shaqab Street, Doha

*Al Shaqab Endurance Team

Al Shaqab was founded in 1992 as an Arabian breeding farm. It is now a vast, modern equestrian centre with a mission:

  • To promote the highest standards in the breeding and showing of Arabian horses;
  • To provide innovative, educational and competitive opportunities in all of the equestrian arts.

Al Shaqab’s Endurance Department was developed to promote and develop Qatar’s equestrian heritage. Its Endurance Team competes annually at home and throughout the Middle East and Europe, having its largest campaigns in Qatar and France. In recent years, the team has also travelled to competitions in South America, the United States and East Asia.

Getting in the Saddle

Going to the races is one way to enjoy horses; another way is to experience riding a horse yourself. Young or old, horse riding has many benefits; riding helps to build confidence and self-discipline and builds both muscle and physical strength. If you are looking to build your core strength, riding horses is a good exercise for core muscle groups. Riding can improve reflexes, your sense of balance and your coordination. It's also a good activity for socialising, and many people find it a great way to relax.

In Qatar, horse riding is very popular, and there are several world-class equestrian establishments where you can learn to ride safely and correctly. If you are interested in taking some lessons or just getting in the saddle, check out the following riding schools in and around Doha:

Al Samariya Riding School

Located next to the Museum of Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani, the riding school is part of the Al Samariya Estate Equestrian Centre. The centre offers indoor and outdoor riding arenas for private and group lessons. Lessons are available for both children (4 years +) and adults. In addition to structured riding lessons, recreational riding, trail riding, pony clubs and after-school activities are also offered at the riding school. Visitors can also make use of the on-site cafe and a riding shop. They are open from 06:30 am to 6:00 pm, every day except Tuesday.

Riding Lesson Courses:

  • Group course (max. 6 people): QAR 1,850
  • Semi-private course (max. 2 people: QAR 2,500
  • Private course: QAR 3,000
  • Tots Trots course (max. 6 children): QAR 1,000

All courses are 10 weeks in duration. 1 lesson per week.

Course costs as of 2020.

For more information about horse riding, events and other programmes, visit the Al Samariya Estate website or contact the estate directly:

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 5070 9571

Email: [email protected]

Location: Al Samariya Estate off the Dukhan Road, Al Shahaniya

Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre

Built on the site of the pivotal battle for Qatari independence against the Ottomans in 1893, the Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre is now a centre of excellence for breeding, training and racing horses. Devoted to preserving Qatar’s equestrian heritage, the centre also has an Equine Education Department that provides a range of riding lessons, equine training and camps. The riding school offers instruction to adults and children (6 years +) and welcomes all skill levels.

Riding Lessons:

6-8 Years:

  • 2 classes per week, afternoons only
  • Choose from: Saturday and Tuesday / Sunday and Wednesday / Monday and Thursday
  • Class Timings: 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm
  • QAR 1,500 per month

8-17 Years:

  • 3 classes per week, afternoons only
  • Choose from: Saturday, Monday and Wednesday / Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday
  • Class Timings: 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm
  • QAR 2,000 per month

Adults (18+):

  • 3 classes per week, mornings only
  • Choose from: Saturday, Monday and Wednesday / Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday
  • Class Timings: 6:30 am / 7:30 am
  • QAR 2,000 per month

Registration fee for all levels: QAR 1,000

Riding lessons run from September to April for children and from October to April for adults.

Lesson costs as of 2020.

For more information about horse riding, events and other programmes, visit the Al Shaqab website or contact the centre directly:

Contact Details:

Tel: +974 4454 0268 / 6662 5379

Email: [email protected]

Location: Al Shaqab Street, Old Rayyan, Doha

Image: Copyright Living 2022

Have a Close Up Look

The world of horse racing isn’t just about the horse and the racecourse, there is a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes. From tending to the daily needs of the horses and maintaining the grounds, facilities and equipment, to organising events and programmes, Equestrian Centres are exceptionally busy places. The best way to see and appreciate some of these activities is to go on a tour of a facility. In Qatar, perhaps the best is facility to visit is:

Al Shaqab Horse Racing Academy

The Academy arranges guided tours for the public, schools, the press and private institutions. These tours enable visitors to explore and discover the facilities at the academy and to observe purebred Arabian horses up close and personal. Tours are available from Sundays to Thursdays at either 9:00 am or 3:00 pm. You can arrange to visit any two of the following – the arena, the breeding and show stables, the Equine Education Department, the exercise centre and the Ottoman stables. The easiest way to arrange a tour is to go online, obtain a Tour Request Form, complete and submit it.

For more information about tours and to get a tour request form, visit the Al Shaqab website.

Main Image: Copyright Living2022

Published: January 09, 2020
Last updated: November 06, 2020
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