Inside the ‘Hollywood’ of horses, Al Shaqab is the essence of equine luxury

Updated 4:47 AM EST, Wed November 13, 2019
(CNN) —  

It has been described as the “Hollywood” of horses, and it’s certainly a winner in the glamor stakes. But Qatar’s Al Shaqab is more of a seven-star equine resort than a make-believe movie set.

The multi-million-dollar center on the outskirts of the capital Doha is Qatar’s luxury launchpad into equine excellence, from elite show jumpers to Arabian show horses and endurance racers. It is also helping to spawn the highly successful thoroughbred horse racing operation now predominantly based in France under the same name.

The stunning complex has been built in the shape of a horseshoe around an old Ottoman stable and fort. It serves to promote both Qatar’s rich heritage with Arabian horses, and set the “highest standards in horse welfare, breeding, equine education and research,” according to its website.

The facilities include a breeding center and stabling for more than 400 horses, a state-of-the-art equine hospital, indoor and outdoor performance arenas as well as an air-conditioned hydrotherapy and exercise unit complete with walking carousel, a circular swimming pool akin to a lazy river and a therapeutic spray bath like an equine Jacuzzi. Huge heat lamps dry the horses after their dips.

The horses are exercised every day at 6 a.m. and again after 4 p.m. when temperatures begin to drop. It is a life lived in luxury where the horses are trained with technological expertise akin to that used for Premier League footballers or high-profile Olympic athletes.

“One of the international riders here calls it the Hollywood of the equine world,” says Abdul Rashid Mordiffi, a business development consultant working with the commercial side of Al Shaqab’s operation. “I don’t believe there is another facility like it anywhere else in the world.”

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Horses before gas and oil

Arriving at the 10 million square-foot venue mid-morning, the place is virtually deserted, the baking sun and 100-degree heat forcing horses and the 200-plus workforce indoors.

At its heart are the sleek white curves of the performance center, with outdoor and undercover arenas for when it gets too hot.

“[It’s] the largest anywhere in the world at 6,000-square meters (64,500 square feet),” according to Mordiffi, the grandson of a farrier, who hails from Singapore originally.

The arena, which hosts the Qatar leg of the prestigious Longines Global Champions Tour show jumping circuit, has a private suite reserved for the royal family, fitting as it was former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, who launched Al Shaqab on the site of a former battleground in 1992.

Long before natural gas or oil came to prominence in Qatar and made Al Thani’s ancestors wealthy following their move from the inhospitable desert, the area was best known for its prized Arabian horses, which played a key role in daily life.

For Al Thani, the aim of Al Shaqab was simple: “Progress and development of modern-day Qatar will reflect, in particular, efforts to maintain the heritage of our forefathers through the noble Arabian horse.”

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PHOTO: CNN
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