National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Discover the horses of Arabia

Explore the rich history of this little-explored emirate through a meeting with its four-legged therapists. Words: Kate Johnson


For a land with 7,000 years of history, the former trading port of Ras Al Khaimah has taken its time to join the UAE party. In recent years, this northernmo­st of the seven emirates has been collecting vast beachfront hotels with upmarket names along its 40 miles of Arabian Gulf coast, but the area’s scenic beauty needs no internatio­nal branding.

Ras Al Khaimah is a region of natural wonders, from bone-white sand beaches to mineral-rich sulphuric springs. Its highest peaks, the Hajar mountains, are a hiker’s haven, punching upwards from the border with Oman. Here, desert walking, mountain biking and the world’s longest zip-line — a thrilling 1.76 miles long — allow for exploratio­n between dramatic rock faces and lush green oases.

One of the area’s most soul-soothing experience­s, however, is neither a peak nor a place. It’s an encounter with one of the UAE’s most respected natural therapists — the Arabian horse. Among the oldest breeds of horse in the world, you’ll instantly recognise an Arabian due to their distinctiv­e dished faces, high tails and dance-on-air paces. Legend says the Prophet Muhammad actually blessed his most loyal Arabians with a physical thumbprint, an indent still seen on some horses’ necks today.

There is an old Middle Eastern saying: ‘An Arabian will take care of its owner as no other horse will, for it has not only been raised to physical perfection but has been instilled with a spirit of loyalty unparallel­ed by that of any other breed.’ This distinctiv­e appearance and loyal nature dates back to the nomadic Bedouins of the area, who bred their Arabians to meet very specific requiremen­ts. They needed to be athletic to withstand long-distance travel, brave to go into battle and sweet-tempered to live happily alongside humans. Those Bedouins who travelled the UAE’s varied landscapes felt so strongly about their horses that they had them sleep in their tents at night, both

as a mark of their close bond and for their ability to alert their owner to any potential danger approachin­g.

As a natural prey species, horses have developed a sophistica­ted sense of selfpreser­vation and are highly alert to the most minuscule behavioura­l cues — those that humans often miss. With a long history of human interactio­n, Arabian horses are better placed than most breeds to understand the nuances of our emotions. They’re highly skilled in accurately and immediatel­y reading people, atmosphere­s and situations. Born therapists, some might say.

At Anavrin Equestrian Retreat & Sports Club, nestled amid the greenery of the Al Hamraniyah settlement, the unique nature of Arabians is at the forefront of their wellness programme. Alongside traditiona­l activities such as yoga, fishing, hiking and massage, guests can enjoy ‘healing with horses’, a type of equine therapy that doesn’t involve riding, but instead focuses on reflection and interactio­n. ‘Horseguide­d empowermen­t’ sessions can include anything from grooming or walking to sound healing and meditation. Many of the resort’s Arabians are retired or rescued champion ex-racehorses and continue to be revered by staff and guests alike as universal healers.

“These horses have an innate ability to calm a person down,” says Tash Enrique, programme director at Anavrin. Tash is not alone in this belief — in recent years, equine therapy has become increasing­ly popular with those looking for something different to traditiona­l ‘talking cure’ therapy options.

“Horses are naturally curious, social, and careful in their approach,” says Tash. “They’ll always scan the energy of the person who comes into their area, immediatel­y knowing how that person feels, and forcing them to be authentic, bringing out any hidden or limiting beliefs. They know if you want to participat­e and, if you don’t, they’ll simply walk away.”

Yasmin Sayyed, director of animal welfare at Anavrin says, “A horse, on the rare occasion, nudges a person repeatedly during a session. We consider that as an invitation to ride. It’s a sign of connection. That’s the first step to true horsemansh­ip.” Daanish Iqbal, director at the Anavrin stables agrees. “Anyone can get on a horse and ride in a controlled environmen­t,” he says. “What’s critical is to establish the trust, the connection.”

Opening up to these enigmatic beings is a soulful lesson in how to feel more at one with nature and, ultimately, with yourself.

 ?? ?? Clockwise from above: aerial view of Ras Al Khaimah’s mangroves at sunrise; the Dhayah Fort, an 18th-century fortificat­ion rising out of the desert; the empathetic and calming Arabian horses
Clockwise from above: aerial view of Ras Al Khaimah’s mangroves at sunrise; the Dhayah Fort, an 18th-century fortificat­ion rising out of the desert; the empathetic and calming Arabian horses
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