RIYADH: Saudi champion rider Abdulrahman Al-Rajhi believes that the Kingdom’s equestrian stars will enjoy home advantage heading into the finals of this weekend’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival — and not only because of the passionate home support.
For the 24-year-old, the festival has provided the first opportunity for him and his riding peers to compete professionally at home, with the two-weekend event being Saudi Arabia’s first ever International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI)-sanctioned competition.
This meant that for Al-Rajhi at least, it has been one of the few times his entire family have been able to watch him ride at the very top level live and in person — a backing he hopes can help him and the festival’s other Saudi riders come out on top this weekend.
He believes that the riding conditions in the country — different from many other arenas on the international circuit — may be a much greater deciding factor in giving the locals an invaluable edge.
He said: “For me, this is such an exciting moment. It’s really important to focus and do everything properly and at my best as this event is in my home country. It will be the first time my whole family can watch me in Saudi, which means a lot to me.
“The visiting horses will have never been to the Arab League or Saudi Arabia and won’t be used to the weather or the flight here. The big competition classes are at night, which will be different for the international riders as they are not used to jumping at night and therefore not used to the lights or the shadows. I will be doing my best to try and win.”
Being an FEI-sanctioned event, riders taking part in the Diriyah Equestrian Festival are competing for qualifying points for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — one of the ultimate ambitions for every rider.
Last year saw Al-Rajhi, who has jumped in 30 locations across the world, lose out in the final of the 2018 FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final. While Olympic qualification is still his huge dream, the significance of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival is not lost on the multiple-Grand Prix winning rider, as well as the history-making experience he wants to grab with both hands.
“For me, the Diriyah Festival is not about Olympic qualification or anything else,” he said.
“I am a Saudi rider who has been doing it at pro level for a long time, jumping all over the world — except from in Saudi Arabia. That’s because we’ve not had the shows or the competitions that have allowed us to compete in our country.”
“For us, this opportunity and this competition makes us so proud. We now have such a beautiful and amazing show, with riders of the highest level. I hope this leads to more shows and competitions in the future and allows us to show the world we have all the capabilities to bring the top sport and competitors to Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Rajhi returns this weekend to Al-Duhami farm — the host for the Diriyah Equestrian Festival — with his three horses Bravour, Clea and Hot Stuff, all of whom he admits to be learning from every time he rides.
He said that the Kingdom could gain inspiration from the final weekend of the festival.
“Show jumping in Saudi Arabia is really strong in terms of riders, and I hope this festival, in terms of competitions and events, is an opportunity we take to grow (the sport).
“All the riders and teams are ready to put on one of the best shows on the planet. This year we have two weekends of shows. Hopefully next year we can take that up to five or six. That will support the riders and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.
“Countries like Germany have been doing shows like this for a long time. In time in Saudi Arabia the crowds will come to understand the sport more and support the riders. This is a good opportunity for a new generation to come and see the sport.
“If we need to build a second and a third generation of riders to take over from the generation of Prince Abdullah bin Miteb, Kamal Bahamdan and Ramzy Al-Duhami — who have been heroes in this sport for 30 or 40 years — we need to see other riders coming through. Hopefully the Diriyah Equestrian Festival can provide that inspiration.”