Marhaba was privileged to be invited to visit one of Qatar’s most successful race stables, Al Shahania Stud. This glorious property, located out of town, owns and breeds some of the world’s best horses. Take a tour with us as we discover what lies behind the gates of this impressive facility.
Upon driving through the entrance one gets an immediate sense of being well away from the hustle and bustle of the city, its shiny modern buildings and congested roads. Visitors are greeted with a long driveway of palm trees on the approach to the farm, and the lush greenery continues once inside. The buildings have nods to traditional architectural styles, but inside, the facilities are ultra modern and equipped with all that these majestic creatures require.
Al Shahania Stud was originally founded over 30 years ago by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani, who lives in the grounds of the property in his private palace with his family, as well as peacocks, Salukis and an aviary for company. He has a huge passion for horses and racing and is fully involved in the day-to-day running of the farm, which encompasses everything to do with the racing, breeding and showing of the finest horses.
There are over 500 horses affiliated to the stud, comprising Thoroughbreds, Purebred Arabians and show horses – some 200 at the farm in Qatar, and approximately 185 in Normandy, France. In the US are 10 Thoroughbreds and 40 show horses; there are horses also stabled in England and Ireland. All the horses at Al Shahania Stud are privately owned.
While the stud itself has been in existence for over 30 years, it has been undergoing an extensive makeover in the last five years, with additional, larger grassed paddocks, some of which measure up to two acres, and new fencing, landscaping, stables, and outbuildings.
A new irrigation system from the US provides the abundance of water required to keep the paddocks full of luscious green grass. With there being over 300 hectares in total, this is quite the challenge, however with wells on the property water is never in short supply.
Feed typically comes from Europe, and the majority of the hay and bedding from the US, although some of the hay is grown locally. The feed and hay arriving from overseas are subject to customs controls and may take a few weeks to arrive, but is fine for the horses to eat upon arrival. The local grass – Bermuda with some rye – has very little nutritional value, hence the import of higher quality feed from abroad.
A nutritionist has been brought on board to ensure the animals receive the optimum diet, and as such essential vitamins and minerals are added to the grain to provide necessary nutrients. Something the team have needed to deal with are pesky pigeons eating the feed, which has brought about the construction of more pigeon towers!
Keeping the horses in prime condition is a full-time job for employees – also available to cater to the horses’ every need are a resident vet, farrier, trainers and numerous stablehands. It is important to have separate regimes for each season of the year, due to the high temperatures reached in the summertime. All the stables are air conditioned, and in summer the horses will be turned out at night and carefully monitored to ensure they do not get too hot. Each horse receives individual daily care, with a different exercise and conditioning regime.
The horses start exercising with a trainer from the age of two. The 2,000-metre track, situated in the middle of the grounds is made from sand and is dragged with spikes daily to a depth of 15 cm. The horses train on a parallel track, usually from 5 am to 9:30 am, which is watered in between sets. There are covered paddocks in the centre of the track for the horses to rest – it is imperative that the horses do not overheat in the hotter summer months.
For additional exercise, up to 10 horses can be placed on to a mechanical horse walker, which forces them to walk while the trainer observes them.
And what better way to cool off after a hard day of exercise than by having a plunge in the swimming pool! The horse is led in by the trainer, and the rope is thrown to a colleague stationed in the middle of the pool who leads the horse around; they are both then able to watch while the horse is swimming. A typical racehorse will do five or six laps – the water is approximately 20 feet deep – while an endurance horse is capable of swimming up to 30. Not only great exercise but fun for the horse as well!
Continuing the bloodline
The Arabian horse ‘family’ is quite small, in contrast to Thoroughbreds which has a vast lineage. Four years ago Al Shahania Stud had over 20 thoroughbred horses – it now boasts 120. It was and still is a hobby of Sheikh Mohammed, without the primary focus being the financial return.
The most expensive leading sire today is Galileo, a retired Irish Thoroughbred racehorse. His stud fee is thought to be around EUR500,000, and he has sired winners of the British Classic and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. As of November 2016, he leads the British sire list and also the worldwide standings. This fee can be compared against the prestige Arabian sire, Amer, with a breeding fee of EUR40,000.
In contrast to breeding Thoroughbreds which allows things to happen ‘naturally’, Arabian breeding is via insemination. This can, therefore, produce numerous offspring, and carries the danger of diluting the bloodline.
Al Shahania Stud is cognisant of this and hence are selective with their breeding programme. Up to 200 mares are impregnated a year and a mare may have up to 15 foals during her breeding period.
Due to the artificial insemination process of Arabians, a mare can carry an egg which is then transferred into another mare, and the process can be repeated up to a few times. Foal season is from January to June; the gestation period is 11 months and the mother nurses her young for six months, with the young one being fed his own grain from the age of two months.
However, good lineage does not guarantee future success, with the odds of the progeny winning a Group 1 race (the highest category) thought to be only as much as 1%. Buying expensive young stock with proper family lines gives a better chance of success on the racetrack though – to breed good offspring requires the pedigree first. The success achieved at Al Shahania Stud is a testament to this winning formula.
The farm is not open to the public, but tours are organised for schools and other institutions from time to time. For more information, visit alshahaniastud.com. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
The Road to Bir Zekreet
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Image credit: Al Shahania Stud