The UAE jumping team last week shot down one of its main targets for 2019 by qualifying for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Finals in Barcelona in October. The Emirates team comprising Olympian Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, Abdulla Humaid Al Muhairi, the recent winner of the HH Ruler of Sharjah Cup, Abdulla Al Marri, winner of the Shira’aa Grand Prix, and Nadia Taryam used the chemistry between them to deliver the concoction needed to book their berth in the showpiece event in October. The UAE finished third in the UAE leg of the FEI Jumping Nations Cup in Abu Dhabi last week, which was won by a strong Germany team, but that third place finish behind Ireland corresponded with them being the top Middle East side from among Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.
The Saudis were level with the UAE on 18 penalty points, but were relegated to fourth after finishing three seconds slower in overall time over two gruelling rounds of competition. The Saudis’ joy was undimmed however as they too qualified for the Finals having landed the second qualifying spot. Egypt were the other country to participate in the event, which was held on a challenging outdoor course designed by Spain’s Santiago Varela Ullastres at the splendid Al Forsan International Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi.
The course had seemed easy at first as if it might produce too many clears, but once jumping commenced, it revealed its true colours with a number of rider-horse pairings finding it difficult to navigate the course without fault. In fact Egypt’s Abdel Said was the only rider in the entire event to ride a double clear and picked up a prize of €50,000 for his achievement. Course designer Varela commented: “I was very surprised by the standard of the jumping. The riders did very well because the course doesn’t look very difficult, but it proved otherwise. “There was only one clear round and it played differently over the two rounds.
It was very different, but the riders and horses did well.” Barcelona has been a happy hunting ground for the Emirates team in the past, having produced a winning performance in the city at the Challenge Cup, which is part of the Nations Cup Finals. The UAE quartet will now aim to go one up as they compete with the elite teams of the world. Furthermore, the Jumping Nations Cup Finals also offers the last remaining qualifying spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games for the team who places highest among those not already qualified and the UAE are bound to have their eyes on that.
Sheikha Latifa is confident she and the rest of her teammates have what it takes to make sure the curve moves upwards. “We only hope to get better from here,” said Sheikha Latifa, who represented the UAE at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. “We have a fantastic team and a fantastic bunch of horses. For us, the Olympic qualifier in October is our goal at the moment. We have such good chemistry as a team and it even makes me comfortably going in first although there’s always a bit of pressure when you do that.
“I knew these guys had my back so I wasn’t worried at all.” Taryam, riding for the first time in the Nations Cup, added: “I had something to prove being in my first proper Nations Cup with a horse that I’ve had since he was a five year old. “Finishing with this result is extra special for me. I think now if we have a good plan and a good team around us, it will take us far in the future.” The experienced Al Muhairi believes the UAE have proved a point with a strong performance in Abu Dhabi. He said: ““I think we showed everybody in the Middle East that we are a really good team. Thanks God we qualified (for the Nations Cup Finals).”
Echoing sentiments similar to that of Sheikha Latifa regarding the chemistry within the Emirates squad, Al Marri added: “We are still a young team but we’re gaining in experience. I think the future is bright. “Talking about chemistry, in this sport it not only about the 60 seconds you see us perform in the ring. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes with the vets, the farriers. “All of us have to make a lot of sacrifices but you also need a little luck so that things peak at the right time. Hopefully they will do in Barcelona.” Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt definitely feels the UAE have what it takes to make an impact at the Finals in Barcelona in a few months’ time.
“They are doing a tremendous job and have been growing stronger the last couple of years,” Weishaupt said. “I’ve been riding here for a few years and about 10 years ago it was like the wild west, but with good facilities, good trainers and strong fields to compete against, the UAE riders have been doing very, very well. “I’m sure in the future they will be on the podium many, many times. They are great horsemen and they know what they are doing.”