Dubai: Endurance trainer Esmail Mohammad expects the hard work put in by the UAE team during the summer to pay off when the five-member squad compete in the gruelling showpiece event at the FEI Alltech Equestrian Games at Normany on Thursday.
Led by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, the defending champions take on some of the world’s best endurance riders in the 160 metre event, which for the first time, will be held over five loops.
Mohammad understands that it takes more than just practice to excel at this level of competition and is also hoping that the individual horse skills of each rider will hold them in good stead.
“The team have been practicing very hard all summer, at various endurance sites across Europe,” he told Gulf News. “The acclimatisation is important but nothing can prepare you for the conditions that you will encounter on the day of the ride.
“We have been experiencing heavy rain at Sartilly the last couple of days, which has made parts of the course very muddy and slippery.
“Obviously these conditions will test all riders and only the best conditioned among them will produce the best results.”
The UAE team is also likely to included Shaikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri, Abdullah Ganem Al Merri and Saeed Mohammad Khalfan Al Muhairi who Mohammad says have the experience and skills to deal with the prevailing conditions.
“Each rider has a special skill but collectively they are a strong, solid team, who have prepared well for the ride,” he said.
“Our horses are also in good condition and we’re hoping that will perform at the highest level on Thursday. They have been in top training and have undergone a lot of conditioning for the duration of the ride, which should last approximately seven hours.”
Mohammad revealed that UAE team are pleased with all the aspects of planning and preparation as they bid to defend the gold medal that they won at the 2010 WEG Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
“We are aware that the competition is a lot stronger this time with some of the European teams, particularly the hosts France, looking good but we hope to mount a strong challenge. We are prepared for the toughest test.”
The UAE take on over 165 riders from 47 countries including powerhouse from Spain, Australia, Great Britain, Germany and USA over the five looped circuit, which incorporates a variety of terrain around the Norman countryside — over hills, through forests and even across the beach where the riders will pass in front of the iconic Mont Saint-Michel, a historic Benedictine abbey on an island just off the coast.
“The new format featuring only five loops is something that will really test the patience of the riders,” Mohammad explained. “The distance between the VET gates will obviously be increased and riders will have to be technically sound and not attempt to rush things.
“It’s not going to be easy, as the riders will have to adapt, but the team has been practising keeping this in mind. And they are reasonably confident.”
Laurent Cellier, sports director of the Normandy 2014 Organising Committee, welcomed the high turnout, and the diversity of nations represented and said earlier this week on the FEI website: “I am very pleased with the enthusiasm around Endurance this year, with a record number of nations putting in nominated entries, and more generally the excitement around the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy.
“Our priority is to keep working to ensure we welcome athletes and horses in the best possible conditions.”