Dubai: The UAE endurance team faces its first test of reckoning on Thursday when it defends its title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, France.

Significant interest has centered on the 160 metres marathon which has attracted a record 170 riders from 48 nations.

The UAE return as defending champion having won the gold at the 2010 WEG Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

Led by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, the five-member squad also includes Shaikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri, Abdulla Ghanim Al Marri and Saeed Mohammad Khalfan Al Mehairi.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, anchored the UAE team’s gold rush in Kentucky and also finished runner-up to Dubai-based Maria Alvarez Ponton in the individual event.

Shaikh Hamdan and Shaikh Rashid were also members of the championship-winning squad.

Against this background, Shaikh Hamdan and his team know what it is like to compete in this veritable equestrian marathon which will be held on a challenging course stretching from the Lucerne forest to the stunning bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Situated in the Manche area, the ride will be flagged off at the town of Sartilly with the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bay of Mont Saint Michel, providing a breathtaking setting for the event.

Shaikh Hamdan, who spent the most part of Tuesday fine-tuning his strategy that would help him control both the tactical and psychological elements of the ride, brings strong form to Normandy.

He is unbeaten in three CEI2* rides over 120km this season and looks to be in top physical condition ahead of the WEG challenge.

His victories were achieved at Windsor, England in May, Numana, Italy in June and Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, England earlier this month.

The horse inspections for the ride were scheduled to be held on Wednesday afternoon where there is huge excitement building ahead of the competition.

Meanwhile, the French squad were also making their final preparations as several delegations could be seen exercising their horses on the sandy Kairon beach.

Jean-Philippe Frances, a rider on the French team who are one of the favourites to win the gold, believes that the different types of surfaces over the technical course will also pose a big challenge.

“The horses will run on the beach, pavement, fields, private paths, granite, grass, etc. Riders will have to be extremely focused and has given the farriers a headache”, said Bénédicte Emond-Bon, the French national coach, on the FEI website.

“The fact that we’ll be competing on home soil will give us extra motivation and the team has several horses with big event experience. The youngest is an eight-year-old but ridden by Jean-Philippe, who is a very experienced rider.

“So I believe that we’ll be in the medal hunt even though the competition will be fierce and the primary objective is to make sure all the horses finish the race.”

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 began on August 23 and run till September 7. The events brings together 967 athletes and 1,113 horses from 74 countries for 15 days of world-class competition in Jumping, Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage, Eventing, Driving, Endurance, Vaulting and Reining.

The Games were first hosted in Stockholm (SWE) in 1990 and have since been staged in The Hague (NED) in 1994, Rome (ITA) in 1998, Jerez (ESP) in 2002, and Aachen (GER) in 2006. The first Games to be organised outside Europe were the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky (USA) 2010.