The successful staging of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup, the fourth edition of Saudi Arabia’s flagship endurance race, is further evidence of AlUla’s capabilities as a world-class destination for international sporting events.
The eyes of the equestrian world were on the 120km event which showcased the world-class facilities at Fursan Village, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)’s current equestrian location, and highlighted the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of the AlUla area.
Over two hundred riders from 40 countries participated in the event, with all horses undergoing regular testing and observation during the four different stages under FEI protocols, and victory ultimately went to Bahrain’s Mohamed Abdulhameed Al Hashemi on his ride Leon ahead of Spain’s Maria Ponton Alvarez, the highest placed female in second, and her compatriot Omar Rodrigo Blanco in third place.
The event was part of the RCU’s wider equine strategy to further develop AlUla as a world-class equestrian destination which offers activities for all levels, building on local capabilities and engagement across a range of equestrian activities.
Following the event, the RCU will further develop the facilities at Fursan Village, an interim equestrian venue, ahead of the completion of the new AlMuatadil Equestrian Village, a dedicated 285-hectare equestrian area.
The Fursan Village location will be activated as a semi-permanent location with facilities including 60 climate-controlled stables with wash bays, horse walkers, lunge pens, polo arena, vet clinic, forge, warehouse, and staff accommodation for 24-hour care of horses on site.
AlMuatadil will include two arenas as well as grass polo, sand polo and endurance venues plus stable compounds and an all-weather training barn that will include Seawalker pools, treadmills and vibration plate. The village will also offer accommodation facilities for event participants and workers.
Both venues at Fursan Village and AlMuatadil are being developed to cater for all levels of participation, from world-class riders and teams visiting for international events through to casual visits for trekkers and tourists eager to see the stunning location at a leisurely pace on horseback.
Plans are also in place for an Equine Veterinary Hospital to serve AlUla and the region, and further increase standards of welfare and care. Built as a standalone offset from AlMuatadil for equestrian bio-security reasons, the facility will provide a number of best-in-practice services including treatment and diagnostic, breeding, surgery, injury rehabilitation and laboratory.
Ziad AlSuhaibani, Head of Sports Sector Executive Program at RCU, said: “The RCU is making extensive efforts in AlUla’s equestrian space as part of a long-term strategy to sustainably develop the sector and contribute to the area’s economy, fulfilling several objectives of Vision 2030 and the AlUla masterplan.
“Our efforts in development are creating a vibrant hub that will support the entire industry infrastructure and also generate a pipeline of local talent and events that ensure significant development at all levels across equestrian in the region.”
Initiatives around Fursan Village will include community training programmes for grooms and farriers which will harness best-in-class national and international expertise as RCU continues to offer developmental pathways and employment opportunities for local enthusiasts, to continue strong traditions while raising the standards of equestrian and animal welfare in the region.
A series of training camps, endurance events and riding lessons at Fursan Village venue will also further encourage more local participation, alongside an expanded calendar of local endurance races, polo tournaments and dedicated academy plus tourist rides.
Equestrian programmes will be delivered by industry experts from Saudi Arabia and France, providing an educational foundation that implements a blend of classroom-based learning activities and work experience to ensure a skilled workforce for the region’s equestrian industry.
The RCU has also secured key partnerships with leading Saudi equestrian brands at the interim equestrian village which will improve the infrastructure in supply, storage, transportation and advisory offerings as well as veterinary and farrier services, better supporting the industry and community, and enhancing equine welfare throughout the region.
The new initiatives will build on efforts to further develop equestrian talents in the area.
This year, five local riders participated in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2023 as part of the development programme under RCU’s equine strategy which offered training, advice and technical support as well as extensive competitive experience, to offer developmental pathways and career opportunities for local talent.
Underlining RCU efforts to empower and involve the AlUla community as part of its wider equine objectives, 40 locals also participated in stewarding and vet assistance roles on the event after being shortlisted from a group of over 80 youths for a rigorous training programme in collaboration with the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation ahead of the event.
Phillip Jones, Chief Tourism Officer at RCU, added: “AlUla has a rich heritage of equestrian activity dating back thousands of years, and even now there are fewer better ways to experience the beauty of the region than on horseback.
“The RCU’s ongoing efforts to build industry leading facilities, and create a range of activities and experiences, will further reinforce and develop those local capabilities, further cementing AlUla’s position as a world-class equestrian and tourist destination.”