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Photos by Glenn Jacobs
Darine Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Aisha).
A Conversation with New Director Sheikh Hamad bin Ali Al Thani Introduction by Denise Hearst
n a busy suburb of Doha, Qatar, not far from the seat of the Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, Al Rayyan Stud is a calm and secluded sanctuary, with tree-shaded paddocks and open and airy barns. Al Rayyan means “a door to heaven” or “one of the gates of paradise,” and surely this is how visitors feel when they arrive at Al Rayyan. It is home to one of the most stunning collections of Egyptian Arabians in the world. Standing at the rail of the presentation area, visitors are swept away by the unimaginable beauty, as one stunning grey mare after another trots around the ring — each almost haughtily secure in her own magnificence.
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Founded in the late 1980s by HH Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, the stud is one of the oldest in Qatar. In 2014, changes came to Al Rayyan, as HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Emir, assumed ownership of the stud. He lost no time in tapping Sheikh Hamad bin Ali Al Thani as the new director, who picked up the reins in February 2015. Sheikh Hamad bin Ali will preside over the historic collection — but first, he says, he is “…getting to know my tools, my mares. To know them, to scan them, I have to breed them all to one stallion — Al Adeed Al Shaqab. I know their pedigrees, I know their faults and good points, but I have to see how they produce. Next time I will know what to expect and what I need for them. I will know, perhaps, that Morafic blood with this mare doesn’t work. So I will have to change.” One of the great treasures Sheikh Hamad bin Ali looks forward to working with is 20-year-old RN Farida (Salaa el Dine x Noha by Hadban Enzahi), 2001 Qatar International Senior Champion
Mare, who is even more beautiful in age than she was in youth, if that’s possible. Her son, Safir Al Rayyan (by Ashhal Al Rayyan), stands at Al Rayyan. At age 11 he is becoming flea-bitten like his dam. He is fit and feisty … and smart. Among the 2014 foals that Sheikh Hamad bin Ali is keeping a close eye on is the breathtaking Raya Al Rayyan out of the late Ashhal Al Rayyan daughter Nadrah Al Rayyan and sired by Ansata Sokar. She is now in training with Giacomo Capacci in Italy. The colt Badran Al Rayyan (Fares Al Rayyan x Bint Mesoudah M HP) is now starting conditioning for the U.S. showring with Michael Byatt. Also, there is the lovely filly sired by Fares Al Rayyan out of NK Ruby (NK Hafid Jamil x Ansata Ken Rayna by Salaa El Dine).
S. FORNIELES PHOTO
Al Rayyan Farm’s director Sheikh Hamad bin Ali Al Thani with the 1995 mare RN Farida (Salaa El Dine x Noha by Hadban Enzahi).
Farm veternarian Milagros Badaraco, left, and manager Santiago Fornieles with the 2004 stallion Safir Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x RN Farida by Salaa El Dine). 17 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
In the stallion barn, pride of place goes to 19-year-old multi-champion, Ashhal Al Rayyan (Safir x Ansata Majesta by Ansata Halim Shah). For straight Egyptian breeders he needs no introduction. His sons stand at breeding farms around the world, and many of his daughters are international winners. He is well-balanced overall and sires pretty foals with presence, great tail carriage, and beautiful eyes. Then there is the young stallion Fahad Al Rayyan, sired by Sinan Al Rayyan and out of the beautiful RN Farida daughter Noof Al Rayyan (by Ansata Nile Pasha). He is noted for his huge, liquid eyes and sculpted face, and nice hinge and bend in his neck. Another up-and-coming star arrived last year from Europe — Nayer Al Rayyan (Safir Al Rayyan x Ansata Nefer Isis).
Above and right: The 2008 stallion Fahad Al Rayyan (Sinan Al Rayyan x Noof Al Rayyan by Ansata Nile Pasha). S. FORNIELES PHOTO
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The 2010 mare Jawaher Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Jalila Al Rayyan by Ansata Hejazi).
The list of great mares at Al Rayyan is seemingly endless. To mention just a few: the lovely Munira Al Rayyan (by Ansata Sokar out of Bint Messoudah M HP by Ashhal Al Rayyan); and Selma Al Rayyan (by Al Adeed Al Shaqab out of the famous mare G Shafaria), has given the farm a filly, Sulima Al Rayyan sired by Ashhal, and now a full sibling in 2014. Both have greatness written all over them. And then there is the opinionated diva Darine Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Aisha), always a favorite. It’s clear that any mare on the farm could produce the next superstar. 19 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
Above and facing page top: The 2002 mare Darine Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Aisha by Ansata Halim Shah). Sheikh Hamad bin Ali is uniquely qualified to guide the farm through its next chapters. He and HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Emir, have a long history together, as Sheikh Hamad bin Ali was also the director of the former Emir’s famed Al Shaqab Stud from 1992-2009. (The stud is now under the ownership of the Qatar Foundation.) In that role Sheikh Hamad bin Ali welcomed Gazal Al Shaqab (by Anaza El Farid) into the world in 1995 — his dam Kajora (Kaborr x Edjora) had been purchased by Al Shaqab from the Gucci sale. Just five years later, Gazal’s son Marwan Al Shaqab (x Little Liza Fame) took his first wobbly steps out into the bright Qatar sunshine, Sheikh Hamad bin Ali beaming with pride. With the breeding of those two greats, the Arabian horse world was changed forever. To this day, Hamad still plays a role as an Al Shaqab board member and consultant. 20 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
In the early days of Al Shaqab, straight Egyptians were the focus, so it seems Sheikh Hamad bin Ali has come full circle. We visited with him recently, and he had much to say about his life with horses. We’ll let him tell the story from here …
VAN LENT JR. PHOTO
Right: Sheikh Hamad bin Ali has a great passion for riding. Here he is in 1995 riding the 1987 stallion Kaamil Batal (Ruminaja Ali x Amiri Jaliya by The Egyptian Prince).
LOVE COMES FIRST “It is hard to say when my interest in horses began, because the moment I opened my eyes for the first time, I saw horses. God bestowed upon me a love for horses. I have been around horses from a very young age. For us kids, horses were just something big that was always around. I rode them Bedouin style, no saddle, just for fun. When I wanted to ride a particular horse, especially if it was a good and famous horse, I did all the work in the stable and then got permission from the owner. I loved the horses so much that I went to the Federation to learn to be a professional rider. Even today, my life is enough when I smell the horse’s back — it smells like heaven to me. This is what I care about. 21 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
“Later, I developed a love for horse breeding. And I started racing, like everybody else in Qatar. We had been in contact with the people from the U.K. as they had organized racing and the best riders came from there in that time. So a lot of Qatari people knew this country better than others. I was 13, maybe 14 years old when I went there for the first time. I spent some time learning English at Cambridge. After that I bought three Arabian horses from the U.K. for racing, but they had more beauty than speed. They were very, very pretty, so I don’t know why I picked them for racing! Of course I lost. So I learned that I don’t have an eye for racing!”
Sheikh Hamad bin Ali pictured with two of his mentors: Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Thani, the founder of Al Rayyan, pictured at right in 1999, and Sheikh Nawaf bin Nasser bin Khaled Al Thani, pictured bottom right in 1995. BERT VAN LENT PHOTO
T H E E A R LY I N F L U E N C E S “Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Thani, the founder of Al Rayyan, was my cousin, my friend, and the greatest teacher. Also Sheikh Nawaf bin Nasser bin Khaled Al Thani was like an older brother — we started riding in Doha together. Together we went to Egypt, as we were very fond of the Yosreia line, that of the great Aswan. The Egyptian horses seemed aligned with my racing education — big horses, big movers. To me they were just the best. I had a riding background so even if I did not know it at the time, that’s why I was so attracted to them. I had never seen horses standing; I knew the
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Above and facing page top: Darine Al Rayyan.
horse from his back, from the saddle position. I could describe the shape of the neck or the carriage from the position of the rider, I could see the tail when I was turning my head. I knew where it should be, I knew what the legs should look, how the neck should look. “Seeing the mare Yosra (Shaarawi [by Morafic] x Yosr [Ibn Fakhri x Bint Yosreia]) at Hamdan Stables, in 1987 or 1988, was the moment that I started to be interested in pedigrees, not only in riding. I bought her and bred her to Shadwan, a stallion from Egypt, and I had a very nice chestnut filly that won the class at her first show here in Qatar. I rode her afterwards. Everybody was surprised, but I am a rider; for me a horse, even a show horse, should be ridden. “And then the Qatar Foundation started here, and we began buying horses for His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Why me? He saw that I was young, interested in horses, and from his family. So he asked me to take over. We started
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buying horses from Egypt and later from Tersk Stud in Russia, which was something totally new here. There were three fillies; one of them was a chestnut Balaton daughter, Malvina, a very good producer and race winner. Those horses really stole my heart, as they were charismatic for showing and they also had the speed. We bought French horses, too. I remember sitting one day at the Club (QREC) and His Highness asked me: What is this horse? Is it an Arabian? And I said, ‘Yes, a French Arabian.’ And
Above and facing page: The mare Rayyana Al Ali (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Asrar Al Rayyan by Al Adeed Al Shaqab). he said, ‘No, it must be another breed.’ From that moment, we stopped buying French horses. But some years later, HH allowed it because he was always open to people, even if we did not like French horses ourselves. And I still don’t like them! “In 1991 we went to the U.S. and that was a totally different story. We saw a different world in every sense. We went to the Egyptian Event, and we were very surprised. We had never seen horses shaved and with oil put on them! We had always seen the horses being presented the natural way. No halter — liberty style. We were like kids: What is this? What is happening here? Believe me, we could not even touch a horse because of the oil. We were shocked. 24 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
“And this pose, a horse like a statue, this was a big shock, too. We knew Egypt, where it was all rather chaotic, everybody fighting, the stallions hardly controlled, everybody shouting: ‘Be careful, the stallion is coming!’ And here the stallions were very sweet, everybody could touch them, give them sugar … we were really surprised. And then the marketing. We
saw how to do that for the first time, how to promote horses, how to do business. This was the moment when we were introduced to Michael Byatt, in 1992. And we started building a professional breeding program at Al Shaqab in September of 1992. In the beginning it was more fun, but from that moment it was a serious thing. 25 â–Ş ARABIAN HORSE WORLD â–Ş MAY 2015
“On that trip to the U.S. we bought Imperial Phanilah (by Ansata Imperial), a champion mare, and her sister Imperial Impharida, the best producing mare, and the stallion Sabiell (by Nabiel), who became Reserve World Champion. First we showed them in the U.S., at the Egyptian Event, where we took the champion titles, and then we brought them to Qatar. In 1993, we went to Paris. With Sabiell we claimed the Reserve Male Championship, and in 1994 with Phanilah we took the World Champion Mare title and the highest score of the show. She was one of the most beautiful mares ever … an incredible horse. You looked in her eyes and you knew: this is not just an animal. Flea-bitten, feminine, you immediately gave her 20s. She was not a mover but when standing, you could see her natural beauty, a real desert dream. “I am always looking for that kind of desert beauty, along with a beautiful head and good conformation. And of course the pedigree. I can tell you if the horse can move when I see the pedigree. Maybe he doesn’t move today. Most of the Egyptians don’t move indoors. They need space. If they are loose outside, they will show that they can move. For example, when speaking of Polish horses, if they have Aswan in their pedigree, they usually can move. “After the U.S. we went to Poland, and we discovered another, different, story about the relationship between man and horse. For me Poland is like reading a history book. Everything is in its right place. And we had never seen hundreds of mares in one barn! “I met Director Andrzej Krzyształowicz of Janow and Director Ignacy Jaworowski of Michalow. I sat with them, we had lunches together, we talked about horses. I started to judge at that time, I was judging in Poland, too, so I spent quite a lot of time with them. I was really lucky.
Sheikh Hamad bin Ali with the 1984 mare Imperial Phanilah (Ansata Imperial x Imperial Phanadah by *Ibn Moniet El Nefous). “The biggest surprise was this: The bay. We had never thought that the bay could produce. We always had the idea of the white horse. And they were breeding very good horses, including bays. For me it was more than Egypt. In Egypt there were a lot of small breeders, everybody with their own ideas. The government there lost the plan, the influence, they sold all the best they had. But in Poland there was planning, they knew how to sell horses, and which horse could be sold and which one should stay to continue the breeding. “So when the Polish directors asked if they could lease Gazal Al Shaqab, I considered it a very good idea. I was a young breeder, for only five years at that time, and the opportunity for Gazal to breed a hundred mares was fabulous. A small breeder could not do it. And it was good for the promotion of my country. “Gazal’s dam was the Polish Kajora, so I knew he would he a good cross with the Polish mares. But I did not expect that much! Of course they know what they are doing. “Gazal is different in so many ways. First of all because of his pedigree. He got the best from the Polish and the Egyptian. People say that the golden cross is between Spanish and Egyptian lines, but I believe it is between Polish and Egyptian, because the Polish blood is lighter than the Spanish.”
Th o u g h t s A b o u t t h e S h o w r i n g “In the 90s, the shows were more fun. People talked to each other. We went to many shows but we never stayed until the championships. We did not care about the champions because we had already picked the horse we liked. I remember Sheikh Abdulaziz and Sheikh Nawaf, all the old friends, we would talk later in the car about the horses that looked nice and that could fit our breeding and were maybe fifth in their class. OK, we loved the horse who won, but did not care. It was important for the owner but not for us. Now is different. I can’t sit with people now, because they 26 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
Above and below: The 2011 mare Nashua Al Rayyan (Ansata Sokar x NK Nahla by NK Hafid Jamil).
say: ‘You know my horse? We had a 19 at a show.’ What do I care? I would rather know what is the name of your horse and his pedigree. And why did you buy him? What do you want from him? You want to make salad? Pizza? Do you ride him? Do your kids ride him?” 27 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
ON BEING A BREEDER “I need to tell you what I believe. I think horses are a gift from God for the people. I think the horse has the biggest affection for humans. They can feel about you, they know from your walk who you are, it is a very special relationship. If you don’t believe in horses and don’t love them, this gift goes to waste. “I cannot say I am a breeder yet. A breeder should have bred his own line, his own stamp. A breeder is a person who has dedicated his life to create one line. At Al Shaqab we created different products and we had access to different blood. We succeeded because we took the chance. “I thank God that he gave me this feeling for horses. Sometimes people ask me why I chose this mare or that mare, because they didn’t have a great pedigree, or they had flaws, and I say ‘I don’t know, I just have a feeling.’ I can name many big champions that have come from mares like that, but I felt in my heart what they could do. “One of the biggest mistakes in my life happened when I did not listen to my heart — it was not buying Anaza El Farid. There were two stallions for sale. The first was $50,000 and the other, Farid, was $90,000. And I went for the cheaper one. So that’s why, when Michael Byatt called to tell me, ‘Kajora is in heat, can we breed her 28 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
to Farid?’ I said. ‘Go on!’ And from this, Gazal was born. “Maybe I am more a horse lover than a breeder. I can work with any horse. I ride all the difficult horses. Yesterday we got a horse that the grooms could not take out. And I did it with no problem and he walked with me, with full confidence. I can sleep with horses, I did it many times. For example, when the horse is sick and I love him a lot, like Halim Shah. I slept with him in his barn, I read with him the Koran. I just love horses, I don’t care if they are good or not. The problem is that people always ask you about the famous horses. And this is far away from human. There are
Left and above: The 2010 mare Sulima Al Rayyan (Ashhal Al Rayyan x Selma Al Rayyan by Al Adeed Al Shaqab). Below: The 2010 mare Fayrouz Al Rayyan (Sinan Al Rayyan x Noof Al Rayyan by Ansata Nile Pasha).
horses that cannot be successful but still they deserve love and care. I know many horses that cannot win, but I just loved looking at them anyway. “Judith Forbis is a real breeder. She has her own stamp. I’ve known her since the 1990s. She has knowledge, she knows how to promote the horses. And this is also important because there are a lot of good breeders who don’t know how to market their horses. There is much of Judi’s breeding at Al Rayyan, and of course we imported the famous Ansata Halim Shah. Although he did not live long after his arrival, his influence lives on at Al Rayyan today.”
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S. FORNIELES PHOTO
The 2012 filly Nawaal Al Rayyan (Ansata Sokar x Nadrah Al Rayyan by Ashhal Al Rayyan).
Advice for Breeders “Don’t follow anybody. Breeding is an art. I cannot tell you how to do it. You cannot teach breeding. Breeding is collecting from many sources. When I started breeding, I read Judi Forbis’s The Classic Arabian Horse, and I put points on every picture of a horse: this is a 19 head, an 18 neck ... I educated my eye this way. The eye is very important. It is also a gift, if you are able to evaluate the horse when you see it. And then you can go back to the pedigree and see: Ah, OK, this eye is because of the mother, this back is because of the father. And the bad legs are from the grandfather. Would he be a good producer? No, he cannot. But this one, with bad legs, he can be, because it is coming not from his pedigree but from how he grew up, in a bad place, wrong box. When you can judge all this, you can be a breeder. You have to have the knowledge, but you also have to have the eye. And then you have to have the tool: the horses. I was lucky because I was at Al Shaqab and I had the horses to breed. Tools, eye, and decision. That’s it. Of course luck is also needed. Marwan’s dam was bred to Gazal six times. And there is only one Marwan. God gave you this. You ask more, but maybe it is enough. 30 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015
“Some people believe in embryos. I hate it! Do you expect you will have everything? Thank God for what you have already got. From five embryos maybe one will be good. And it will come if God wants to give you it, today or tomorrow. Are you a breeder or what? A breeder who loves horses will not do this. If the mare doesn’t give you what you want, don’t breed her anymore. Use her for riding. But five embryos from one mare? This is business, and business in breeding doesn’t work. “Every time you get a nice horse — when you buy it or when it is born — it is a happy day. I have a big lunch then. I swear, when I win, I am never as happy as I am when I have a good foal. When a nice baby is coming, this is my gift, this is my chocolate. My Dream? A horse is coming …”
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Above: The 2003 mare Toya El Zahraa (Gad Allah x Tee by Adl).
Left: Sheikh Hamad bin Ali in 1994 with the 1980 stallion Ansata Halim Shah (Ansata Ibn Halima x Ansata Rosetta by Ansata Shah Zaman).
Director: Sheikh Hamad bin Ali Al Thani Manager: Santiago Fornieles P.O. Box 201000 · Old Rayyan Street Doha, Qatar · Tel: +974.5012.9944 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 31 ▪ ARABIAN HORSE WORLD ▪ MAY 2015