Friday, January 18, 2013

A Day at the Races

On Jan. 1, 2013 I was invited to attend The Annual Royal Horse Racing Festival of the Royal Cavalry presided over by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.  What a spectacle it was!
For those who might not know I used to ride English saddle as a teenager regularly for about 5 years, and since then on the rare occasion. My interest in horses, watching dressage events and show jumping has never ceased so this Omani Royal Cavalry event was a treat for me!
There were six horse races, five for purebred Arabian horses only and one for Thoroughbreds.  Those were interspersed with processions of mounted military units and horse drawn vehicles, trick riding, displays of various equestrian skills and races and processions featuring other animals. Most events were accompanied with music by the Royal Guard band.
As per the invitation my friends and I arrived at 2pm with passes to sit in section B. We were almost the first to arrive.  It was general seating within each section and once you claimed a chair it was best to stay in it.  Leaving a scarf or purse on the chair was not an acknowledged means of reserving it.  By 4pm most seats had been filled, various mounted military units and carriage brigades had filled the parade ground just inside the track, the sultan had arrived and the event could begin.  All spectators were there by invitation only and on very good behavior, nonetheless the quiet that reigned over the whole area was remarkable.  Only subdued conversations and the occasional horse whinny could be heard.

The ushers were dressed up.  Their headscarves matched their sashes, each man had a different fabric pattern. The traditional dagger, a khanjar, is tucked into the sash.   There were only male ushers.  The women we saw were supervising!  The seats were quite comfortable and everyone received a fancy program booklet.

There was a fanfare for His Majesty's entrance into the Royal seating area - the only one with shade.  From our seats 2 sections over we had a decent line of sight to his silhouette.  There are stands only along one side of the track, the finish line is at the far right just before the track curves.  The Royal Box is at the finish line, the remaining seating areas extend to the sultan's left as he looks towards the center of the track.

The National Anthem followed and then the first race was off!  At about the same time liveried waiters started handing out box lunches to every single person, gratis.  This was followed by beverage service, water, orange, pineapple or carrot glasses!  Meanwhile the activities carried on seamlessly.

 Horse drawn cannon

One of many beautiful horses on display
 Horse drawn military band

Women in traditional dress

2 men standing on horseback, the women riders were equally daring.

These men were tossing poles around. Others shot arrows and stabbed things with spears.

 One team specialized in hanging off the side of the horse.   A teammate of his slid down one side, climbed under his horse and back up the other side while at full gallop.

For comic relief: the white donkey race, note the backwards riders; falling off was expected.

The running and display of the bulls; other non-horse displays included goats, llamas, and dogcarts.

The ostrich race, again falling off is normal, except for this rider.

And the big finish, an assembly of all the participants.

His Majesty handed out trophies to the winning jockies, the orchestra played the national anthem again and then everybody left. (In the video below note the sultan waving on the big screen, then waving from the stand.)  The whole event lasted just under two hours and was a most memorable treat to start the New Year!

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