Within the confines of a British showground I’m fairly at ease. I know where to locate a greasy burger, can of coke, the scores — and where I can plant myself on a (usually wet) red, plastic seat.
I’m fond of the British formula and I love a show that has history — ones that are so old that their past winners might even count among my grandmother’s horsey heroes.
So I arrived in Doha on Sunday a little sceptical — this is only the second year of the CHI Al Shaqab show. They’ll have nothing on us, I thought. Bigger is not always better, I thought.
But then I had the grand tour…
7 things you’re unlikely to find at a British show
1. Air conditioned stables
Admittedly air-conditioning is not something we’re desperately in need of in Britain — but all the same, I’m impressed. And with temperatures expected to reach 36 degrees this week in Doha I’m sure the horses — and grooms — must be pleased too.
2. An immaculate grazing area
If you don’t have the grass in front of Badminton House or the grounds of Windsor Park on offer, then surely the next best thing is to create an area that looks like an immaculate front lawn from Wisteria Lane? And that’s exactly what they’ve done at Al Shaqab. It’s even more impressive when you hear they haven’t seen rain for the past month in Doha…
3. A wash-down area with sunshades
Again, I admit sunshades are not high on our priority list in Britain. But really, the organisers here have thought of EVERYTHING.
4. Top-class grooms’ accommodation
Grooms at foreign shows can find themselves juggling getting to and from the stables and a hotel that is miles away to shower or grab a bite to eat. But that’s not the case at Al Shaqab. A hop, skip and a jump will take them from the stable to their purpose built accommodation and back again in a flash. I’d certainly take that over a week in a lorry.
5. A state-of-the-art press office
Forget a makeshift tent. The media centre at Al Shaqab would not be out of place in an award-winning university or airport, complete with 20 workstations as well as computers, printers, photocopiers, refreshments — and panoramic views of both the indoor and outdoor arenas. Aside from a ready-written report, there’s little else a journalist could ask for.
6. Multiple warm-up areas
There’s no chance competitors are going to have to fight their way into a crowded, potentially sloping, grass arena to warm-up at Al Shaqab. As well as the main indoor warm-up arena, there’s a host of others outside, all linked with rubber-matting paths. Add to that a 2km all-weather canter track and there’s no excuse for competitors not being at the top of their game.
7. A lack of greasy burgers
There’s a distinct lack of burgers on site — it’s been more of a hummus scene on the menu. Which is not such a bad thing. After a week of burgers for every meal there’s no guarantee I’d still fit in an economy class seat on the plane home…
Read the full showjumping report from CHI Al Shaqab in the 20 March issue of Horse & Hound magazine