‘The sport has totally changed’ — leading rider speaks out about life on the circuit

  • One of Qatar’s leading showjumpers Sheikh Ali Ben Khalid Al Thani will this week be competing at the final of the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) in Doha (8-10 November) in his home country. Ahead of this end-of-season championship, the member of the Qatari royal family has spoken about the sometimes high-pressure life of a showjumper.

    “What motivates me every day is to be successful,” said the rider, who finished sixth individually at the 2016 Olympics. “I work hard, I train and I go to the gym before riding. I have a programme and a plan of where I want to be. But success to me is defined as making my country proud — to bring home medals for Qatar and to represent my country against the best of the best. My dream is to win a LGCT grand prix, and to bring home an Olympic medal for Qatar, particularly as a team.”

    Explaining his role as an ambassador for a sport that is soaring in popularity in Qatar he says: “The feeling is we want to do our very best for our country and show our people and country that our team are working hard in Europe and heading in the right direction.

    “I really love to inspire. I am from the royal family so there is attention on my name, so I have to prove that we are working hard and anyone can achieve great things. I love the sport that I do — but it all started with a love of horses. I loved horses before I loved the sport.”

    The 2020 Olympics is a key target for the Qatari showjumpers and the riders have been using the Global Champions League team championship, rather than Nations Cups, as preparation.

    “We are working towards a programme for Tokyo, so we have had to slow down a little and it’s one of the reasons we decided to put [British rider] Michael Whitaker in our Doha Fursan Qatar GCL team as he has many of his own fantastic horses,” said Sheikh Ali Al Thani.

    “The sport has totally changed — the level, how technical it is, the way of the sport is very different and the vision is totally different, so we need to improve our team. We need to stay jumping at the highest level, within the Longines Global Champions Tour and GCL shows — to help our team improve. Qatar is a small country — we cannot go for a lot of Nations Cups so the GCL team competition is helping our national showjumping team. We feel the pressure at every event exactly the same as the Olympics.”

    Naturally, he is quick to praise the LGCT president Jan Tops for developing the sport of showjumping.

    “He is a visionary — he sees this and helps to grow it in the best way,” he said. “Every year something on the LGCT and GCL is changing. Now we have the GC Playoffs. Before that we had no teams, and now we have had the GCL for three years. You don’t know what’s coming up, but it’s getting more and more interesting.

    “We are very excited, and see more and more people from Qatar and around the world following us. I used to go for dinner with people outside the sport who asked what I was doing — they had no idea what showjumping really was. But now, even those who are not in the sport know what it is and really get it.

    Continued below…

    “I’m really looking forward to building our team for Qatar,” said the passionate sportsman. “This is really my mission. But to do this we have to train now, and we have to prove we can do it. We did this already at the 2016 Olympics in Rio — it was the first time we were one point away from the final, and we had an individual rider finish sixth which is a big result for Qatar. We know we can do it, now it is not just about showing Qatar in a good way, it’s about bringing home some medals.”

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