The King Abdullah Showjumping Festival is currently being held in Saudi Arabia, at the Nofa Equestrian resort, just outside of Riyadh. We had the opportunity to go as Lovely Lady, who is back in Riyadh, was organizing a busload of friends and family to support her husband who was taking time out from work to compete.
Nofa is about 95kms out of the city along the Jeddah Highway hidden behind an unassuming fence and hedgerow. Quite frankly, if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there. In order to reach the equestrian arena it is necessary to drive through the resort, past the golf course and race track and numerous stables. The busload of new found friends were impressed with the size and quality of the facilities they could see out the bus windows.
The tents that the public had access to were set up along one side of the arena and afforded an excellent view over the competition area. It was possible to spend the entire evening in the tent, browsing through the buffet on offer, however Lovely Lady is a passionate supporter of her husband and her enthusiasm is infectious, so we took up positions on the cane seats and carpets available in front of the tents to better appreciate the horsemanship on display while waiting for Nassar to jump. It didn't hurt that the evening was beautiful, if not a touch cool. We were all given T-shirts so there was no mistaking who we had come to support (and they also helped to keep the chill factor down). Our rousing cheer after his round, the loudest of the evening, was acknowledged with a smile and a wave.
One of the things I've always been surprised about, but totally appreciated with the show jumping events I've attended, is that access to it is free. Though this year the festival is further out of town (usually the showjumping we attend is held at the center in Malaz), it is still an affordable family affair. If the children got bored watching the competition, then a play area had been set up for them with football, a bouncy castle, a huge slide I would have loved to try and a dedicated team to look after everybody.
For the adults, a temporary Arabian village had been erected, with tents selling traditional foods and handmade goods and a bloke singing traditional songs. And of course there were also camels available to sit on. After the showjumping event the men got together at the village to perform a traditional sword and drum dance, much to the delight of a number of our group who've had limited exposure to such things.
There was a quality to the whole event that is often missing in Saudi Arabia. It was a relaxed, enjoyable, well organised, stress free evening where one could easily have forgotten they were in Saudi Arabia. All the staff in attendance, from security through stewards to waiters were pleasant yet professional and it was absolutely fabulous to see so many women acting as stewardesses at the event, working happily alongside their male counterparts and engaging with the attendees (women only, of course).
After Nassar had finished his round, Lovely Lady had a word with the stable hands who were happy to have our group head over to the stables to see the horses. A couple of ladies even got to ride Hopes Are High while the youngsters learnt how to feed sugar cubes to the other horses. I never fail to be in awe of anyone, owner or stable hand, who can work so closely with horses because, though I think they are beautiful, I have a healthy respect for their size and strength, an attitude borne out of unfamiliarity, I'm sure.
The championship and festival run for a month, so if you are interested in seeing an excellent equestrian event in quality surroundings that the family can enjoy, visit the Nofa website and register to get your tickets. You only have two weekends left, I suggest you make the most of them.