My passion is to offer stable design and project consulting for new and existing equestrian centers in the United Arab Emirates and wider Middle East.
Over the past 15 years of living in Dubai, I have not only visited, but experienced many different horses stables in this climate - from large clubs to small private farms or stables.
And I have of course been to many stables in other countries too, from South America where I started riding, to Germany where I have been part of the first stables going innovative ways, to more unknown places like Kazakhstan.
The UAE is home to many horses from all different kids of breeds, and therefore an equal variety of stables exists.
What I am truly missing though, is to see more stables designed "out of the box" in the literal sense.
Horses are social animals living in herds and family structures if allowed to. At the private farm pictured above, one herd was for example home to a mother and her daughter of Arabian breed. They lived together for 22 years sharing the same space until the mother died aged 31.
It was impressive and emotional to notice that there was hardly any moment when the daughter would leave the side of her mother, especially as she became older and weaker.
How often does our humanized, equestrian world allow these family bonds to happen?
Yet they are so vital for the wellbeing of the animals!
Horses also need to be able to move.
As a prey animal feeding on grass, in nature a horse would constantly walk in slow steps, grazing all day long, with naps in between which it can only take calmly if another horse is watching over its sleep. Horses will in nature only gallop fast when in danger.
There are numerous studies all around the world highlighting the importance of keeping horses moving as a necessity for their bodies to function properly.
Keeping them locked up in isolation in small confined boxes goes completely against their nature and only benefits the human who wants a clean horse, readily available anytime for a ride.
The common excuse is that the horses start fighting when let together, which is true when
The perfect stable design is usually found in the more rural areas, with lots of space for the animals to roam.
The closer the equestrian centers are built to the cities, the more confined the area often is.
And even if more space is available, I have sadly seen huge centers with hundreds of horses, which for convenience are usually cramped into small spaces, even though space wise it would have been possible to allow them more freedom. However, a lot of stables unfortunately are built more from the human perspective (nice flowers and walkways, restaurants for parents and playgrounds for kids) rather than from the horse perspective.
Is there a better way to integrate horses into urban lifestyle in a way that can both benefit the horses and the people?
With a bit of an open mind, it is rather easy to develop so called "paddock paradise" concepts that are long stretched paddocks, often with bends and turns, which allow for long distances to be covered and larger groups of horses to be scattered, without needing to have huge land available. This can be perfectly integrated around buildings, along walking paths of humans, or just any unused land. We don't have to think only about big empty square areas.
On the other hand, the paradox especially in Dubai is that we have vast empty stretches of desert in very close proximity to the city, nevertheless almost all stables are still built in a very old-fashioned way, building cages to keep the horses locked up.
For all the benefits and details of a paddock paradise concept, visit the website of Jaime Jackson, the "inventor" of this concept which is a copy of horse behavior in the wild: www.paddockparadise.net
Another excuse that we hear in the UAE many times is that closed stables are necessary because of the summer heat and the requirements for air conditioning.
True, German and Dutch warmbloods or Friesian horses cannot withstand the summer heat in the desert and would most probably die without AC. They are not made for this weather and one should maybe question why these horses have to be taken to the Middle East in the first place?
Arabian horses on the other hand have been living alongside humans in this area for thousands of years and their body is much more adapted to coping with the extreme weather conditions. They were able to survive in times when also humans where living in the region without air conditioning, although old tales tell us that the horse owners would often take the horses into their tents when the heat got too overwhelming.
Equally, any open stable concept in the UAE needs to provide enough shade and air circulation for all horses to endure the hot summer midday hours. This can easily be achieved, especially with the help of fans. Again, open wide spaces help to allow a breeze to blow, rather than closed buildings.
Why is it so important that horses are not only physically, but also mentally healthy?
I know that horses can do a lot of good for humanity, and as the current Corona pandemic is showing us, we need to rethink our relationship with the planet and the nature around us, and need to ask ourselves if the way we have been living in the last decades is really the way forward.
People in high rise buildings and big cities are the ones suffering most from the lockdowns imposed during Covid-19. Even though they live in close proximity to so many people, they are now the ones most isolated and suffering from the lack of contact to nature, whilst people living in houses with gardens, or even in remote areas on farms and in daily contact with nature and animals, will feel less stressed about the social distancing measures.
Horses who are happy and not stressed because they experience social isolation or are in fear of pain, but who are physically and mentally healthy, can be great partners for humanity to teach us about
All attributes that can help us make better choices in future.
Let's work together on creating amazing urban spaces where horses and humans can come together in harmony to assist us in our evolution, emotional state and to learn about essential human skills like trust, respect and love.