The outdoor arena – full to capacity – thundered with applause in the late winter eve’s darkness with the arrival of the star attraction galloping into the arena on horseback.
The backdrop was HH (His Highness) the Emir’s 23rd International Equestrian Sword Festival, held at the Doha, Qatar Equestrian Federation grounds, which provided all the thrills and entertainment equestrian lovers yearn for as part of its opening ceremony. Trick riding, fire jugglers, the Qatar Police Band, a traditional arda (sword) dance, and an entertaining laser performance thrilled the crowd. The main attraction, however, was world-renowned equestrian trainer and movie stuntman Mario Luraschi.
Luraschi and his horse dazzled the spectators, young and old, with such tricks as his horse sitting on command, popping out from a trunk, rearing up on his front legs, and demonstrating graceful prancing techniques.
The Frenchman demonstrated the special skills required of movie stunt horses as well as what their riders must perfect for trick riding during filmmaking. The spirit and energy of the beautiful horses were also well showcased.
Billed as an elegant acrobatic performance, Luraschi’s goal was to highlight the close relationship between horse and rider, including cooperation and trust. He succeeded magnificently. According to his bio, for the past 30 years Luraschi has trained horses to perform stunts in more than 400 films in the U.S. and Europe. He credits his interest within the horse world to his “passion for the American Natives and the huge American land”.
Six professional stunt entertainers from Germany (three men and three women) – Luraschi’s accompanying team – enthralled the crowd with their daring trick riding while the emcee engaged the audience into vocal voting and applause for the men vs. women.
The young fire jugglers also did not disappoint, twirling and juggling blazing flames on sticks.
The Qatar Police Band performed Qatar’s National Anthem followed by a contingency of Qatari men in national dress who entertained the crowd with Qatar’s traditional arda dance. I’ve seen these before and they are always very entertaining.
The evening festivities climaxed with a brief laser show and a final salute to movie stuntman Luraschi. Unfortunately, the evening ended much too quickly despite extending for almost two hours.
Day Two of the festival featured a purebred Arabian horse judging contest. The one-year-old fillies were on display for the public prior to the judging. They were assessed on stature and carriage, prancing and galloping skills, and, of course, natural beauty. A trainer explained that the purpose of applying liberal amounts of oil to a horse’s eyebrow area and nose added context, when I commented on the noticeably obvious heavy oil coverage.
Three nine-card race meetings were scheduled for the remaining weekdays (one each for Purebred Arabians and Thoroughbreds) culminating with the prestigious HH The Emir’s Sword race. The winning horse owners will pocket a 1 to 1.5 million QR ($137,310 to $275,000) per race.
Although we could not attend any daytime horse races during the work week, we seized the opportunity to walk over to the track for a close-up look. The track is impressive with both dirt and turf while the size of the window laden, softly curved Islamic-styled architecture of the stadium grandstand is equally appealing.
The inaugural event in 1991 was held as a Pure Arabian Horse Show, but has grown to include Thoroughbreds as well. It is the largest and richest purse festival in the Middle East attracting some of the best horses and jockeys from abroad.
Although horse betting is haram (unlawful) in Islamic countries, owners and jockeys race for monetary purses while spectators are more than satisfied with the fast-paced action on the track.