Jebel Ali Club counts years of unbridled success
“Warm bloods make the best show jumpers,” says Farhang Sadeghi, patting the shiny flank of a handsome equine nuzzling up to him. He’s referring to the middleweight breed occupying the space between shire powerhouses and light Arabians. He would know.
Sadeghi first clambered onto a horse at age five. By eight, he had fallen in love with show jumping. Twice the National Show Jumping champion in Iran, he is currently ranked second in the UAE.
Today, he spends up to 14 hours daily at the Jebel Ali Equestrian Club, where he is a partner. The club, first established in 1991, is one of Dubai’s oldest equestrian facilities. Under Sadeghi’s keen eye, it offers a riding school, dressage and jumping classes, liveries, pony camp, gymkhana and hacking.
PASSION TURNS TO BUSINESS
“I was eighteen when I came to Dubai to study. But horses were in my blood. You can’t leave something you’ve loved since you were five. I restarted riding in Dubai, and also began training and coaching,” says Sadeghi.
Sadeghi’s old riding grounds were the now defunct polo club in the Nad Al Sheba area. But by 2000, he had determined two things. First: that he wanted a business of his own. Second: his business was always going to be about horses.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with horses. And I used my experience and qualifications to become a partner at the Jebel Ali Equestrian Club. The equestrian community introduced me to this place,” he says.
“In 2000, we had a handful of horses and a few riders. I think we had a sum total of two people working with us. Now, we have over 50 horses, and around 30 staff helping us keep the place running,” Sadeghi says.
Jebel Ali is now a thriving community. That wasn’t always the case. Save for the seemingly permanent fixture that is Jebel Ali Village, first built to cater to port employees back in the ‘70s, there were mostly empty expanses of land. And Sadeghi notes there wasn’t even much traffic to and from Abu Dhabi to provide welcome distraction.
“Jebel Ali has grown with us. We have JBR on the one side and JLT on the other. The Jebel Ali Village itself is also doing well. Dubai is growing towards this side of things. There are a lot of projects coming up as well. It’s different from when all of Dubai was just Deira and Bur Dubai.”
BACKING THE RIGHT HORSES
The horses are early risers. Six am sees them being led into the yard for exercise. Riding lessons start at seven. By 10am, the graceful animals are off again, resting through the midday heat. They come out again at four, with lessons stretching to eight.
For a riding school, finding horses with an even temperament is a challenge. Most of the equines in the Jebel Ali Equestrian Club are Arabian and polo horses, over 10 years old. It is at that age that they calm down and become suitable for novice riders.
“We find these horses from all around the UAE, and even outside. It can be quite difficult to find riding school horses – the temperament must be suitable for riders.”
Sadeghi says a number of breeds make for good learning horses but that personality matters more than breeding. “Arabian horses are good riders, particularly for endurance. Ex-polo horses are also really good. For me, the horse’s personality is more important than breed. You can have thoroughbreds that are very gentle, and polo ponies that don’t like been ridden.”
SEASON FOR CHALLENGES
For Sadeghi, challenges are part of the season. “There’s a huge downturn every summer. It gets too hot to ride outdoors, both for horses and their riders. And you have to be extra careful with horses during the summer. They need different feed, special conditioner and sufficient rest.”
The hard work, though, isn’t seasonal. It’s an everyday affair. “It’s like running a kindergarten, where the kids are 10 feet tall and on four legs. But it’s all part of the game, and we love doing it. I grew up with horses, and we all live this business. Every day, every moment. That’s the only way you can run this sort of business. It’s not a half-hearted sort of field.”
Sadeghi says, given a chance, he would go back and do it all again. Except that he’d do it bigger, faster and better. “If I were to go back and start again, I’d go with the same business in the heartbeat. But I’d be more aggressive, and grow faster. I’d set up an indoor riding track at the outset. Dubai’s missing that. I would ask for government backing, because private investors won’t stump up the money for a facility only really used three months a year.”
RIDING TO THE FUTURE
The Jebel Ali Equestrian Club has more than one arrow in its business quiver. But Sadeghi sees the riding school part grow the fastest in the next few years. “We’re always looking to expand. In particular, the riding school part of the business is doing well. We’re encouraging a new generation of riders. My own daughter started riding at two and a half. I’d much rather have kids of all ages appreciate animals and learning to take care of them,” he says.
The club also works with school children and is part of their school trip itinerary. That, too, is an area that Sadeghi wants to grow. ‘We teach school kids not just to ride but also how to work with horses. We take them behind the scenes and tell them how to prepare a horse, identify breeds, and how to wash and look after their horses. They love it.”
For him, growth is almost an ethical obligation given the impetus offered by Dubai’s leadership. “Dubai is growing very fast. It has visionary leadership under H.H. Sheikh Mohammad. And now, the city has won Expo2020. As businesses, we’d like to support His Highness in his vision of growth. We’re looking at bringing in more horses, more people. We want to make sure that customers walk away with a smile, that they get something of value from us.”
NO HORSING AROUND
For anyone wanting to involve themselves professionally with horses, Sadeghi has a clear bit of advice: no horsing around. “It’s a hard business. So you need to know what you want to do. Is it riding, dressage, jumping, or all of them? Then you need to find the right staff. Encourage hardworking people. And remember that this isn’t a part time thing. It’s a way of life.”
As seen on Zawya Business Pulse. To see more, please click here