An equestrian sport dominated by Arabian thoroughbreds is returning to the ancient city of AlUla, with riders preparing to set off across 120 kilometers of desert on Saturday.
More than 200 riders from 40 countries will compete in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2023, riding at sunrise against the stunning backdrop of northern Saudi Arabia’s rocky outcrops.
The event promises a “very technical, and tactical” challenge for competitors, event director Brian Dunn said at a press conference on Friday.
Riders will have to assess the terrain, dismounting at times to lead their horses up and down hills.
Horse deaths and severe injuries are not out of place at such rigorous endurance events, but Dunn assured reporters that organizers “have the best vets in the world here in AlUla.”
Between each section, horses are inspected by veterinarians, given the chance to rest, and rehydrated.
Trainers and officials alike were enthralled by the natural beauty of AlUla, which is fast becoming a showpiece for Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions.
“The landscape of AlUla is unique in the world,” said Gianluca Laliscia, general sport director. “When you ride, your feeling is so incredible, because you are thinking that this is a dream.”
Dunn also spoke highly of the scenery surrounding the race. “This area, this terrain, the wadis and the sand, it’s unique…,” he effused.
“Everyone in the world wants to come here because it’s unique. Is the future of endurance in the Middle East.”
For Laliscia, a former world champion himself, racing is a family affair. His daughter Constanza is competing in this year’s race, after placing sixth at the Fursan Cup endurance race in AlUla last year.
Gianluca Laliscia speaks to Al Arabiya English at a press conference in AlUla on March 3, 2023.
Vittoria Laliscia, his other daughter, is also in Saudi Arabia helping to train local riders.
Five riders from the small local community in AlUla were chosen to compete in this year’s event, and Laliscia’s Italia Endurance Academy helped to train them to be able to compete in the grueling race.
In the coming years, the Laliscias hope to continue working with the Royal Commission for AlUla to raise the standards of local riders.
The event was organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF), and Federation Equestre Inernationale (FEI), and is situated at the Fursan Village.
As well as the five local riders, more than 40 locals were also selected for stewarding and vet assistance roles.