Newroz Cup: Horse racing day to kick off Kurdish New Year festivities
By A.C. Robinson
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Horse racing is rapidly gaining ground in the Kurdistan Region, with a packed schedule of upcoming race meetings hosted by the Erbil International Equestrian Club attracting enthusiasts from across Iraq and overseas.
The international Newroz Cup, which kicks off this year’s three-day Kurdish New Year celebrations, will feature five races across various classes, including Kurdish, Arabian and imported breeds. From 2pm on Tuesday, March 20, VIPs and the general public are invited to watch 60 horses compete, with $25,000 in prize money on the table.
“We are new here so many people do not know about this club,” Lamia al Rashid, stable manager at the Erbil International Equestrian Club told Rudaw English.
“We are trying to bring attention to the club by offering competitions for racing and jumping,” in addition to many other activities, she added.
Whether riding for leisure, taking lessons from experienced trainers, or competing in professional racing and jumping events, Erbil’s equestrian club offers activities for people of all ages.
Covering an area of 250 square kilometers (97 square miles) between Erbil and Massif on Massif Road, the grounds can accommodate 120 horses. Besides native breeds, it is also home to Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Spanish and English beasts.
Deemed by many local and international visitors as among the top three equestrian clubs in the Middle East based on size, facilities and professionalism, the club offers special memberships and VIP services.
The grounds include three indoor and outdoor arenas for training horses and riders, and a professional 1,500-capacity stadium for jumping, racing and “beauty shows.”
Although the club has been in service since 2014, it only recently gained widespread popularity thanks to its program of racing and jumping competitions.
Lamia’s husband, Khalid al Rashid, who is club manager, began construction of the grounds in 2011. The couple, who came from Jordan, have decades of experience between them in training riders and managing horse stables. They even trained Jordan’s King Abdullah and members of the royal family.
The grounds themselves were completely designed by Khalid to the standards of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) and maintain the utmost professionalism in training and providing care of the horses on their premises, whether they are privately owned or owned by the club.
Stables are heated during the winter months and air conditioned in the summer time to ensure the horses are kept healthy. Twenty grooms are available 24 hours a day to help train the horses, clean their facilities and provide them with three nutritious meals per day. A private veterinarian is available to attend to any medical care.
Four competitions take place each month, open free to the public. Two racing competitions are held every 15 days as well as two jumping competitions. Winners in regular competitions usually receive trophies, while winners of the international competitions receive cash prizes.
Visitors come from all over the Kurdistan Region, Iraq and abroad to spectate or take part while professional judges moderate events. Lamia is in charge of judging such competitions.
Entry is free, but those looking to place a bet can do so either through a lottery system or by throwing down some cash. In the lottery system, visitors pay 5,000 Iraqi dinars and, if their horse comes in, they can win plasma TVs, new phones, washing machines and other appliances.
Annual memberships are available, providing discounts on club services and access to motels on site. A popular restaurant overlooks the indoor arena.
Many schools and universities are drawn to the club. Kavin Awara, 22, is a student at Sabis University who has been training in jumping for two-and-a-half years and comes to the club every day for practice.
“I love jumping,” Awara said. She trains “every single day for two or three hours per day” and has won several local and international competitions.
“I love this club,” she said. “I love every horse and the people here are so kind. I love everything about it.”
Awara encourages more people to come out to enjoy the services of the equestrian club.
“People must come join us to ride horses and I am sure they will love them,” she added.
The Erbil International Equestrian Club is open daily between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Appointments must been booked in advance.
Photos show regular horse races taking place at the Erbil International Equestrian Club on Friday, March 9, 2018.
The Newroz Cup will take place at the Erbil International Equestrian Club on March 20, 2018 at 2 p.m.