Galloping To Adventure

Escaping the traffic jams and bustle of morning rush hour Amman, we headed to a leafy suburb surrounded by tree-covered rolling hills. A small sign in Arabic with the silhouette of a horse was all that identified our turn-off, and after following the driveway beyond, we arrived at Jordan’s Royal Stables…a spot not exactly synonymous with adventure travel.

One of the anticipated highlights of opXpeditions Jordan is the annual desert endurance horse race taking place in Wadi Rum—Lawrence of Arabia’s ‘Vast, echoing and God-like’ stretch of wilderness. Among the dozens of international teams competing in this year’s contest is that of Jordan’s Royal Stables.

Founded by King Hussein some years ago as a tribute to the legendary Arabian horse and Jordan’s rich equine history, the epic contest starts from nomadic camps scattered throughout the desert’s pre-dawn darkness and follows a course only revealed shortly beforehand.  Teams must ride distances of 100 km in harsh conditions and great heat—it is a marathon that tests both horse and rider, and replicates the challenges faced by Jordan’s Bedouin people.

This year’s team had already left for Wadi Rum where the horses are being familiarized with their surroundings and prepared for the prestigious race. In their absence we were shown some of the other 240 horses that call the stables home. Among them are world champions, coveted studs, and dozens of retired, lame or homeless domestic horses rescued by Princess Alia, King Hussein’s daughter.

We were treated to the sight of magnificent Arabian horses resplendent in glossy jet-black, pure milk-white and gentle dappled grey being groomed, exercised or put through their paces. They raced around in saddle-free bliss, kicking up their heels, whinnying and snorting their pleasure like gangs of school children at recess while clouds of dust hung in the soft early sunlight.

There was a discernible hum of excitement around the paddocks as everyone looked ahead to the coming race. Jordan can’t match the multi-million dollar efforts from some of its neighbours, but it can more than make up for that shortfall with the passion and dedication of its grooms, trainers and riders.

While a Jordanian win would be wonderful, the stables under the leadership of Princess Alia—and her son Abdul Hamid al-Saleh who oversees the stables’ endurance team—are more concerned with giving their competition a run for their money while ensuring the safety and well-being of the horses.

Before leaving the Royal Stables, we were invited to visit their desert encampment at Wadi Rum in the early hours of race day to see the preparations—a rare privilege—and one that we wasted no time in enthusiastically accepting.

Saddle up, Wadi Rum, here we come!

And don’t forget to check out this short video we shot of the beautiful Arabian horses.