Lisa Abraham: The 2020 Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship
The 2020 Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship:
One for the History Books
By Lisa Abraham
The 2020 Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship (DIAHC) took place on March 12-14 at the Dubai World Trade Center. As one the of the most important horse competitions in the world, this year was no exception--the quality was sky high, as was the pressure to win. However, due to unique circumstances, this year’s edition is one that will never be forgotten. Nearly days before the show was scheduled to begin, the crisis with COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic—something that most of us have never experienced—until now. The 2020 Sharjah Arabian Horse Festival ended successfully on Saturday, March 5th. But immediately following, shows all over the world were beginning to cancel as travel was quickly becoming riskier. The DIAHC Organizing Committee determined that show would go as planned, but it would not be open to the general public.
By this time, the world has had a crash course in COVID-19. The symptoms have been widely published as have been preventative measures. In addition to closing borders, countries have shut down what have become known as “non-essential” businesses and have either encouraged or enforced sanctions regarding home quarantining—and travel has come to a near halt—airports are empty, and planes grounded. That being the case, it was only on December 31st that the World Health Organization (WHO) was first informed of 44 cases of what was referred to as a type of pneumonia, one in which had no known cause, from the Chinese province of Hubei. However, by early March the entire population of Earth was beginning to take notice. Then on March 13, the second day of the show, before the Qualifying Classes began, the United States President Donald Trump made an emergency declaration and announced a 30-day ban on travelers from Europe to the US. At the time of his speech, few details were offered and even the airlines had not formed a plan of action for Americans abroad. Then as the show continued—we quickly received further news of other countries closing borders—one by one…
The preparation of the 17th edition of the DIAHC was very professional, as it was in all previous years. However, faced with the spread of the COVID-19, the Organizing Committee chose to allow the show to continue as planned, but took drastic measures to protect everyone involved. These included:
~Strict access managed by an elaborate security service
~For the purpose of detecting body temperature, thermal cameras were placed at all entrances into the Exhibition Center with health officers who also observed participants for visible symptoms.
~Wall dispensers filled with hand sanitizer were installed every several meters while individual bottles were continuously distributed throughout the show.
Thanks to Mr. Qusai Obaidalla, General Manager and Board Member of the DIAHC Higher Organizing Committee, who managed an exceptional and unprecedented situation with strong leadership and composure.
~Dominik Broit (FRA), DIAHC Show Consultant
Over the years, the level of professionalism in the Arabian Horse business has increased, in every area. Handlers have become skilled in even the most nuanced ways; media is continuously growing as they create new angles and methods of communication; breeders are producing horses which are getting closer and closer to the standard; and many of our Arabian horse shows have become major theatrical productions. However, with all this progress, the pressure to succeed has also never been higher. When veterans of the business get together a common topic of conversation is how different things have become and how they miss the past--enjoying each other’s company, late night gatherings spent chatting after classes, farm visits and really, just genuinely knowing one another.
To some degree, it is fair to write that we have lost a great deal of the personal camaraderie that was enjoyed by previous generations of breeders and enthusiasts. But, sometimes adversity can make us kinder and bring us closer. Everyone in Dubai traveled at a risk. Although the show was prepared to meet our special needs during this crisis—they could not protect us from the 24-hour news cycle which ensured that all remained somewhat nervous about returning home. However, not only did the DIAHC showcase some of the absolute best in the Arabian breed and in an exceptionally elegant setting, but, it was also a very pleasant show.
Since the event was not open to the public, it gave participants and show officials a rare opportunity to just be together. Conversations lasted longer than the normal show chit chat in passing; handlers were helping one another; and there were no diatribes—or any negativity what-so-ever. Instead, everyone made the best of the situation as we all knew the privilege it was to be at this prestigious show and that tremendous efforts had been made on our behalf. In my role as a photographer, I feel it is also important to capture light moments and people smiling out of sincere enjoyment. But as the stakes have become so high, and the pressure legitimate, this can often be difficult. I have a genuine passion for what I do in the ring and thrive on the pressure to produce, but the DIAHC provided me with the opportunity to also photograph the lighter sides of some of our most successful participants—and this was an honor.
These days, the expense of organizing a show is astronomical. However, in terms of future editions as well as relationships with sponsors, the cost of media could be considered an investment as opposed to an expense. A proper marketing strategy, along with the right media team, will ensure that a show lives on in the public’s memory for a very long time.
If media is planned and executed properly, not only will the show have content which is “up to the minute” for the actual duration of the event, but also, for future usage to maintain presence as following editions approach. However, with the advent of Social Media, the need for content has exponentially broadened. Years ago, the primary goal of marketing was to create attention—and the “rule of thumb” was “repetition, repetition, repetition”. Strictly in reference to the business of Arabian horses, when print media was the primarily marketing outlet, this was a reliable plan of action. However, with the tools currently available, this hurdle is not only far easier to cross, but also, could backfire. Remaining relevant is now the challenge—and without content—impossible.
As consumers and individuals, Social Media has changed how we manage and absorb information—and mainstream marketing has long adjusted to these trends. Also, although the true algorithms to Social Media remain somewhat unknown, it is accepted that achieving relevance requires a constant presence. This means content, content and more content. However, because of the amount required, a thoughtful and creative mix is crucial to maintaining target market attention.
As a seasoned show photographer, I define my job as someone who gathers content. Not only do I photograph a live event for contemporary coverage with the possibility of publishing through a variety of medias, but I also consider the many needs of a show that go beyond immediate usage—and there are many. For example, advertising for the following year—which may or may not utilize previously released material; images whose purposes are not as stand alone photos, but could be used for design elements, such as in backgrounds; and images that will fit other specific criteria which could include applications in Social Media, such as cover photos. Furthermore, since sponsors have become essential for our shows, I make conscientious efforts to have them represented in my work, as their marketing dollars should live on with the show as well.
Another critical marketing consideration is live streaming. This has segued from being a luxury offered by the very top shows, to an absolute necessity—at all levels. However, as the public was excluded from attending the DIAHC show, it was only through the live stream that viewer participation was possible. The show was live streamed by Dubai Channel 4, which broadcasts throughout the Middle East and Europe, and Arabian Essence TV. The numbers of viewers provided by Arabian Essence TV, prove both the effectiveness of this media, as well as how important the 2020 DIAHC was considered. On Thursday (March 9), there were 10,000 viewers; on Friday (March 10) there were 13,500; while on Saturday (March 11), there were 9,000—truly impressive statistics!
When I first started breeding Arabian horses, things were much different. To see horses, one had to visit farms and attend shows, which I still feel is the best method for making breeding decisions. However, over time, pictures gained importance, followed by videos. But even when these are of the highest quality, it isn’t always possible to make an accurate evaluation as the horse’s essence is not easily communicated through these methods. For this reason, we feel Arabian Essence TV has become the perfect tool as it aids a wide variety of participants in this business.
Our footage of shows and events is live—from beginning to end. Furthermore, viewers can witness entire presentations without any editing. Also, because of our archives, which are available online, one can also compare performances at different shows. Personally, if I find myself interested in a horse, I search the Arabian Essence TV data base for further information. This is also useful when choosing stallions as breeding prospects since progeny can also be researched and evaluated. In addition, handlers, trainers, and owners are able to review our videos for critiquing performances. As for show organizers, with our collaboration, they can achieve international visibility both for their events and sponsors. While on a more practical level, footage can be reviewed to avoid disputes. However, the greatest advantage of Arabian Essence TV is that we are able to share the Arabian horse with the entire world.
We started streaming shows ten years ago and have since developed an archive which will have tremendous value to future generations of breeders. However, since our inception, livestreaming shows and other events has become a standard of participation for enthusiasts around the world. I would like to thank Qusai Obaidalla, Albina Patyka and the Higher Organizing Committee of the Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship. Although, our relationship is long term and has always been a pleasure, due to COVID-19, this year was different. Since attendance was not possible, I’m happy that we were able to make viewing possible for the entire world.
Elvis Giughera (ITA), Owner of Arabian Essence TV
It is important to note that the DIAHC closes the Middle Eastern show season—just as the Arabian Horse World Championship closes the year. There is a strong correlation between the two shows as many of the horses who were successful in Dubai are often strong contenders in Paris as well. But over the last few years, breeding programs from the UAE have been dominating many of the Arabian horse world’s most prestigious arenas. In addition to the many champions that have been bred in this country, UAE breeders have been recognized with countless special awards for their efforts.
Ringmaster: Jean-Bernard Kupaj (FRA)
Judges: Mark Veray (FRA), Graham Smith (AUS), Jerzy Bialobok (POL), Renata Schibler (CHE), Murillo Kammer (BRA), James Constanti (USA), Koenraad Detailleur (BEL) and Santiago Fornieles (ARG)
The 2020 DIAHC featured 139 horses who competed valiantly for medal recognition. It was interesting to note that quality was incredibly strong among all the age groups and in both sexes. Furthermore, beyond the actual medal winners, there were several horses in each Championship that were also capable of winning. For the Qualification Classes, in which the judges rotated, scoring was recorded on a scale of 1-20. The categories of evaluation included: TYPE, HEAD, BODY, LEGS and MOVEMENT. If a tie were to occur, the horse with the highest score in TYPE prevailed. If that failed to resolve the tie, then the score for MOVEMENT decided. If the tie remained, then one judge was chosen by random ballot to decide. The Championships were judge comparatively. In the Championships, a tie was resolved by the highest Qualifying Class score. If that failed to resolve the tie, then the rules for the Qualifying Classes were applied.
I would like to close my analogy by stating what an honor it was to have a role in the 2020 DIAHC. Because of the unique circumstances surrounding the event, only a very few of us were able to attend. As a media participant, I feel most accomplished when I can contribute something meaningful. For this show to have been a success, we all had to bring our best--in the arena, and outside as well. Individually and collectively, we supported our work with the show, despite any anxieties that were developing. The Organizers worked tirelessly to ensure our safety and were quick to respond as our passages home became threatened. I will never forget this show and feel so grateful to have been included—certainly, this experience was one for the history books!
In early March, as our plane was circling over the sparkling lights of Dubai prior to landing, I marveled at the opulent and architecturally stunning skyline. I was reminded of the first time I visited the UAE, in 1996. That year the WAHO Conference was being held in Abu Dhabi--a place I knew nothing about. It was at that conference that I first became enchanted with the people and the culture of the United Arab Emirates.
During the conference we visited Arabian horse studs. One day was spent in Abu Dhabi and another in Sharjah, where we were treated to a Royal presentation of horses. I recall thinking that the UAE might someday become a principal source of the world’s finest Arabian horses. They had all the key components: high quality foundation breeding stock, expertise, finances, and an innate passion for this elegant desert breed whose origins they shared together.
Although I have had the good fortune to have judged many of the world’s most prestigious shows, which have included both National and International Championships in the UAE, this was my first experience in Dubai. The day before the DIAHC started I met my fellow judges which gave me a good feeling for the next several days. Upon arriving at the show, I was impressed by the elegant venue. The rows of fancy VIP tables were tiered on formal white flooring; a huge monitor overhead displayed scores for everyone to see; and the arena had excellent footing and was large enough to allow horses to move freely. For three days we enjoyed judging an amazing collection of horses, many of which represented the epitome of Arabian breeding by carrying on the legacy of champions producing champions.
I was involved for many years as a founding Board of Director with the production of the Arabian Breeders World Cup, in Las Vegas. As a show organizer, I know how difficult it is to put on a show--in the best of circumstances. During the week of the DIAHC much of the world was focused on the deadly spread of the COVID-19, which was and still is impacting everyone’s lives across the globe. The circumstances that the organizers, committees, staff and show personnel had to overcome were monumental. Without their unwavering commitment, there would not have been a 2020 Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship--I salute you all.
The Organizers of the DIAHC are experienced and have worked hard to develop a unique branding for their show—and, they are not afraid of innovation. As a judge, I was most pleased with an element they introduced to help eliminate mistakes as scores were entered electronically. Because we are not machines, this remains an important consideration. Not only is there tremendous pressure involved in judging horses, but also, there are other factors that can create problems such as a slow internet and glare on the screen. However, it looks poorly on a show when scores must be corrected after they have been announced. Therefore, the decision was made that once scores were posted, no changes would be made. So, we were strongly advised to be sure that all marks were accurately entered. As a measure to assist, the system installed on our iPads alerted us when our scores were noticeable out of range. For a simple example, if I recorded a 20 for LEGS, but meant that for MOVEMENT, I was asked to confirm if that was correct. Although it was still my decision to either confirm or correct, I found this extra security step to be positive and helpful.
However, this year’s Dubai show will be remembered as the last international show before the world shut down due to COVID-19. Since the DIAHC is considered one of the most important Arabian horse competitions in the world, the Organizers bravely chose to continue as planned, while possibly against some scrutiny. But they did everything possible to make us feel safe—and it worked. From the moment we entered the Dubai World Trade Center, it was noticeably clear that we were in a special situation. I must congratulate the Organizing Committee for managing such difficult circumstances as well as the needs of everybody—breeders, trainers, media and show officials. It took unwavering confidence to have made this happen; while it took professionalism, innovative thinking, and teamwork to have made it a success.
The DIAHC is one of the most highly regarded events on the world Arabian show calendar. The lucrative prize money of $4,000,000 (USD) and the prestige of its venue attracts the best in the breed. There is always great depth of quality competing in Dubai, but this year was exceptional as we were also privileged to judge many past and present World Champions.
The DIAHC Organizing Committee has a friendly, collegiate, and stable team led by Qusai Obaidalla. As the outbreak of COVID-19 became more of a reality for the world, we started to understand some of its risks and implications. The Committee took the unenviable but brave steps to stop two important components of the show: The Horse Fair and Arabian Horse Auction—which, together, attract over 10,000 visitors.
Following advice from relevant health authorities, it was decided to run the show without any members of the public in attendance but with a range of heightened health measures in place to protect competitors and officials. As a result of these “isolation” strategies, the arena seating areas were empty outside of show officials and owners. However, there was a great spirit of camaraderie before and during the show, which in some ways made up for the lack of spectators.
We all knew we were involved in a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and therefore, pulled together to guarantee success. Shows or competitions are often remembered for certain horses or classes that caught our attention for one reason or another. However, I will long remember how hard Quasi and his team worked to ensure that the 2020 DIAHC went on as scheduled, and, the fellowship amongst all who attended. In hindsight I would not have missed this show for the world!
The 2020 DIAHC Organizing Committee’s commitment to our breed was evident as they gracefully persevered through a difficult climate with international ramifications. Although we were unable to attend, we very much enjoyed the Arabian Essence TV live stream coverage—and the quality of horses competing was obviously exceptional. This was our first year to create trophies for this show. It was an honor to work with such distinguished members of our community and, in particular, we would like thank Albina Patyka for her unwavering enthusiasm and support throughout the design process. We look forward too many years of partnership with the Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship!
~Judy and Kim Nordquist (USA),
Creators of the sculptors awarded
For a FULL-SIZED gallery of Images by Lisa Abraham:
For Information on the Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship:
For Arabian Essence TV show coverage and results:
Lisa Abraham is an International Journalist and Photographer from the United States. Although she does free-lance for various media, her primary dedication is to Arabhorse.com as a Premier Contributor and Representative.